Having gained independence from the British in 1957, Ghana has made dynamic progress over the past 50 years. Nestled between Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo, the country is known to be one of the friendliest and safest in the region. Political and economic stability are hallmarks of the country, helping to attract people and businesses alike. Gold and cocoa have historically dominated Ghana’s economic trade, but the recent discovery of oil is expected to generate new sources of revenue for the government and growing nation. A stabilising currency and expanding economy are making the country the newest gateway to West Africa.

DEMOGRAPHICS: Home to 24m people, Ghana is the world’s 47th-largest country by population. Accra is the nation’s capital and largest city, with a total of 4m people. Other major cities include Kumasi, Tamale and Takoradi. Roughly half of Ghanaians live in urban centres, where an estimated 37% of the population is under 15. Ghana is home to a variety of ethnic groups roughly broken down as follows: 50% Akan, 15.2% Mole-Dagbon, 11.7% Ewe and 7.3% GaDangme. English is the official language, but native languages are still widely spoken. The most prevalent local tongues are Asante (Ashanti), Ewe and Fante. The majority of Ghanaians are Christian, with significant followings of Islam and animism.

GEOGRAPHY: The lack of internationally recognised landmarks has not inhibited Ghana’s ability to attract tourists and adventure-seekers . The country’s 540 km of beaches are ideal for recreational sports such as sailing and fishing, and Labadi beach in Accra and Cocoloco beach an hour outside the city are popular destinations. In addition to the scenic coastline, Lake Volta in eastern Ghana is the world’s largest reservoir, with three tributaries running off of it. Mainland Ghana consists mostly of flat lowlands and plains. The western region is more tropical and hilly, and is the source for most of the country’s natural resources, like timber, gold and minerals. Lying close to the equator, Ghana has a tropical climate with a rainy season stretching from spring through summer. Temperatures exceed 30°C in March, with average temperatures in the 20s year-long.

HISTORY: In 1957 Ghana was the first sub-Saharan colony to gain independence. Kwame Nkrumah, leader of the independence movement, became the country’s first prime minister. Nkrumah succeeded in industrialising Ghana for a short while, until he was removed from power in 1966 by a military coup.

Another military coup in 1979 brought control under Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings. In 1981 Rawlings outlawed political parties, only to reinstate them again in 1992 under a new constitution. After creating the National Democratic Congress (NDC) in 1992, Rawlings stepped down in 2001 concluding two consecutive terms in office, the maximum allowed under the new constitution.

John Kufuor of the New Patriotic Party succeeded Rawlings in 2001, marking the country’s first peaceful transition to power since 1957. Under Kufuor, GDP quadrupled from $4bn to $16bn. In 2008 John Atta-Mills of the NDC was elected to the presidency with 50.23% of the popular vote, and he was succeeded by John Dramani Mahama in July 2012 following his unexpected death.

POLITICS: The Ghanaian political scene has been relatively stable compared to neighbouring African countries. The new 1992 constitution divided the political system into a strong executive branch, a unicameral legislature and an independent judiciary. The legislature is a 230-member parliament, and the judiciary is based on the British court system. The system of checks and balances drawn from the British and American models has helped to stabilise the government and make for fair and impartial elections.

The country is divided into 10 administrative regions: Ashanti, Brong-Ahafo, Central, Eastern, Greater Accra, Northern, Upper East, Upper West, Volta and Western. Each region has its own capital.

The late president Atta-Mills was a long-standing figure in Ghanaian politics. Educated at the London School of Economics, he served as the national tax commissioner and the vice-president under Rawlings. Atta-Mills became the third president of the Republic of Ghana in January 2009, and was running for re-election as the flagbearer for the NDC in the 2012 election. Atta-Mills unexpectedly passed away on July 24, 2012 due to health complications and was succeeded by Mahama, who had served as vice-president since Atta-Mills’ election in 2009. Mahama, a known figure in the NDC, previously served as minister of communications between 1998 and 2001. He was also elected to parliament for three consecutive terms, from 1997 to 2009.

The flagbearer of the opposition New Patriotic Party, Nana Akufo-Addo, who narrowly lost the 2008 election, is expected to run again in 2012. Akufo-Addo was educated at Lancing College in England and has a long history in politics and business.

Former president Rawlings remains an influential figure, as does former president Kuffuor. He is involved in a number of pan-continental development initiatives and co-accepted the 2011 World Food Prize for his efforts to fight hunger worldwide.

FOREIGN RELATIONS: Ghana is a member of the UN, the World Trade Organisation, the Non-Aligned Movement, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Organisation of African Unity. It participates in international peacekeeping under UN auspices in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Rwanda and the Balkans, and also sent peacekeeping troops to Liberia via ECOWAS.

Ghana has maintained stable relations with neighbouring countries since independence. Borders are generally open, and the Ghana-Togo relationship is improving. It enjoys strong political and trade relations with the UK and the US. In 2009 US President Barack Obama visited Ghana, and in March 2012 Obama welcomed President Atta-Mills to the White House to solidify ties between the two countries.

ECONOMY: A number of factors have helped make the Ghanaian economy reach what it is today. Political stability, a low crime rate, competitive wages, strong fiscal responsibility, a qualified labour pool and a relatively stable currency have allowed Ghana to stand out as a target for foreign investors. As of 2011 the inflation rate evened out at about 9%. Real GDP in 2011 stood at roughly $37bn and continues to grow rapidly, with further increases expected in the near future following the recent discovery of oil. Oil revenues to the state are estimated to reach $836m per year, and are expected to help fund infrastructure projects, ultimately bringing more foreign direct investment to the country.

Several recent steps have been taken to help stabilise the national currency, the cedi, and the inflation rate. The banking sector is also undergoing an overhaul; legislation to decrease interest rates is vital to freeing up capital for small and medium-sized enterprises and projects. Furthermore, the country is building a credit monitoring system to make capital available to those without collateral.

Loans from China have helped fund infrastructure and gas projects, but have also pushed total public debt to $14bn, equivalent to 44.2% of GDP. Speculation over Ghana’s fiscal management led the International Monetary Fund to instruct it to reduce spending in the short term.

The agricultural sector accounts for 30% of the nation’s GDP and over half of its employment. Mining is a particularly profitable industry; Ghana is Africa’s second-largest producer of gold, with over 90 tonnes produced in 2009 alone. Bauxite, manganese and diamonds are also mined and exported. In total, mining accounts for 40% of Ghana’s exports, and hydrocarbons extraction and production is expected to see this figure rise. The largest oil field, Jubilee, is located offshore in western Ghana. The need to develop a sustainable gas infrastructure is among the top challenges facing the sector today.