On the 6th March 1957, Ghana celebrated its independence from Britain after years of colonial rule, becoming an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations.
Ghana was the first African state to become self-governing, naming themselves after the medieval African Empire. Ghana’s precedent was integral to enticing other African countries to seek independence, with 17 having gained it in 1960.
From the discovery of the area in the 15th century, the precious trade of gold with Europe allowed the Akan people to flourish in the expansionist Akwamu empire, before being replaced by the more powerful Ashanti in the 18th Century. By this point the most valuable export to Europe became slaves, with partnerships developed with the British, Dutch and Danes, until slavery is gradually abolished in these countries between 1804 and 1814.
As prosperity consequently waned civil war broke out in both the 1820s and 1870s, as Britain was emerging as the major European colonial power. Britain purchased land from the Danes and Dutch, and used the name Gold Coast when the southern provinces are colonised in 1874. However, it is not until 1901 when Britain finally capture the Ashanti kingdom. The British used the Gold Coast to export natural resources including gold, metal ores, diamonds, ivory, pepper, timber, grain and cocoa. They also built a complex network of rails and infrastructure and brought schools and hospitals to the region.
After World War Two the retention of the British colonies became much less viable, and the Gold Coast was gradually awarded more autonomy. After study in the USA and Britain, Kwame Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast in 1947 and became general secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention, a political party which campaigned for self-government, and he immediately looked to expand the movement. Huge agitation ensued in the subsequent years, with people angered at post-war inflation and poor employment prospects for ex-servicemen, culminating in the 1948 Accra Riots. The UGCC split with Nkrumah blamed for the riots and the arrests of the party’s leaders, and instead he founded the Convention People’s Party which had more urgency about independence. In January 1950 there were countrywide boycotts and strikes, again landing Nkrumah in jail. However, this only served to increase his popularity, and during his detention the CPP won the February 1951 elections, becoming the first African cabinet in the British Empire.
Nkrumah was released in 1952 and became Prime Minister, rejecting the idea of British involvement in the government. A Parliamentary victory of 71 out of 104 seats for the party in 1956 meant that the British agreed independence. Tens of thousands gathered in the capital, Accra, to greet the Prime Minister on Independence Day.
As support for Nkrumah fell due to legislation outlawing public strikes and authorising detention of political opponents without trial, he clung onto his Marxist ambitions by using a rigged referendum in 1964 to establish a one-party state, declaring him president for life. A military coup led by the National Liberation Council two years later, with arguable links to British Prime Minister Wilson and US President Johnson, exiled Nkrumah. This was followed by a number of coups and stretches of unstable government. Democratic multiparty elections were not held again until 1992.