Thursday, February 14, 2008

1957: first independent black sub-Sahara nation

Gold Coast was a British colony on the Gulf of Guinea in west Africa that became the independent nation of Ghana in 1957.

The first Europeans to arrive at the coast were the Portuguese, in 1471. They encountered a variety of African kingdoms some of whom controlled substantial deposits of gold. In 1482, the Portuguese built the Castle of Elmina, the first European settlement on the Gold Coast, where they traded slaves, gold, knives, beads, mirrors, rum and guns.

Eventually, English, Dutch, Danish, German and Swedish traders arrived and built forts along the coastline. The Gold Coast was formed in 1821 when the British government seized privately held lands along the coast. Gold Coast had long been a name for the region used by Europeans, due to the large gold resources to be found in the area, although slave trade was the principal exchange for a number of years. In 1872, the Dutch lost interest in the coast and gave up their forts to the British.

Britain steadily expanded the colony through the invasion of local kingdoms, the Ashanti Confederacy and other European countries which had colonies in the region.

Britain's main problem was the Ashanti people, who controlled much of Ghana before the Europeans arrived and are still today the biggest community in Ghana. During the First Anglo-Ashanti war (1863-1864) the two groups fought because of a disagreement over an Ashanti chief and slavery.

Tensions increased in 1874 during the Second Asanti War (1873-1874) when the British sacked the Ashanti capital of Kumasi. The third Asanti War(1893-1894) occurred because the new Ashanti ruler wanted to use his power. From 1895-1896 the British and Ashanti fought in the fourth and final Ashanti War, where the Ashanti fought for and lost their independence.

In 1900 the Ashanti Uprising occurred and resulted in the Ashanti capture and, shortly after, loss of Kumasi. This was due to an attempt to steal the Ashanti throne. At the end of this last Ashanti War, the Ashanti people became a protectorate in 1902.

By 1901, all of the Gold Coast was a British colony, with its kingdoms and tribes forming a single unit. Various natural resources — such as gold, metal ores, diamonds, ivory, pepper, timber, corn and cocoa — were shipped from the Gold Coast by the British. The British coloniserz built railways and a complex transport infrastructure which formed the basis for the transport infrastructure in modern-day Ghana. Western hospitals and schools were also built, an attempt by the British to export what were then modern day amenities to the people of the Empire.

However, by 1945, demands for more autonomy by the Gold Coast population were beginning to arise, in the wake of the end of the Second World War and the beginnings of the decolonisation process across the world.

By 1956, British Togoland, the Ashanti protectorate, and the Fante protectorate were merged with the Gold Coast to create one colony, which became known as the Gold Coast. In 1957 the colony gained independence under the name of Ghana, the first independent black sub-Sahara nation on the continent.

After a chekered independent history, punctuated by a spate of military takeovers known locally as "booms", Ghana stands as one of Africa's most respected democracies - an enviable status in a region racked by coups and wars. As Ghana turned independent, the first president Kwame Nkrumah told his fellow citizens: "Ghana, your beloved country, is free forever."

Many Ghanaians see peace as the country's greatest achievement today - that and the fact their country gave the world former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Ghana's 1957 breakout from colonialism triggered a wave of independence movements and liberation struggles that changed the map of the African continent. In less than two decades, the patchwork of colonial dominions carved up by European powers at the end of the 19th century became a group of new states.

But Nkrumah's dream for a new Africa, strong, free and prosperous, rapidly turned sour in Ghana as his personalized rule led to persecution of opponents and his profligate spending brought the country's once-rich economy to collapse. He was overthrown in a coup in 1966 - one of a spate of military takeovers that rippled across the continent and stained independence dreams with bloodshed.

Ghana stumbled from coup to coup until Jerry Rawlings, himself a leader of two "booms" in 1979 and 1981, restored democratic elections in 1992. Present President John Kufuor, who was elected in 2000, is due to stand down at elections in 2008.

For many Ghana citizans, the nation's greatest failing has been the slow pace of economic development. Some do not have water and electricity at home.

Compared with many struggling West African economies, Ghana can boast steady growth, low inflation, and rising gold and cocoa output that has attracted foreign investors. But its achievements pale when compared with South Asian economies, such as Malaysia and South Korea, that it saw as equals in the 1950s. (info from Wikipedia and

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