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Ghana: History


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Ghana derives its name from the Ghana Empire of the 8th to the 12th century, which was situated some 500 miles north west of modern Ghana. Between the 12th and 16th centuries, the main immigration into the area that forms modern Ghana occurred and the Akan states were established. In the 15th century the Mande people formed the states of Dagomba and Mamprusi. In 1600, other Mande-speaking people formed the kingdom of Gonja and the Ashante formed their state based on Kumasi in 1680, from where they controlled all the gold-producing regions. By 1800, their state was larger than the area forming modern Ghana.


The Portuguese arrived on the coast of present-day Ghana in 1492 attracted by rumours of gold. They called their trading fort 'Sao Jorge da Mina', or St George of the mine, now known simply as Elmina. Over the next three centuries the English, Dutch, Swedes, Danes, French and even the German Duchy of Brandenburg joined the Portuguese in setting up castles and forts along the coast to trade in gold and slaves with the interior states like the Ashante. In 1661, the Danes build Christiansborg castle in Accra. From 1650, slaves became West Africa's main export.


The British outlawed slave trading in 1807 and the institution of slavery from their colonies in 1834, marking an end to a nefarious era. But Africa's problems were far from over. In 1823-24, the British fought the First Ashante War. British troops under Sir Charles MacCarthy were heavily defeated.


In the 1870s the scramble for Africa begun in earnest by the European powers and the British aimed to consolidate their control over the 'Gold Coast'. In 1873, they fought the Second Ashante War and burnt down their capital of Kumasi. In 1884 the Germans seized neighbouring Togoland and the Cameroons.


In 1895-96 the British saw action again in the Third Ashante War, which ended with the exiling of the Asantehene (king) to the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. The final Ashante war was fought when the British governor demanded their Golden Stool (throne) in 1900, provoking a rising by the Ashante. He didn't get the stool, but Britain formally annexed the Gold Coast as a colony when the short war was over.


During the 1900s production of the newly introduced cocoa plant from Latin America added to Ashante's wealth of gold. In 1924, the British permitted a much-tamed Asantehene to return from exile and the British restored him to the stool in 1935. Two years later, a cocoa boycott organised by chiefs against British chocolate refiners like Rowntrees and Cadburys broke out. During the Second World War, the Gold Coast became crucial to the British war economy as its supplies of cocoa for making chocolate were traded with the United States in return for war materials.


After the Second World War, Africans wanted to be free from the European empires-including the British Empire. They campaigned for 'Pan-African Nationalism', which means independence throughout Africa. In 1945, the future leader of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah organised the Pan-African Conference in Manchester, England.


In December 1947 Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast to campaign for freedom from the British empire. First the Ghanaian businessmen boycotted foreign imports-which means that they refused to buy goods from Britain. Then Ghanaian soldiers who had fought for Britain in the war held large demonstrations against British rule in Ghana (January-February 1948). Nkrumah was accused by the British of stirring up trouble and was arrested (March-April).


The following year, Nkrumah founded a new political party, the Convention People Party (CPP). The party wanted Ghana to be independent from British rule. Nkrumah's party won the elections.


The British tried to trick the Ghanaians out of independence in June 1954. They secretly supported a rival party to the CPP: the National Liberation Movement (NLM). The NLM party was for Ashanti people first. The NLM wanted to divide Ghana, so that the Ashante had their own country. The British thought that if they could not rule Ghana, it would be better to break it up into pieces. But the trick did not work. On 6 March 1957 Ghana won its independence. It was the first black African country to become independent since European colonisation.