Ghana is a rich and colorful country with a blend of its past and new characteristics. Its history has been shaped by many events both ancient and modern - especially the coming of the Europeans, the era of the slave trade, its struggle for independence and self-rule and the new developments of the present time.
Modern Ghana takes its name from the ancient kingdom of Ghana that flourished, north of the present day state, between the 4th and 11th Centuries AD. This ancient empire was located in the area to the northeast of the country in the region of present day Mali. However, the history of Ghana actually dates back even further to the great Sudanic empires of West Africa which controlled the trade in gold and salt to and from the trans-Saharan trade routes.
Later history brought European traders and a period in which many nations left their mark on what became known as the 'Gold Coast'. The Portuguese were the first Europeans that first arrived on the coast of the country in the late 15th century in search of gold, which they found in abundance, particularly in the powerful Ashanti Empire. They began constructing several forts along the coast from where gold and later slaves were shipped out to Europe and the Americas. The Dutch, British and Danes arrived later in the 16th century.
For over 250 years, all these nations competed fiercely to control trade, building forts and capturing those of their rivals. They traded ferociously in commodities and slaves. The average yearly 'take' in slaves was estimated at 10,000, and by the 19th century, when the slave trade was abolished, there were 76 forts dotting the coast of West Africa, an average of one every 6km (4mi).
The vestiges of the extent of European colonial presence and concentration of activity in Ghana are evidenced by the fact that 32 of the remaining European colonial forts and castles dotted along the coast of West Africa are in Ghana today.
The British took over the forts and castles after the slave trade was abolished and used them as customs posts, trading and signing treaties with many tribal chiefs. The British made the Gold Coast a showcase African nation, allowing few Europeans to settle or even be employed there. Cocoa exports became the backbone of the economy, followed by gold, timber, manganese, bauxite and diamonds. By World War 1, the Gold Coast was the most prosperous colony in Africa, with the best schools and civil service, a cadre of elite lawyers and a thriving newspaper press.
In the late 1920s, a number of political parties dedicated to regaining African independence emerged. In 1947, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the American-educated secretary-general of the country's leading party, the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), broke away to form the Convention People's Party (CPP) which won several elections leading to the independence of the country.
Independence was granted in 1957, making Ghana the first black Sub-Saharan African nation to gain its freedom from colonialism. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah named the newly independent country after the great ancient West African Empire Ghana.
Between 1966 and 1981, Ghana had five military governments. Military rule was formally brought to an end with the inauguration of the Fourth Republic on January 7, 1993, with the adoption of new constitution allowing multi-party elections. Ghana now enjoys a very stable political climate and serves as the main gateway to the West African sub-region.