Ghana: Political overview

Updated November 2012


By the end of the 1750s the small Akan and Ga-Dagomba polities trading gold and slaves with the European forts on the coast had coalesced and absorbed into two powerful states the Ashanti Empire in the interior and the Fante State on the coast. However, in the 19th century the British obtained domination of the coast and after a fifty year struggle they were able to subjugate both states which were formally incorporated into the British Empire in 1874 as the Gold Coast Colony (Gocking 2005, 21-35; Beck 2010; Library of Congress 1994).

Nationalism, independence and the one party state (1945-1966)

The history of African Nationalism and Pan Africanism is inextricably linked with the political history of Ghana, being the first African country to attain independence from a colonial power in 1957. As elsewhere in Africa the Second World War provided a catalyst for the emergence of African nationalism and as the most developed colony in Africa educationally and constitutionally, Ghana led the way, with riots in 1948 agitating for independence (Gocking 2005, 83-88; Beck 2010; Library of Congress 1994). The struggle for independence was led by Dr Kwame Nkrumah who broke away from the United Gold Coast Convention (formed in 1947) in 1949 to form the Convention People's Party (CPP), which won two-thirds of the Legislative Assembly seats in the 1951 election while Nkrumah himself was in jail (Gocking 2005, 93-113; Library of Congress 1994; Nunley 2012).

On 6 March 1957 Ghana was granted independence with Nkrumah as Prime Minister and in 1960 it became a republic; Nkrumah won 89% in the subsequent Presidential election. After acquiring independence, Ghana did its fair share in supporting independence struggles in various parts of the continent and convening continental conferences that conceived the idea of Pan Africanism and a united Africa. The acquisition of independence in Ghana was a major catalyst to similar struggles in Africa, that adopted the Ghanaian examples and model and realised that independence and a government led by Africans was both possible and achievable.

Ghana was subjected to a series of internal political and governance challenges that threatened to derail the fruits and progress of internal self governance. After a referendum in 1964, wherin he gained the approval of 99.9% of the electorate Nkrumah declared a one party state under the CPP (Library of Congress 1994; Ghanaweb 2003). The effect of this move was the curtailment of fundamental rights and freedoms especially the right to form political parties and to contest political offices (Library of Congress 1994; Ghanaweb 2003).

Political instability (1966-1992)

A military coup was staged, following an uprising, in early 1966 and that resulted in the overthrow of the first president (Library of Congress 1994; Ghanaweb 2003). The military government led a transition back to multi-party democracy with a new constitution, elections in August in 1969 and the transferance of power to a civilian government headed by Kofi Busia (Library of Congress 1994; Ghanaweb 2003). The return to democracy was short lived, for the military once more overthrew the government in 1972 led by Lieutenant Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, which in turn was overthrown by junior officers led by Lt Jerry John Rawlings in 1979.

Three months later fresh elections were held in September bringing to power the civilian government of Hilla Limann (Library of Congress 1994; Ghanaweb 2003; Pellechio A et al 2000). This return to democracy, too, was brief, for Rawlings seize power again in December 1981. In the 1990s a wave for multi-party democracy across the continent forced Ghana to embrace political and democratic reforms that culminated in the April 1992 referendum on a new constitution and a return to multi party democracy that was endorsed by 92.6% of the electorate (Library of Congress 1994; Ghanaweb 2003; Nunley 2012). The ban on political parties was lifted and new parties registered. President Jerry Rawlings was not banned from contesting the elections despite having been in power since 1981.

Democracy, economic growth and social development (1992-2012)

The period that followed the elections, with regards to Ghana's democracy was good as the fragile democracy became firmly established and matured (see Overview of elections 1992-2008 for details), but not so much for economic growth initially. Even prior to the elections a series of strikes rocked the country: "Doctors went on strike in May, nurses in June, workers of the Cocoa Board in July, and railway employees and civil servants in September" (Pellechio et al 2000). The government, under pressure because of the need to organise peaceful and credible elections, gave large salary increases that had not been budgeted for, worsening existing macroeconomic imbalances (Pellechio et al 2000). Economic uncertainty and instability continued during the first five years of democracy, which was reflected in the rising and volatile rate of inflation which climbed from 10% in 1992, to 59% in 1995 before falling to a still high 47% in 1996 (World Bank 2003, 2). This instability was also reflected Ghana's modest GDP growth rate, which rose from 3.8% in 1992 to 4.6% increase in 1996 (World Bank, 2012).

The economic situation, as reflected in GDP growth rates, improved rapidly in the new millennium: 4% in 2000, 5.2% in 2003, 6.4% in 2006, and 14.3% in 2011 (World Bank, 2012). On the other hand, inflation, which persisted in the mid to high 20s (1997, 28%; 2000, 25%; 2003, 27%), trended downwards (2006, 11%; 2009 19.2%) until it reached single digits in 2011 at 8.7% (World Bank 2012). By 2012 the IMF estimated the country's GDP at U$39.2 bn and its GDP per capita are at U$3,257; Ghana's had developed from a poor to middle income economy largely on the back of gold, cocoa, and other mineral resources as the main commodities for international trade and commerce (IMF data 2012).

The economic growth pattern translated into higher per capita incomes, slowly initially and then more rapidly as growth took off and inflation declined: The GDP per capita growth rate rose slowly from 0.9% in 1992 to 2.2% in 1998, fell to 1.2% in 2000 and then climbed to 3.8% in 2006 after which it accelerated rapidly to 5.8% in 2008 and 11.7% in 2011 (World Bank, 2012). The initial economic faltering affected its social development indicators, such as housing and poverty (inequality). Heading close to the millennium, housing was a big social concern because of increased population growth. By the year 2000 Ghana was falling behind the targeted 72 000 units per annum housing delivery rate, the government instead provided only 28 000 units per annum (World Bank 2003, 2). Initially slow growth and high iinflation fostered inequality and poverty in Ghana, but over the long run poverty declined from 51.7% in 1992 to 28.5% in 2006 (World Bank 2012, 2006 is the the last available statistic). Infant mortality in Ghana has improved; it fell from 85/1000 to 60/1000 in 1998-1999 alone and it is currently 47/1000 (World Bank 2012).

Ghana's development from a poor to middle income economy is largely dependent on gold, cocoa, and other mineral resources as the main commodities for international trade and commerce. The country's GDP and GDP per capita are estimated at U$39.2 bn and U$3,257 respectively (IMF data 2012).

Following the discovery of reportedly up to 3 billion barrels at the Ghana's offshore Jubilee field in 2007 the production of oil, which began in late 2010, is expected to boost economic growth over the next few years. However, the concern is that Ghana will fall prey to the Dutch disease that has wracked other African countries such as Nigeria and Angola, which have been characterised by corruption, massive inequality and social conflict (GhanaWeb 2012). Ghana is now highly dependent on the production of oil neglecting other sectors that have formed an integral part of Ghana's economy such as the agricultural and manufacturing sector (GhanaWeb 2012). Nevertheless, Ghana had consolidate democracy and developed into a two party state, with high economic growth rates in the immediate past; this is evident with its ability to conduct elections in a peaceful and economically growing environment.


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WORLD BANK 2003, "Evolution of Poverty and Welfare in Ghana in the 1990's : Achievements and Challenges", Africa Region working paper series No 61, [www] [opens new window] (accessed 22 Nov 2012).

WORLD BANK 2012, "Ghana", [www] [opens new window] (accessed 22 Nov 2012).