Ghana timeline – The Gold coast
A time line overview of big and small events in the history of Ghana.
Ghana with its current borders has only existed for approximately one hundred years. Earlier on several kingdoms inhibited the area, each with their own history, which are only briefly mentioned on this page. Similar to most of Africa, the history of pre-colonial Ghana is not known in complete details. This is due to years of neglect from colonisers and western historians, but also has to do with the nature of traditional African storytelling, which is oral (not written). Furthermore there has only been a limited amount of archaeological finds.
With timelines like this one, it is necessary to choose key events. Some important events might have been left out, mainly because I haven't yet had the time and sources to get an overview of the many different kingdoms in pre-colonial Ghana and their complex history.
Events involving Danish influence are (on this page) described in more details than those of other European countries. This is only because of my own Danish background (not because Denmark in particular had a big influence on the Gold Coast). Please note: This page is part of a personal website -not a scientific historical project.
Archaeological evidence indicates that present-day Ghana has been inhabited for many thousand years. The region shares it's early history with all of West Africa. Some of the earliest finds shows trace of settlements along the coastline.
According to the Greek historian Herodot, the Egyptian Pharaoh sends out sailors along the African coastlines about year 600 BC. These Phoenician sailors probably also landed on the Guinea coast.
The early Kingdom of Ghana (sometimes known as "Ghanata" or "Wagadugu") were one of the most powerful African empires for several hundred years. At the time it was far more developed than any European country. The Ghana empire was in the Sahel: It included most of present-day Senegal and some regions of Mali and Mauritania, but did not reach as far south as what we know as Ghana today. Use of metals were known, and the Kingdom was well organized, with its laws and economy.
The 13th century: The Kingdom of Ghana is conquered by the Kingdom of Melle. While small and big Kingdoms are dissolved or succeeded by new ones, the populations slowly migrates towards south. Tribes and clans are mixed during the passing centuries. Prisoners of war were often kept or sold in North Africa or some times even to Europe. These early signs of slave trade happened before the arrival of Europeans to West Africa, but can in no way be compared to what happened later.
1471: The Portuguese arrives on the coast of Guinea as the first Europeans.
1482: The Portuguese build their first fortress on the coast. They name it "Elmina" (the mine).
The Ga people had been the last group of people arriving from East (Nigeria). They have settled in their capital of "Great Accra" about 15 km inland, but now builds "Small Accra" directly on the coast as a base for trade with the Portuguese.
Other Europeans arrive. They are all attracted by gold, ivory and timber.
Around 1650: The first Danish ship arrives at the coast. The Danes were the last of the Europeans to Arrive.
1661: The Danish fort "Christiansborg" (sometimes known as Osu Castle) is built in Osu (modern-day Accra). It becomes the home of the Danish governor and later the centre of Danish slave trade. In modern-day Ghana the fort is the residence and office of the president.
Within short time the main merchandise has become human life. Enslaved Africans for plantations in the Americas becomes even more valuable than gold. England, the Netherlands, Portugal, Germany, France, Sweden and Denmark all competes for the trade, which becomes highly organised. They all take part in the more than 350 years of slave trade. With it's gold and accessible coastline "Ghana" becomes the centre of all European activity in West Africa.
1700's: Several of the southern kingdoms are deeply involved in the slave trade while others are almost wiped out. Both Akwamu, Fante and Asante are among those who benefits from the trade. Through their European connections the Asante gets weapons and uses them to conquer more land and fight other kingdoms. The Asante capital of Kumasi is highly developed and ahead of many European cities. ("Ashante" is the European spelled version of the name "Asante")
The Europeans trades weapons and manufactured goods for enslaved Africans, who are transported for about five weeks across the Atlantic Ocean to work on plantations in "the new world". More than two thirds of the Africans died when captured, in the dungeons of the forts or during transport. It is estimated that between 12 and 20 million enslaved Africans are transported across the Atlantic.
March 16, 1792: Denmark decides to stop the so-called "trade with Negroes" to the Caribbean colonies. The King and politicians are under pressure from the growing anti-slave lobby, but the decision is not made for moral reasons. It is based on harsh economic calculations: Denmark simply no longer makes enough profit on the trade.
The new law only mentions import of slaves to the Caribbean islands. It is not a general ban on slavery. Furthermore the law is not to be effective until 1803. Result: In the following ten years the slave traders intensifies their efforts to make as much profit as possible on human lives.
April 2, 1792: Britain passes a law similar to the Danish - with effect from 1807. Both countries laws was a stop for the import of slaves to the colonies, not a decision to actually abolish slavery itself. Within the following years all the European countries and America makes similar laws, but slavery and the trade with people continues to be legal.
1800: Osei Bonsu ascends the Asante throne. He is king of land reaching beyond the borders of present-day Ghana – and still seeks to expand the Asante kingdom.
1803: The Danish ban on import of slaves becomes effective.
1806: The Asante kingdom invades Kingdoms to the south and war breaks out with the Fante confederation which is supported by Britain. The ever expanding Asante are now threatening British commercial interests in the region.
March 25, 1807: The British ban on slave trade from the Gold Coast becomes effective. The British are dominating the region and begins to change business into exploiting cocoa, gold, timber and palm oil.
1824: The Ashantene, Osei Bonsu, dies. The British seeks a chance to break Asante control of the Gold Coast trade and the first Anglo-Asante war breaks out.
1826: War breaks out again and the Asante are forced to give up their claims to areas on the coast.
1833: Slavery is officially abolished in all British colonies. All British-owned slaves are freed.
July 28, 1847: The Danish King decides to abolish slavery in Danish colonies: Children of slaves are from now born to freedom, but the parent-generation is not freed until the following year.
March 1848: Slavery is finally abolished in all Danish territories. All Danish-owned slaves are freed.
March 6, 1850: Denmark sells all their remaining forts and possessions on the Gold Coast to Great Britain for
10,000 pound sterling.
1874: The Gold Coast is officially proclaimed a British crown colony. Originally the colony was only a 100 km wide strip along the coast, but the British still seeks control of the Asante kingdom and their wealth of gold. The British attacks again and burns down the Capital of Kumasi. The kings palace is found empty, but the British steals all values they can find.
1877: Accra becomes the capital of the colony.
1884-1885: The Berlin Conference: By Initiative of King Leopold of Belgium, the European countries agrees on the new borders for Africa. Thousands of kingdoms all over Africa are suddenly squeezed into approximately 50 European colonies. No consideration at all is made to the people, cultures and languages. Present-day Ghana is under British control, with the exception of the eastern region being part of German Togoland.
1896: Britain has practically taken control over the Asante kingdom. As a symbolic act the British sends the young Asante king (Nana Ageyman Prempeh I) into exile.
1900: Britain again seeks to humiliate the Asante: The colonial governor Frederick Hodgson demands for the Asante to hand over their Golden stool, which is the ultimate religious and national symbol for the Asante. But the Asante had foreseen this demand and created a fake stool to be given to the British. The provocation's leads to uprising among the Asante. An attack on the British fort in Kumasi is led by the legendary woman Yaa Asantewaa.
1902: What's left of the Asante kingdom has surrendered to the pressure from England. The kingdom is annexed into the British colony and the area north of the kingdom becomes British Protectorate.
1909: Kwame Nkrumah is born in the village Nkroful. He later graduates from
Achimota College and continues studies in USA and England.
"One of the greatest mistakes of the education in the past has been this, that it has taught the African to become European instead of remaining African. This is entirely wrong and the Government recognizes it. In future, our education will aim at making an African remain an African and taking interest in his own country."Sir Gordon Guggisberg, governor of the Gold Coast in 1920. Quoted from "Africa – A biography of the continent" by John Reader.
1924: The Asanthene is permitted to return to the Gold coast from his exile in the Seychelles, but he is left with no political power.
1925: The first legislative elections are carried out in the Gold Coast.
1933: Accra Breweries opens as the first brewery in West Africa.
1935: The Asante are allowed to have restricted "autonomy" through the Ashanti Confederacy Council.
1946: The colonial powers are weakened after World War 2. USA and USSR pressures for African independance. Ghana's Legislative Council gets a majority of black Africans, when the British little by little gives in to the pressure for African political representation. The rule of the colony is still entirely within the hands of the British though.
1947: United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) is one of many new political parties striding for independence. None of the parties are formed inside the colony. Kwame Nkrumah is party secretary for UGCC.
February 28, 1948: Riots breaks out in Accra when Police fires at an anti-colonial demonstration. 29 are killed and hundreds are wounded.
1949: Dissatisfied with the efforts of UGCC, Kwame Nkrumah leaves and founds the Convention People's Party (CPP). CCP quickly becomes the major player on the nationalist political scene.
1950: Nkrumah calls for a national strike and is jailed for his demands for independence.
1951: Nkrumah is released from jail after CPP wins the first election for the Legislative Assembly.
1952: Nkrumah becomes the first African prime minister and government leader, but still shares the power with the British governor Sir Charles Arden-Clarke. Nkrumah is re-elected in for the post in 1954 and 1956.
"Ghana our beloved country is free forever! ... The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent"Kwame Nkrumah speaking on day of independence. Quoted from www.ashanti.com.au
March 6, 1957: Ghana is the first of the colonies in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence. Africa and the rest of the world follows the creation of the new state with high anticipations. The situation in Ghana inspire nationalist movements all over the continent. The economy seems to be good and promising as Ghana is rich with gemstones, forests and crops. Ghana is the leading cocoa exporter in the world and produces one tenth of the world's gold. 25% of the population is literate (which is high compared to other colonies at the time) and many has an education.
Nkrumah is increasingly popular, but now faces the huge challenges of uniting a country of people that doesn't have that much in common. On the contrary some groups still carry hostility towards each other from centuries of wars and the scars of slave trade. Political parties which are regional or tribal oriented are prohibited to enforce a feeling of national unity.
1958: A new law makes it possible to arrest anyone who is suspected of working against the state. The suspects can be imprisoned up to five years without sentence. Ghana has already started a slow development towards a one-party state.
Industry is at rise in Ghana and work starts for the huge Akosombo Dam to supply energy. To finance the project Nkrumah is forced to accept hard terms from the American company Valco. Ghana's economy and electricity supply is held back from this agreement even today.
1960: Nkrumah is appointed president of the republic.
Economy starts to turn bad and Ghana's debt is rising at high speed. Nkrumah has started a great number of expensive and ambitious projects, but most of them gives no direct profit in return. The more basic agricultural sector is neglected. The end of the optimistic years results in a change in the political climate.
1962: Foreign investors and industry are forced by law to re-invest at least 60 percent of their profit within Ghana.
August 27th 1963: William Edward Burghardt Du Bois dies in Accra. The African-American W.E.B Du Bois was born as in Massachusetts (1868) and became one of the most important contributors to the Pan-African movement, which again influenced Kwame Nkrumah and the history of Ghana. Du Bois was invited by Nkrumah to settle in Ghana after independence.
1964: Nkrumah suspends the democracy by suspending the constitution. Ghana officially becomes a one-party state and Nkrumah gains the power of a dictator. Criticised by the West, Nkrumah now turns to the Soviet Union and other communist countries.
The economy is out of control and the population is getting poorer. Nkrumah is no longer a popular leader as he hits hard on demonstrations and arrests anyone in opposition.
February 24th, 1966: A military coup (without blood-shed) ends the rule of Nkrumah and his government. The coup is made by British-trained officers and takes place while Nkrumah is paying an official visit to chairman Mao in Beijing. Nkrumah flights to asylum at his personal friend President Sékou Touré in Guinea. In the following days and weeks all Nkrumah statues in Accra are taken down by the crowds.
The new military government calls itself the National Liberation Council (NLC). It declares that the aim of the coup is to end corruption and change the constitution in order to get Ghana back on a democratic line. The members of the council has a conservative approach and keeps strict control with all left-wing politicians and ideologues. All connections to the Soviet Union are broken and technicians from USSR and China are expelled. The west sees this as a new direction in Ghanaian politics and economics.
May 1969: NLC aims to be a provisional government until a new election. Political parties are once again legalised.
September 1969: Multi-party elections are held in Ghana and a new civilian government is formed by Dr. Kofi Busia and the Progress Party.
High prices on the cocoa market gives Busia a good start, but in 1971 the prices drop again and the economic situation in Ghana worsens. The government devaluates the Cedi leading to increased prices and general unrest in the population.
1972: Kwame Nkrumah dies in Conakry, Guinea. In spite of his democratic failure he is still respected as the founder of Ghana. His body is later moved and buried in Accra.
January 13, 1972: Forces within the military once again finds that it is time for a change of government and carries out a coup. The National Redemption Council puts in Colonel Ignatius Acheampong as head of the state. But Acheampong lacks experience and economic-political visions. The result is a growth of corruption in all levels of government and society.
1974: The population shows it's dissatisfaction with the government through strikes – mostly arranged by students. The unions gets increasing support.
1975: Economy is close to collapse and it is no longer possible to come to agreement within the NRC-government. Acheampong decides to get rid of the government and forms the Supreme Military Council (SMC) with only seven hand-picked members. The opposition is far from happy with the situation, but the only answer from SMC is harassment and jailing of critics without sentence.
July 5, 1978: Acheampong is forced to resign as general William Akuffo takes control of the "Supreme Military Council II". He promises to reinstate a civilian government. Political parties are once again allowed in Ghana and a date for election is set. No other major changes happens in the following year and the discontent continues.
May 15, 1979: The young Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings heads an uprising within the army. The coup attempt is unsuccessful as Rawlings is arrested. Soon after he is freed again by soldiers supporting him.
June 4, 1979: A few days before the planned election a new military coup is carried out by Jerry Rawlings. The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) takes power, but still has the intention to make place for a democratic election later the same month. The aim of the coup is apparently to ensure free elections and put an end to the corruption and economic chaos. But it is also to prevent the SMC generals from retiring to a life in luxury after having run down the country. Politically and economically Rawlings is inspired by socialist ideas.
June 18, 1979: Dr. Hilla Limann and his People's National Party wins the election, but it is a close call: PNP gets 71 of the 140 seats in parliament.
Rawlings supports the AFRC in its determination to end corruption and restore order and justice before returning Ghana to democracy. The former leaders from the SMC government are tried and executed together with the three former chief of states: Acheampong, Akuffo and Afrifa. Several hundred government officials and businessmen are sent to prison.
September 1979: AFRC turns over power to Hilla Limann. Rawlings and his soldiers returns to the army.
The new government tries, but not hard enough. It is not able to solve the economic stagnation of Ghana. Necessary, but unpopular economic reforms are given up in fear of unrest and a new coup.
1980: Jerry Rawlings is not forgotten. He gains more and more popularity as he continues to demand an end to corruption. But Limann seems to have forgot the lessons learned from his predecessors. The corruption returns to society and internal conflicts finally breaks up the ruling party.
December 31, 1981: Jerry Rawlings once again takes power through a military coup. The Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) is established with Rawlings as chairman. The parliament is dissolved and all political parties forbidden, but Rawlings insists that the (long-term) goal is restoring democracy in Ghana.
In all parts of the country local committees are established to build up democracy at all levels, inspire to public participation and fight corruption. While the committee work gives many Ghanaians a better feeling of responsibility and influence, all political opposition is strictly forbidden.
1982 and 1983: Several coup attempts are made by dissatisfied parts of the army (mainly from the northern regions). None of the coups are successful. Opposition groups operating from Togo almost succeeds in an overtake. Relations between neighbouring countries Togo and Ghana worsens.
1984: The Ghanaian economy is finally showing signs of improvement, and even though Rawlings has a tough grip on Ghana, he maintains his popularity (first of all among workers and rural population). Rawlings has strong connections to Libya, Cuba and Eastern Europe, but his efforts to improve economy are rewarded with new loans by the IMF. For the following years Ghana continues to have the highest growth rate in Africa. Rawlings speaks strongly against the economic globalisation allowing market prices on Cocoa to determine the future of a developing country like Ghana.
1985: The Preventive Custody Law allows the government to imprison opponents for the sake of "state security". The prisons are crowded with political prisoners.
Major Courage Qarshigah and other officers makes an attempt at Rawlings life. They are sentenced and one is found hanged in his prison cell. Amnesty International and the Western donor countries begins to criticise lack of human rights in Ghana.
1990: Rawlings forms the National Commission for Democracy to work out plans for the political future of Ghana.
1992: A new democratic constitution is passed. Political prisoners are freed and parties are allowed. Free press and human rights organisations emerges in Ghana.
November 1992: Multi-party elections in Ghana. Surprisingly Rawlings wins the presidential election with nearly 60% of the votes. The opposition accuses Rawlings of fraud and boycotts the election for parliament. As a result of the boycott Rawlings' National Democratic Congress and its smaller coalition partners are getting all seats. Independent observers approve the elections as being free and fair. Rawlings now has a democratic base to continue the work he started during the long period with a military junta.
During the 90's the political climate between government and opposition slowly improves. Economic growth continues in Ghana, which is still praised by the IMF.
1994: A land conflict between the Ethnic groups of Konkombas and Nunumbas results in the "Guinea Fowl War" in north-eastern Ghana. Ancient conflicts are ignited after a discussion on a market place. Up to 2000 are killed and 150,000 are displaced. A peace treaty is signed, but violence breaks out again several times in the following years.
May 1995: The parliament approves a VAT at 17%, resulting in several demonstrations and some riots, specially in the capital of Accra. The government cancels the unpopular VAT - probably concerned about the forthcoming elections.
1996: Rawlings is re-elected with 57% of the votes. NDC remains the biggest party in parliament, but John Kufuor's New Patriotic Party also has strong representation. The opposition and all observers approve the elections. The West continues to be content and optimistic about the situation in Ghana, even though economic progress is now at a much smaller rate.
Late 1990's: Popularity for NDC is fading as the opposition puts forward accuses of corruption within the government. Rawlings remains popular, but is also personally accused of corruption.
1997: The Ghanaian Kofi Annan is appointed Secretary General of the United Nations, bringing great pride to the country.
March 1998: US President Clinton visits Ghana.
The level of water is falling in the Akosombo reservoirs resulting in power shortage for Ghana. With normal water levels the damn can supply all of Ghana and even sell electricity to Togo and Benin as well -except for the fact that 40% of the electricity is owned by a very hard contract to the American Valco company, which comsumes huge amounts of power for it's Aluminium production. Construction of a nuclear power plant is considered by the Ghanaian government, but is found far too expensive. The energy crisis is partly solved by increasing the supply of electricity from Côte d’Ivoire.
January 1999: Members of NDC breaks out and creates the Reform Movement as a large opposition party.
August 1999: Police hits hard on student demonstrations. The demonstrations ends when the Universities are forced to close by the government.
December 2000: Rawlings' presidency ends as the constitution only allows two terms in office. Vice president John Atta Mills is new presidential candidate, but it is John Kufour from NPP who wins elections and becomes the new president.
April 2001: Ghana accepts a IMF/World Bank plan for debt relief.
May 2001: Riots at a football stadium leads to overreaction from the police. 126 are killed as panic breaks out in the stadium.
June 2001: Accra is flooded and up to 100,000 are displaced.
May 2002: A reconciliation commission starts investigating human rights during the many years of military rule.
March 2007: Ghana celebrates 50 years of independence as the first sub-saharan African nation.
December 2008: After having lost Ghanas two previous elections to outgoing President John Kufuor, opposition candidate John Atta Mills now wins a second round of the presidential election in Ghana. Atta Mills wins over his rival, Nana Akufo-Addo from the ruling NPP party.
The following sources were used when compiling the Ghana timeline.
Read more about the history of Ghana in these books:
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