Learn More About Ghana

Ghana is located on the West African coast.  The country is largely English-speaking, is politically stable, has an extensive tourist infrastructure, and is known for its prominent role in the slave trade and in the development of 20th century Pan-Africanist communities.  As such, it attracts a large number of study abroad students, tourists, and volunteers every year, and it is arguably one of the most recognizable countries in Africa among American citizens.  Here’s a little more about Ghana’s history and culture that you might (not) know.

  • As early as the 15th century the area now known as Ghana was referred to as the Gold Coast – a reference the highlights the important role of the trade in gold between Africans and Europeans on the Atlantic Coast.  Under British colonial rule, which began in the mid-19th century, the region was formally known as the Gold Coast Colony.  The country’s current borders were more or less established by the beginning of the 20th century after the British successfully defeated the Asante Empire and incorporated them into the Colony.
  • The first permanent state in present-day Ghana dates back to the 11th century.  Numerous kingdoms have risen and fallen in this region over the centuries.  The most powerful is the Asante Kingdom, located in the central part of present-day Ghana, which was first established in the late 17th and early 18th centuries but which rose to prominence through the gold and slave trades of the 19th century.
The royal court of the Asantehene (King of the Asante)
  • The Asante are one part of a larger ethno-linguistic group called the Akan, who speak a various dialects of a language called Akan Twi.  Other Akan groups include the Fante, Akuapem, and Nzema.  The Akan constitute approximately 47% of the country’s population.  Other major ethnic groups include the Dagbani (16%), Ewe (14%), and Ga-Adangbe (7%).  The country has a population of approximately 27 million.  There are over 100 different ethno-linguistic groups in Ghana.
  • While there are 11 different official languages, English is considered the lingua franca.  Many people do speak English, especially in Accra; however, you still meet people around the country who do not speak English fluently or prefer to speak in local languages.


  • Ghana was the first African country to gain its independence from European colonial rule on March 6, 1957.  Ghana’s first Prime Minister (later President) Kwame Nkrumah argued that Ghana was the “Black Star of Africa”, which would lead the way for other African countries in the fight for liberation.  Nkrumah was a philosopher who understood that independence was meaningless unless it went hand-in-hand with 1) decolonization, and 2) the independence of the rest of the African continent.  He developed theories of African personality and African socialism, which he believed could help address the deleterious effects of colonialism and prevent what he called neocolonialism.  He also believed that Ghana’s liberation should be part of a Pan-African movement, and he encouraged the development of a single African government.  These ideas made him an important figure in Pan-Africanist circles, but they also made him an important leader in broader Third Worldist politics of the Non-Aligned Movement.  Nkrumah was on the cover of Time Magazine in 1953.  BBC Africa listeners voted Nkrumah the “Man of the Millennium” so his legacy still lives on today.
  • Most of us remember Nkrumah for his leadership in the movement for independence, but his reign as president was not always smooth.  A US-backed coup overthrew Nkrumah in 1966; however, he was by that point very unpopular among many Ghanaians who were suffering from the country’s economic decline and an increasingly authoritarian government.
  • The Ghanaian government today is known as the Fourth Republic.  That means that there have been four eras of democratically elected civilian government in the country’s sixty year history.  Those four periods have been interrupted by several military dictatorships.  The Fourth Republic began in 1992, when military leader Jerry John Rawlings transitioned to democratic rule and was elected President.  The country has since held consistent free and fair democratic elections.  Political power has changed in the country for the third time in the most recent election, which saw the New Patriotic Party’s Nana Akuffo Addo emerge victorious of current President John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress.  Despite the history of military dictatorship which plagued Ghanaian politics during the 1960s-1980s, the country has remained remarkably stable, particularly compared to its neighbors.


  • Ghana is located only a few degrees north of the equator.  The Prime Meridian also passes through Ghana (through the port town of Tema, located just to the East of Accra).  Its climate and geography varies significantly as you move northward through the country, from sand coastlines to verdant plains to rainforests and grasslands and ultimately to desert.
  • Seasons in Ghana aren’t the same as they are in the US.  Instead of summer, spring, winter, and fall, Ghanaian seasons are dry and rainy.  It’s pretty much always hot, particularly by American standards.  In July, when we will be in Ghana, it will be in the middle of the rainy season, which means that temperatures will be slightly lower though humidity will be higher.  Temperature does vary depending on where you are in the country.  Up in the mountains near where Ashesi is located, the temperature is often considerably cooler than in Accra or in the rainforest zones around Kumasi.
  • Ghana is the world’s largest producer of cocoa.  Most of this cocoa is grown for export, but there are several new companies who are processing cocoa and producing chocolate locally.  We’ll get to try some local artisan chocolate!
  • Ghana is one of the world’s newest oil economies, since oil was discovered just off the coast in 2011.
  • Ghana has one of the highest school enrollment rates on the continent, with 95% of children attending school.  There are 8 national public universities and increasing numbers of private colleges and universities in the country (including Ashesi, which is the most famous of these).  The oldest university – the University of Ghana – was founded in 1948.
  • 71% of the country’s population is Christian.  Approximately 18% of the population is Muslim.
  • Today Ghana has a population of approximately 28 million people.
  • A number of famous African Americans lived in Ghana in the 1950s and 1960s, including Maya Angelou and W.E.B. DuBois (who died and was buried in Ghana).  The Pan-Africanist George Padmore also moved to Ghana after independence.
  • Kente cloth, which is often worn in university graduation ceremonies, originally comes from Ghana.  While the kente cloth that is normally worn in the US is often Asante kente, other groups in Ghana also make kente cloth including the Ewe who argue that they are the original kente makers!  We’ll get to see how both Asante and Ewe kente cloth is made during our travels.


  • Adinkra symbols like sankofa (“go back and fetch it”) also originate in Ghana and are associated with the Akan people.


  • Wayne State University has some direct connections to Ghana!  Most recently, several justices in the Ghanaian Judicial System studied for their Master’s degrees at the Wayne State Law School.  As part of that program, Wayne State hosted the Chief Justice of Ghana, Georgina Wood in 2015.

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