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The Commonwealth



Did you know:

Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, delivered the 3rd Annual Commonwealth Lecture, on ‘Africa Wants to Trade its Way out of Poverty’, in 2000.

Four Ghanaians have been regional winners in the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize: Ama Ata Aidoo (1992), Lawrence Darmani (1992), Lucy Safo (1994) and Benjamin Kwakye (1999 and 2006).

Abédi Pelé, born in Accra, Ghana, in 1964, was voted African Footballer of the Year in 1991, 1992 and 1993.

Key facts

Joined Commonwealth: 1957
Population: 25,905,000 (2013)
GDP: 3.2% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: world ranking 138
Official language: English
Timezone: GMT
Currency: cedi (¢)


Area: 238,537 sq km
Coastline: 539km
Capital city: Accra
Population density (per sq. km): 109

The Republic of Ghana, formerly the Gold Coast, is a West African country lying on the Gulf of Guinea. It is surrounded (clockwise, from the west) by Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Togo.

Ghana has ten regions: Greater Accra, Ashanti, Brong Ahafo, Central, Eastern, Northern, Upper East, Upper West, Volta and Western. After Greater Accra, Ashanti is the most populated region; Upper West, the least.

Main towns:

Accra (capital, pop. 2.45m in 2010), Kumasi (Ashanti, 1.93m), Tamale (Northern, 466,700), Ashiaman (Greater Accra, 289,100), Takoradi (Western, 273,900), Cape Coast (Central, 182,900), Teshie (Greater Accra, 182,100), Tema (Greater Accra, 178,800), Obuasi (Ashanti, 173,100), Sekondi (Western, 156,200), Madina (Greater Accra, 140,800), Koforidua (Eastern, 111,700), Wa (Upper West, 96,500), Techiman (Brong Ahafo, 91,400), Nungua (Greater Accra, 89,100), Tema New Town (Greater Accra, 87,400), Ho (Volta, 83,700), Sunyani (Brong Ahafo, 83,600), Bawku (Upper East, 66,200) and Bolgatanga (Upper East, 63,500).


There are 109,520 km of roads, 13 per cent paved, and a 953-km railway network, connecting Accra, Kumasi and Takoradi, originally built mainly to link mining centres to the ports but also provides passenger services.

Main ports are at Tema, near Accra, and Takoradi, and the main international airport is at Accra (Kotoka), 10 km to the north of the city; other airports are at Takoradi, Kumasi, Sunyani and Tamale.

International relations:

Ghana is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, African Union, Economic Community of West African States, Non-Aligned Movement, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, United Nations and World Trade Organization.


The Black Volta, Red Volta and White Volta rivers merge into one river Volta, which has been dammed at Akosombo to form Lake Volta (approximately 8,482 sq km). There are hills to the north (averaging 500 metres), but the country is generally flat. The central forest area is broken up into ridges and valleys. There are lagoons on the coast, and many sandy beaches with coconut trees.


Tropical; warm and fairly dry in northern areas, hot and humid on the coastal belt. Temperatures usually range between 21°C and 32°C. Annual rainfall varies from 700 mm to 2,150 mm. In 2007, large parts of West Africa were the subject of severe flooding. Ghana was the worst hit with more than 300,000 of its people made homeless.


The most significant environmental issues are deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion; drought in the north; poaching and habitat destruction threatening wildlife populations; and water pollution and inadequate supplies of drinking water.


Grass occurs on much of the central plain, dense rainforest in the south and west; woodland and dry savannah to the north. Forest covers 21 per cent of the land area, having declined at 2.0 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. Arable land comprises 21 per cent and permanent cropland 12 per cent of the total land area.


Ghana is rich in animal life and in 2003 had protected areas comprising 5.6 per cent of the total land area. The Mole National Park comprises some 736 sq km in the western part of the northern region of Damonoyo and has many species including elephants, hippos, eagles, kites and hornbills. The Digya National Park on the shores of Lake Volta has hippos, water bucks, crocodiles and manatees. There are 222 species of mammals, 16 of which are endangered, and 206 species of birds, 16 endangered (2014).


According to oral traditions, the ancestors of the Akan people, today the largest ethnic group, entered the country from the north and spread southwards between CE 1200 and 1600. The Fanti State of Denkyira was at that period already established on the coast. By 1400 the Akan had established their Bono and Buida kingdoms in the forested central region.

Their highly developed culture was centred on the city-state, surrounded by vassal villages, and rule by a court where the queen mother was often a more powerful figure than the king who, being sacred, was hidden from the people and consequently often politically isolated. The Akan traded gold and kola nuts for salt and cloth, in the west and north, and were also involved in the slave trade. In the 15th century, the Ashanti people waged war against the Denkyira Kingdom and by 1700 had gained control of the slave trade. They developed a powerful army and a centralised state, ruled by the Asantehene (king of the Ashanti nation).

Portuguese traders, arriving after 1450 in search of gold and ivory, named the country Gold Coast; appropriately since, by the end of the 16th century, it produced ten per cent of the world’s gold.

From the middle of the 16th century other Europeans began arriving; in the mid-18th century there were Dutch, Danish and British settlements. The British became involved in internal conflicts when they backed the Fanti against the Ashanti who were extending their power into the coastal areas. There were four wars in the 19th century.

The Bond of 1844, entered into by Britain and the Fanti chiefs, endorsed British control of small pockets of settlement; six years later Britain set up a legislative council to govern these areas. The British took over abandoned Danish settlements in 1850 and the Dutch settlements in 1871. By Orders in Council (1901) Britain declared the southern territory a colony by settlement, the northern territory a protectorate and Ashanti a colony by conquest. In 1922 a part of the adjoining German territory of Togoland was placed under British administration by a League of Nations Mandate and after World War II it became a UN Trust Territory. The principle of elections was introduced under the 1925 constitution.

During the first half of the 20th century, there was growing national pressure for self-determination, and the UK gradually surrendered control. The 1946 constitution required the legislative council to have an African majority. Following civic disturbances in 1948, the UK agreed that a committee consisting entirely of Africans should examine the structure of the country’s government.

In 1949, Kwame Nkrumah set up the Convention People’s Party (CPP) to campaign for independence. Elections took place in 1951, and the following year Nkrumah became the country’s first Premier. The 1954 constitution provided for a legislative assembly of 104 directly elected members, and an all-African Cabinet; the UK kept responsibility for foreign affairs and defence. The CPP campaigned for full independence. The general election of 1956 returned the CPP with a big majority.

Modern-day Ghana was formed when the British-administered part of Togoland voted to join the Gold Coast in an independent state, in a UN-supervised plebiscite in May 1956. Ghana achieved independence within the Commonwealth on 6 March 1957.

In 1960 Ghana became a republic, with Nkrumah as President, and in 1964 a one-party state, the CPP being the sole authorised party. However, less than a year later, Nkrumah was removed by military coup, the first of four coups.

The army and police set up a National Liberation Council, which dissolved the legislative assembly and suspended the constitution while a new one was drafted. Political activity was permitted again in 1969; a general election followed in August. It returned the Progress Party; its leader Dr Kofi Busia became Prime Minister, with the National Alliance of Liberals as the opposition.

In 1972, another military coup led by Colonel Ignatius Acheampong overthrew Busia’s government and set up a National Redemption Council. In 1978 Acheampong was replaced by General Frederick Akuffo, who promised civilian rule by the middle of the following year.

Two weeks before the elections were to be held in June 1979, a military coup led by junior officers ousted the government. Flt-Lt Jerry J Rawlings and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council declared that they had assumed power, in order that an honest election could take place. Elections were held as scheduled; they returned the People’s National Party, whose leader Dr Hilla Limann took office as President in September 1979.

Another coup, in 1981, put Rawlings back in power. He suspended the constitution and banned political parties. From December 1981 until November 1992 Ghana was ruled by a Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC).

In May 1991 the PNDC government set up a 260-member consultative assembly to oversee the restoration of multiparty democracy. A committee of constitutional experts was appointed to draft a new constitution for submission to this assembly. In April 1992 the draft constitution was overwhelmingly approved in a referendum; political associations were unbanned; and six opposition movements were granted legal recognition. The National Democratic Congress (NDC) was formed to contest the elections on behalf of the PNDC.

The November 1992 presidential election (witnessed by Commonwealth observers, and considered ‘overall free and fair’) returned Jerry Rawlings (with 58.3 per cent of the vote). The parliamentary elections of December 1992 returned the NDC with 189 of 200 seats in the new Parliament. The NDC united with the National Convention Party (NCP) and the Every Ghanaian Living Everywhere Party to form the Progressive Alliance. In January 1993 Rawlings was sworn in as President, and the Fourth Republic was inaugurated. In May 1995, the NCP left the coalition.

In the December 1996 elections, President Rawlings was re-elected with 58 per cent of the votes. Turnout was 75 per cent. His party, the NDC, won 133 seats. The opposition alliance of the New Patriotic Party and the People’s Convention Party won 66 seats, just reaching the level at which they could successfully oppose constitutional changes (which need a two-thirds majority). The elections were seen as a step towards full multiparty democracy; the opposition had boycotted the 1992 parliamentary elections, but accepted defeat the second time round. Ghana thus acquired a significant legislative opposition for the first time in 15 years.

After Rawlings was chosen as ‘life chairman’ of the party in December 1998, the NDC suffered a serious split in its ranks with the formation by some of its founding members of the National Reform Party, which was registered in July 1999.

Ghana's History / The Gold Coast (Colonial Independence From Britain)

Sona Jobarteh - GAMBIA

Learn more about Ghana on The Commonwealth site
Society, Economy, Constitution & politics, History and Travel.

A Profile of Ghana (pdf)

Gold Coast Palaver
Life on the Gold Coast By Louis R. Bowler (1912) (pdf)

Nine Years at the Gold Coast
By The Rev. Dennis Kemp (1898) (pdf)

The Gold Coast Revolution
The Struggle of an African People from Slavery to Freedom by George Padmore (pdf)

To the Gold Coast for Gold
A Personal Narrative by Richard F. Burton and Verney Lovett Cameron in two volumes  Volume 1 | Volume 2 (pdf)

End of Empire (1985), chapter 11: The Gold Coast

African safari lodge

Go Ghana

Business in the Commonwealth
Web site of the Country

Return to our Commonwealth Page


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