Interesting facts about Ghana

interesting facts about ghana

60 years anniversary of Independence

With the Republic of Ghana celebrating their 60 years anniversary of Independence this year here is part one of our two part feature focusing on some of the history of the west African nation and its culture and traditions.

On 6 March 2017 an annual Independence Day parade in Black Star Square in the capital city of Accra will commemorate the day when the independence movement led by Kwame Nkrumah resulted in Ghana officially becoming the first black African country to free itself from colonial rule.

Kwame Nkrumah

Kwame Nkrumah
Kwame Nkrumah. (Image via Wikipedia Creative Commons)

In 1999 BBC listeners in Africa voted Kkrumah as their “Man of the Millennium” beating the likes of Nelson Mandela.

Kkrumah, who became Ghana’s first prime minister and later president of the new republic, had a huge vision for Ghana and for a new Africa. He visualised his country as part of a “United States of Africa” coming together as strong collective world power.

In his 1957 independence speech he said:

“Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa”

Kkrumah had great faith in the power of science and technology which he wanted to use to create a modern industrial Utopia with Ghana. Central to this project was the building of a new dam on the Volta River.  The new dam would produce the vast quantities of cheap electricity to power a new modern industrial state and be the driving force behinds his plans to transform Ghana.

To get the dam built Kkrumah knew that Ghana would need a partner and had talks with the British until they pulled out and it was left to a major American aluminium company to step in. Sadly, in his all-or-nothing push to get the dam built meant the deal he signed for Ghana with the World Bank and the Kaiser Aluminum Company as a subsidiary ultimately resulted with many Ghanaians convinced that in the short term the project was of greater benefit to Kaiser and the Bank than to their country. The deal allowed electricity for a 25 year period to be controlled by Kaiser who only had to pay rates of less than half the market value.

After the dam was finally built the American company did really well out of it and although Ghana was able to pay back World Bank and Kaiser loans mainly die to it thriving cocoa production it did not benefit a whole deal. Allowing new Western commercial interests into the country also opened up a kind of ‘Pandora’s Box’ where exploitation and corruption escalated.

Western unscrupulous interests circled and sold Ghana lots of mainly services and products that they did or could not even use as such a nascent developing country.

A culture of bribery and corruption became commonplace on the way to Ghana being bankrupt. Within the background of the Cold War the US used what it called publicly as ‘foreign aid’ but in practice knew it was a means to leverage and influence policy in Ghana.

Under Nkrumah there was rapid growth in key social areas. Hospital, roads, primary schools, middle schools, teacher training, new colleges and universities. There was massive investment.

This can be compared to the very limited growth under the British, who prioritised colonial policies, and subsequently post-Kkrumah in a area of military coups.

Ghana became the first country in Africa to provide free education medical care and established further universities at Cape Coast and Kumasi.

Much was achieved in the way of infrastructure including an international airport in Accra and the building of roads. Interesting and arguably somewhat bizarrely, especially given the BBC poll mentioned early, was the decision to change the name of the airport from Kwame Nkrumah to Major-General Emmanuel Kotoka. Kotoka was the man who led a coup that overthrew Nkrumah. The coup was covertly supported by the CIA and a trademark example of CIA or Western powers aiding coups of democratically elected leaders and regime chance with leaders sympathetic to Western interests.

Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park in Accra contains the mausoleum of Ghana's first president.
Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park in Accra contains the mausoleum of Ghana’s first president. (Image David Stanley via Flickr)

After the commodities crash of the cocoa market of which Ghana was the world’s leading player at the time Kkrumah went to the Americans for help. They could have helped but it was too good an opportunity to hold off and reap the benefits.

Paul Lee, a historian, filmmaker Director of Best Efforts, Inc. (BEI), a professional research and consulting service that specializes in the recovery, preservation, and dissemination of global black history and culture highlighted how later declassified documents shed some light on what happened in Ghana:

On May 27, 1965, Robert W. Komer, a National Security Council staffer, briefed his boss, McGeorge Bundy, President Johnson’s special assistant for national security affairs, on the anti-Nkrumah campaign (Document 253).

Komer, who first joined the White House as a member of President Kennedy’s NSC staff, had worked as a CIA analyst for 15 years. In 1967, Johnson tapped him to head his hearts-and-minds pacification program in Vietnam.

Komer’s report establishes that the effort was not only inter-agency, sanctioned by the White House and supervised by the State Department and CIA, but also intergovernmental, being supported by America’s Western allies.

“FYI,” he advised, “we may have a pro-Western coup in Ghana soon. Certain key military and police figures have been planning one for some time, and Ghana’s deteriorating economic condition may provide the spark.”

“The plotters are keeping us briefed,” he noted, “and the State Department thinks we’re more on the inside than the British. While we’re not directly involved (I’m told), we and other Western countries (including France) have been helping to set up the situation by ignoring Nkrumah’s pleas for economic aid. All in all, it looks good.”

After the successful coup Komer, now acting special assistant for national security affairs, wrote a congratulatory assessment to the President on March 12, 1966 (Document 260). His assessment of Nkrumah and his successors was telling.

“The coup in Ghana,” he crowed, “is another example of a fortuitous windfall. Nkrumah was doing more to undermine our interests than any other black African. In reaction to his strongly pro-Communist leanings, the new military regime is almost pathetically pro-Western.”

Nkrumah did much to put Ghana on the map and encourage other countries in Africa to free themselves from foreign domination. Just as importantly for Ghana he fostered a sense of national unity among Ghanaians and suppressed any sectionalism or tribalism that plagued many other African nations and led to bloody internal conflicts.

He may not have realised his full dream of Ghana as part of a flourishing and strong union of African nations but he had notable successes in his lifetime that greatly improved the lives of many in his country and undoubtedly left a legacy and foundations that modern Ghana would benefit from.

Modern Ghana’s economy

In the 1980s Ghana went to the World Bank to ask for assistance as their economy was at rock bottom. The Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreed to lend money only if the Ghanian government agreed to make major economic policy changes. On the face of it the Bank and the IMF were rescuing Ghana from its economic predicament and woes but in reality it was becoming a manager of the economy and essentially able to set their own policies acting with the power of a government.

ghana independence
Independence Square, Ghana. Image Stig Nygaard via Flickr.

One policy the Bank put in place was eliminating subsidies for medicine. With the average villager earning less than $10 a week ensued that this World Bank/IMF policy made poor people even poorer. Subsidies had kept the cost of medicine at prices poor villagers could afford but with the new policies most people could not afford to go to see a doctor or pay for the treatment. The World Bank’s own reports revealed that most Africans are worse off than they were before the World Bank and the IMF became active in the part of the world.

Although Ghana had been held up as an ‘African Success’, mainly by institutions, organisations and lenders which have done very well out of the country financially, this ‘success’ has seriously faltered after the plummeting of global commodity prices coupled with crippling debts.

Jubilee Debt Campaign, an organisation which works to try and eradicate unjust debts which burden poorer countries yet greatly enrich rich lenders, like many, have been critical of the policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In their the fall and rise of Ghana’s debts, how a new debt trap has been set up’ :

Ghana is in a debt crisis. Despite having had significant amounts of debt cancelled a decade ago, the country is losing around 30% of government revenue in external debt payments each year. Such huge payments are only possible because Ghana has been able to take on more loans from institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which are used to pay the interest on debts to previous lenders, whilst the overall size of the debt increases. At the moment, all the costs of the crisis are being born by the people of Ghana, and none by the lenders.

Larry Elliot, the Guardian’s Economics editor highlighted how:  the World Bank and the IMF won’t admit their policies are the problems.

In early 2015, the IMF and World Bank said Ghana was at high risk of being unable to pay its debts. Seven months later, the World Bank guaranteed $400m of repayments on a £1bn bond sold to private investors. It had to waive its rules to do so, because the World Bank is not supposed to guarantee loans to countries at high risk of distress.

The World Bank said it was trying to help refinance expensive short-term debt and free up resources that could be used for investment, but the winners of this arrangement are the speculators getting a 10.75% return, who will make money even if Ghana can’t repay the loan, due to the World Bank guarantee. The losers will be the Ghanaian people, who will be subject to austerity under the terms of a new IMF programme. Ghana is planning spending cuts by 2017 of 20% per head on 2012 levels.

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