|MOST ETHNIC GROUPS constituting the population of Ghana (formerly the British colony
of the Gold Coast) had settled in their present locations by the sixteenth century. Prior
to the control of the United
Kingdom in the nineteenth century, political developments in the area largely
revolved around the formation, expansion, and contraction of a number of states--a
situation that often entailed much population movement. Some people, however, lived in
so-called segmentary societies and did not form states, particularly in northern Ghana.
According to tradition, most present-day Ghanaians are descended not from the area's
earliest inhabitants but from various migrant groups, the first of which probably came
down the Volta River in the early thirteenth century.
Early states in Ghana made every effort to participate in, or, if possible, to control, trade with Europeans, who first arrived on the coast in the late fifteenth century. These efforts in turn influenced state formation and development. Much more important to the evolution of these states, however, were their responses to pre-European patterns of trade. This was particularly true of commercial relations between the Akan states of southern Ghana and trading centers in the western Sudan. Competition among the traditional societies ultimately facilitated British efforts to gain control of what Europeans called the "Gold Coast." Traditional authorities, who with their elders had hitherto exercised autonomous control over their territories, became agents of the British colonial government under the policy of indirect rule.
As was the case in many sub-Saharan African countries, the rise of a national consciousness in Ghana developed largely in the twentieth century in response to colonial policies. The call to freedom came from a few elites, but it was only after World War II that the concept of independence captured the imagination of large numbers of people and gained popular support. Differences existed between the two leading political parties, however, on such issues as the timetable for independence and the powers to be vested in the modern state.
Ghana's first independent administration was inaugurated on March 6, 1957, with Kwame Nkrumah as prime minister. On July 1, 1960, Ghana was declared a republic with Kwame Nkrumah as its president. Earlier, parliament had passed the Preventive Detention Act of 1958, which granted authority to the head of state to detain without trial those who were considered a threat to the nation. By means of such measures, Nkrumah and his party intimidated leading members of the opposition. Some opponents were co-opted; others were either exiled or jailed. As leader of Ghana at the time of the Cold War, Nkrumah forged alliances that increasingly placed him in the camp of the Eastern Bloc. Western governments understood Nkrumah's agenda to be socialist and worried about his influence on other African leaders. Some observers believed that Nkrumah's obsession with what he called the "total liberation of Africa" compelled him to create an authoritarian political system in Ghana. Critics of the regime accused Nkrumah of introducing patterns of oppression into Ghanaian politics and of tolerating widespread corruption among party leaders. The regime paid too much attention to urban problems at the expense of the more productive rural sector, they felt, and it embraced unrealistic economic and foreign assistance policies that led the nation to accrue huge foreign debts. The Nkrumah administration was overthrown by the military in February 1966. Many analysts maintain that the political instability and economic problems faced by the country since the mid-1960s are by-products of the Nkrumah era.
By 1981 Ghana had undergone seven major changes of government since the fall of Nkrumah. Each change was followed by alienation of the majority of the population and by military intervention, touted to end the rule that was responsible for the country's problems. Each time, the new government, civil or military, failed to stabilize the political and economic conditions of the country.
As its fourth decade of independence began in 1987, Ghana was under the administration of the Provisional National Defence Council, a military government led by Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings that had come to power in December 1981. Like the Nkrumah administration three decades earlier, the Provisional National Defence Council and Rawlings were criticized for their populism and desire for radical change. Despite the difficult early years of the Rawlings regime, Ghana's economy had begun to show signs of recovery by the late-1980s, and preparations were underway to return the country to some form of democratic government.
Under international and domestic pressure for a return to democracy, the PNDC allowed the establishment of a 258-member Consultative Assembly made up of members representing geographic districts as well as established civic or business organizations. The assembly was charged to draw up a draft constitution to establish a fourth republic, using PNDC proposals. The PNDC accepted the final product without revision, and it was put to a national referendum on April 28, 1992, in which it received 92% approval. On May 18, 1992, the ban on party politics was lifted in preparation for multi-party elections. The PNDC and its supporters formed a new party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), to contest the elections. Presidential elections were held on November 3 and parliamentary elections on December 29 of that year. Members of the opposition boycotted the parliamentary elections, however, which resulted in a 200 seat Parliament with only 17 opposition party members and two independents.
The Constitution entered into force on January 7, 1993, to found the Fourth Republic. On that day, Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings was inaugurated as President and members of Parliament swore their oaths of office. In 1996, the opposition fully contested the presidential and parliamentary elections, which were described as peaceful, free, and transparent by domestic and international observers. In that election, President Rawlings was re-elected with 57% of the popular vote. In addition, Rawlings' NDC party won 133 of the Parliament's 200 seats, just one seat short of the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Constitution, although the election returns of two parliamentary seats face legal challenges.
In the December 7, 2000 elections, John A. Kufuor of the New Patriotic Party (NPP), won the largest share of the presidential vote with 48.17% of the vote, compared to 44.54% for Rawlings' vice-president and hand-picked successor, John Atta Mills of the NDC. The NPP also won 100 of the 200 seats in Parliament. The NDC won 92 seats, while independent and small party candidates won eight seats. In the December 28 run-off election, with pledges of support from the other five opposition parties, Kufuor defeated Mills by winning 56.73% of the vote and the NPP picked up one additional MP by winning a by-election, giving them 100 seats and a majority in Parliament. Both rounds of the election were observed, and declared free and fair, by a large contingent of domestic and international monitors. President Kufuor took the oath of office on January 7, 2001, becoming the first elected president in Ghana's history to succeed another elected president.
SOURCES: Country Studies/Area Handbook by the US Library of Congress, U.S. Department of State
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