Ghana is celebrating 65 years since the declaration of freedom from colonial rule.

Celebrating independence is always a moment of national reflection and sentiments on the state of development in the country. Is Ghana truly independent? Is Ghana progressing? Is Ghana living up to its name? These and other questions trouble the minds of patriotic citizens of the motherland. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah predicted this state of questioning when he said,

Countrymen, the task ahead is great indeed, and heavy is the responsibility; and yet it is a noble and glorious challenge – a challenge which calls for the courage to dream, the courage to believe, the courage to dare, the courage to do, the courage to envision, the courage to fight, the courage to work, the courage to achieve – to achieve the highest excellencies and the fullest greatness of man. Dare we ask for more in life?

The celebration of independence this year has been very sentimental because of the ongoing unrest in other African countries and beyond, a possible example of the peace Ghanaians may be taking for granted. There are two anonymous quotes I love. The first one says something like, “. . .to know where you are headed, you must remember where you’re from.” The second one also says “. . .having knowledge of our history allows us to understand where we are coming from, which allows us to understand our present. It not only reveals the past, but it also helps us create a better future.”

I love these quotes because they both show the connection between our origins and the future. To re-evaluate the state of Ghana, it is important to remember our story – to know that the history of Ghana does not begin with colonisation.


Ghana Before Colonisation

The history of Ghana doesn’t start with colonisation, African civilisation existed centuries before European invasion

Before the end of the 16th century, the majority of ethnic groups that make up today’s Ghanaian population had settled in their current areas. Archaeological relics discovered along the shore show that the area has been inhabited since the early Bronze Age (about 4000 B.C.), but these societies, which relied on fishing in the wide lagoons and rivers, left little evidence of their existence. Archaeological evidence suggests that central Ghana was populated as early as 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, north of the forest zone. Oral history and other sources indicate that the ancestors of certain Ghanaian tribes arrived in this area as early as the ninth century A.D. and that migration from the north and east continued after that.

Oral traditions and archaeological evidence indicate that the Mole-Dagbane kingdoms of Mamprusi, Dagomba, and Gonja, as well as the Mossi states of Yatenga and Wagadugu, were among the first Kingdoms to arise in contemporary Ghana, which had dominance by the end of the 16th century. The Mossi and Gonja monarchs arrived to learn the languages of the people they ruled. In general, however, members of the ruling elite preserved their customs, and some of them can still narrate stories about their northern beginnings.

Even though the monarchs were not usually Muslims, they either brought or welcomed Muslims as scribes and healers, and Muslims also played an important role in the trade that connected southern and northern Ghana. Islam had a significant impact on the north as a result of their existence. Muslim influence, disseminated by traders and priests, has been documented even among the Asante to the south. Although the majority of Ghanaians preserved their traditional beliefs, the Muslims brought with them some skills, like writing, as well as beliefs and practices that became part of the culture of the peoples with whom they resided.  

A multitude of peoples resided in the large band of rocky territory between the northern borders of the Muslim-influenced realms of Gonja, Mamprusi, and Dagomba and the southernmost outposts of the Mossi Kingdoms. Among these peoples were the agriculturalists Sisala, Kasena, Kusase, and Talensi, who were closely linked to the Mossi. Rather than forming centralised nations, they lived in so-called segmented communities, which were linked by kinship connections and ruled by clan chiefs. Trade flowed through their homelands between the Akan nations to the south and the Mossi Kingdoms to the north, subjecting them to Islamic influence and the depredations of these more powerful neighbors.

The state of Asante was to have the most cohesive history and the most influence among the components that would later make up Ghana. The Asante are a branch of the Akan people that speak Twi. The clans that would become the core of the Asante confederacy went north to dwell near Lake Bosumtwe. Before the mid-seventeenth century, the Asante began an expansion headed by a series of militant leaders that resulted in the dominance of neighboring peoples and the development of the most powerful of the central forest zone’s states.

A series of successful military campaigns against neighboring Akan kingdoms led to the alliance of a broader surrounding territory with the Asante under Chief Oti Akenten. Osei Tutu was appointed Asantehene(King of Asante) at the end of the 17th century. The confederacy of Asante states was turned into an empire under Osei Tutu’s leadership, with Kumasi as its capital. Consolidation of political and military power followed, resulting in a firmly established centralised rule. Osei Tutu was strongly influenced by the high priest, Okomfo Anokye, who, tradition asserts, caused a stool of gold to descend from the sky to seal the union of Asante states. During this era, stools were already used as traditional chieftainship symbols, but the Golden Stool of Asante symbolized the combined spirit of all the allied states and established a dual allegiance.

Newly captured lands that joined the confederation were allowed to keep their own customs and Chiefs, who were awarded seats on the Asante state council. Because most of the previous conquests had subjugated other Akan peoples, Osei Tutu’s gesture made the process relatively easy and unobtrusive. Each minor state continued to exercise internal self-rule inside the Asante areas of the confederacy, and its Chief carefully guarded the state’s prerogatives against invasion by the central authority. A strong unity arose, however, as the numerous communities submitted their separate interests to central authority on matters of national significance.

Ghana at Independence

After Ghana gained independence in 1957, much was expected and hoped for from Ghana but the country, like all emerging countries during the Cold War, faced enormous hurdles. Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, was removed from power nine years after the country gained independence. For the next 25 years, Ghana was primarily ruled by military rulers, with varying financial implications. Since resuming democratic rule in 1992, the country has established a reputation as a stable, liberal economy.

Ghana’s independence from the British was heartily hailed throughout the African diaspora. African-Americans, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, visited Ghana to join in the celebration of African liberty. At the time, other African countries still fighting for independence saw Ghana as a beacon of hope for the future.

The Way Forward?

It is true that Ghana has a long way to go. Even now, when Ghana is 65 years since independence, the challenges of self reliance, etc are still evident. If Ghana was a student, I would say, with respects to its overall development that there is more room for improvement. Ghana can do much better but it is definitely not a failed state. Ghana’s success requires collective strategic efforts.

Let’s build our motherland together! Visit Ghana and contribute to development as much as you can.

Start by signing up for our newsletter. 


Photo Credit: Twitter @glennsamm

Leave a comment