History Files
 

 

African Kingdoms

West Africa

 

 

 

Ghana

Ghana is a West African state which opens out onto the South Atlantic Ocean. Today it is bordered by Burkino Faso to the north, Togo to the east, and Ivory Coast in the west. Inhabited by 1500 BC, the various peoples who make up modern Ghana only arrived by around the thirteenth century AD. The region witnessed the rise of various kingdoms such as those of the Asante and Fante (Ewe and Ga), before contact with Portugal and then Britain opened it up to trade and colonisation. The country's best-known (semi) historical period before the modern age was that of the Old Ghana empire, or Wagadou. This was at its height in the last part of the first millennium AD, but much of its detail was not recorded, at least not in any form that has survived for modern scholars..

Old Ghana / Ghana Empire / Soninke Empire of Wagadou
c.AD 350 - 1237

The native name for this state was Wagadou. 'Ghana' simply means 'king', but this has come to be the term by which this nation is generally referred. The empire of Ghana was located in what is now south-eastern Mauritania, western Mali, and eastern Senegal, and it emerged following incursions by Berber tribes which caused the collapse of the previous social organisation. The capital was at Kumbi Saleh. Old Ghana controlled the Mandinka tribes of Mali, including the kingdom of Kangaba.

fl c.350

Kaya Maja

Ruler of the Akwar area small settlements.

c.350 - c.622

Twenty-one kings whose names are unknown

Ghana Empire village
A typical Ghananaian empire village

c.622 - c.750

Twenty-one kings whose names are unknown

fl c.750

Majan Dyabe Sisse

Soninke 'ghana'.

c.750 - c.1040

Several kings, names unknown

1040 - 1062

Bassi

Soninke 'ghana'.

1062 - 1068

Tunka Menin

Soninke 'ghana'.

1062 - 1076

Fourteen years of war against the fanatical Almorivids ends with the capture and burning of Kumbi Saleh. The Almoravids are unable to hold onto their prize, and the much-weakened Ghanaians retake it. The Mandinka of Mali take the opportunity to break away from Ghanaian rule.

1068 - 1076

?

Name or names unknown.

1076 - c.1090

Kambine Diaresso

c.1090 - 1100

Suleiman

1100 - 1230

Ghana ceases to be a commercial or military power after 1100. For a brief period, until about 1230, the Soso people, who are rabidly anti-Muslim, control a kingdom making up the southern portions of the Ghanaian empire, but the Almorivid revolution effectively halts the growth of kingdoms and empires in the Sahel for almost a century.

c.1100 - 1120

Bannu Bubu

c.1120 - 1130

Majan Wagadu

c.1130 - 1140

Gane

c.1140 - 1160

Musa

c.1160 - 1180

Birama

c.1180 - 1200

Diara Kante

c.1200 - 1234

Sumanguru

1234 - 1237

?

1237

The kingdom falls to Mali.

1400 - 1415

Kind Reidja Akba

Ruler of the Akwar area small settlements.

1621

English Gold Coast is created.

Kingdom of Asante / Ashanti
c.AD 1680 - 1821

In a history of Africa that can at times be difficult to uncover, one kingdom that stands out is that of the Asante (or Ashante). One of the continent's most impressive kingdoms, it was built on slaves and gold. The kingdom was founded deep in the forests of what is now Ghana in West Africa, an unusual location for a sophisticated kingdom to emerge.

The kingdom's origins are entirely obscure. Archaeologists of the University of Ghana have recently discovered terracotta artefacts in the forests dating to the ninth and tenth centuries. They depict animals and humans and are believed to have formed part of a shrine, but who built it is another question, as it was raised in the time of Old Ghana. To date no link has been found between these objects and the Asante kingdom. Its ancestors were the Akan, who hunted for food in the depths of the thick forests in the fifteenth century but who underwent a remarkable transition between then and the seventeenth century. They started to clear areas of the forest and cultivate food crops, allowing their numbers to increase. They needed more labour to clear additional areas of the forest, so they took slaves to help, albeit slaves of a less oppressive and more socially flexible nature than with the later Transatlantic slave trade. Farming prospered, producing wealth in food, and that drove the Akan on to achieve more. Then they discovered gold.

By the mid-1600s, a patchwork of Akan communities had grown into minor states. The most powerful of these was Denkyira (pronounced Dench-ii-ra) in the central western area of Akan territory, which had the richest gold mines in the forest. Denkyira's great wealth meant that it controlled the local economy and slave trade, so its neighbours banded together under the leadership of Osei Tutu (born perhaps in the 1640s but with a somewhat doubtful existence that cannot be confirmed by historical evidence). The destruction of Denkyira as a leading power gave birth to the Asante kingdom under Osei Tutu. He formed a capital at Kumasi which, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was the centre of the kingdom's power. He and his successors ruled as the asantehene, the king, and they used their wealth to ensure prominent displays of gold as a symbol of their grip on power.

(Additional information from the BBC documentary series, Lost Kingdoms of Africa, first broadcast on 5 January 2010, and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles and Manhyia Palace.)

Previously independent neighbouring states are gradually integrated into the expanding kingdom. Their chiefs are made subjects, and their territories are made regions of the kingdom. Captive enemy warriors are enslaved and put to work in feeding the economy and helping to further expand the kingdom.

1680 - 1717

Osei Tutu I (Opemsuo)

1707

English Gold Coast becomes British Gold Coast on 1 May. The Asante use their trading networks to sell slaves for profit to the British and other European nations who trade along the coast. In return, they buy European weapons which they use to further increase the size of the kingdom.

1720 - 1750

Opoku Ware I

1750 - 1764

Kusi Obodum

1764 - 1777

Osei Kwame (Oko-Awia)

1777 - 1798

Osei Kwame

1798 - 1799

Opoku Fofie

1800 - 1823

Osei Bonsu

1800s

By now, Asante has grown to such a size that it has a population of two million, an incredible number for nineteenth century Africa. It has more than doubled its size since the seventeenth century, incorporating territory that is a sixteen day walk away from the central capital at Kumasi.

1807

The slave trade in Britain is abolished, and Asante is affected. Trade has to switch to other products and Kumasi suffers a population drop as people move towards the southern provinces, nearer the coast, to engage in new trading ventures. Payment in gold for European items causes a shortage, so gold is hoarded and becomes even more scarce.

1817

Thomas Bowditch visits the kingdom from England and writes a remarkable account of his attendance at the royal court, noting its lavish display of showy cloths and silks, animals, and golden swords. The king wields great power over his people, and is happy to display his wealth by wearing more gold than anyone else while his ministers hold the skulls of opponents who had been overcome by the king.

1821

Britain abolishes the African Company of Merchants and seizes privately held land along the coast, incorporating it into the Gold Coast which now becomes a crown colony. Suddenly Asante is not the only major power in the region and the two begin an unspoken struggle for superiority.

Kingdom of Asante & Gold Coast Colony
AD 1821 - 1902

The Asante (or Ashante) kingdom was been founded in the seventeenth century after the eclipse of Denkyira as a leading regional power. The Asante leader, Osei Tutu, formed a capital of his own at Kumasi from where he and his successors ruled as the asantehene, the king. By the start of the nineteenth century the kingdom was prosperous, with an impressive population of around two million, but it was negatively affected by Britain's abolition of the slave trade. Gold became a scarcer resource and population movements saw an increase in coastal living.

Then, in 1821, the British presence along the coast was formalised with the creation of the Gold Coast crown colony. This not only helped to keep the competing French and their Ivory Coast territory from expanding eastwards, but also gave Britain a foothold in influencing Asante's affairs. Only grass and bush separated the French West Africa territories to the north from Asante, and the kingdom of Dahomey bordered Asante to the east so the French focussed their attentions here instead. Alternative dates of 1867 and 1874 are given for the creation of the Gold Coast colony, but there are mere enlargements of its territory.

(Additional information from the BBC documentary series, Lost Kingdoms of Africa, first broadcast on 5 January 2010, and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles and Manhyia Palace.)

1824 - 1834

Osei Yaw Akoto

1834 - 1867

Kwaku Dua I

1860s

Although the relationship between Britain and Asante is one of advantageous mutual trade, some of the southernmost Asante provinces have gradually turned to the British for protection following the ending of the slave trade and the migration of people away from the capital. Now Asante decides it wants firmer, more direct control of these wayward provinces, but to have the kingdom strong and fully in control of all trade is not in Britain's best interests. The two sides begin to manoeuvre for superiority.

1867 - 1874

Kofi Karikari

1874

As tensions mount between Asante and the British, the Asante take several Europeans hostage, and this is the signal for war. In February 1874, British troops march into Kumasi, the first foreign troops to do so. They burn it to the ground and Asante is forced to accept the loss of its southern provinces. In August 1874, these provinces become part of the aptly-named British Gold Coast crown colony.

1874 - 1883

Mensa Bonsu

1880s

Having lost much of its prestige with the comprehensive defeat of 1874, the Asante kingdom is heading towards civil war as other provinces demand more freedom.

1884

Kwaku Dua II 1884

1888

The various factions agree to a peaceful settlement which sees a new asantehene ascend the throne, the sixteen year-old Prempeh I.

1888 - 1896

Agyeman Prempeh I

Aceded aged 16. Exiled.

1896

Prempeh is forced to accept exile by the British, along with his immediate family and some close advisors. They are given passage to Sierra Leone where they remain for three years before being moved to the Seychelles. The removal of the asantehene stops Asante's resurgence dead in its tracks.

1896 - 1931

Agyeman Prempeh I

Asantehene of Asante in exile.

1902

Asante is forcibly incorporated into the British Gold Coast colony, along with further territory to its immediate north which had not belonged to the kingdom itself. Save for the later addition of British Togoland, this creates borders for the colony that are essentially those of modern Ghana.

1925

The first legislative council elections take place in Gold Coast.

1931 - 1970

Osei Tutu Agyeman Prempeh II

Nephew of Prempeh I. Asantehene of Asante.

1949 - 1957

Sir Charles Noble Arden-Clarke

British governor. Became first post-colonial governor-general.

Modern Ghana
AD 1957 - Present Day

Known formally as the republic of Ghana, the modern state is located on the southern coastline of Western Africa, which is known as the Gulf of Guinea. It has its capital at Accra, which is also its largest city, and operates as a unitary presidential constitutional democracy. It is bordered by Togo to the east, Burkina Faso to the north, and Ivory Coast to the west.

Modern Ghana was formed from the merger of two colonial possessions - the Gold Coast and British Togoland. The Gold Coast was formed in 1874 after Britain and the kingdom of Asante fought a brief war to see who would be master in the region. Britain won, and Asante's southern provinces were removed from it to become the Gold Coast. British Togoland was formed in 1916 by splitting occupied German Togoland into French and British divisions. The French half eventually became Togo, The British half, a thin strip of territory running the length of the Gold Coast's eastern border along and above Lake Volta, elected to join Gold Coast and form Ghana via a plebiscite which was pushed by the United Nations in 1956.

Thanks to the 1956 plebiscite, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African nation to gain independence. A presidential democracy was established, initially led by one of the main activists against colonial rule, Kwame Nkrumah. Despite years of military coups and rule, today it is one of Africa's most advanced sub-Saharan states, offering a remarkably stable and peaceful life for its twenty-seven million-or-so inhabitants (in 2014). It also has some of Africa's largest reserves of gas and oil, and is a major diamond and cocoa producer, all of which contribute to its comparative wealth.

The former Asante kings are still elected as king of the Asante themselves, and still weild considerable political power, but they play no part in the nation's politics. Their residence is at Kumasi, the Asante capital which lies near Lake Bosumtwi in south-western Ghana. Successive Asante kings are shown with a shaded background.

(Additional information from the Ghana Statistical Service and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles and Manhyia Palace.)

1957

Sir Charles Noble Arden-Clarke

British governor-general. Former Gold Coast governor since 1949.

1957 - 1960

William Francis Hare

British governor-general.

1960 - 1966

Ghana's 'First Republic' period begins upon the withdrawal of the British governor-general. Kwame Nkrumah, one of the leaders of Ghana's push for independence, takes the reigns of power as the country's first president. In 1964 the country becomes a one-party state.

Kwame Nkrumah at independence
Kwame Nkrumah, first president of an independent Ghana, proclaimes Ghanaian independence at midnight on 6 March 1957

1966 - 1969

Kwame Nkrumah is deposed by a military coup whilst abroad on official duties, perhaps with support from the USA. Chinese and Russian technicians are expelled from the country. The coup is one of many during these years, with rule being handled by various councils.

1969 - 1972

A new constitution facilitates the transfer of power to a civilian government which is led by Kofi Busia. This is Ghana's 'Second Republic' period, which is halted by another unelected change in power when Busia is ousted in a military coup that is led by Colonel Ignatius Acheampong.

1970 - 1999

Opoku Ware II

Nephew of Prempeh II. Asantehene of Asante.

1972 - 1978

Ignatius Acheampong

Military coup leader. Forced to resign. Executed in 1979.

1978 - 1979

Frederick Akuffo

Military general. Deposed and executed.

1979 - 1981

Akuffo is deposed in coup led by Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings. He has Acheampong and Akuffo executed. In September of the same year, Rawlings hands over power to an elected president, Hilla Limann. This is Ghana's 'Third Republic' period.

1981

Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings stages his second coup and takes power again, ending the third republic and ousting President Limann after two years of weak government and economic stagnation. Rawlings suspends the constitution and bans political parties, replacing them with conservatist leadership and abolishing subsidies and price controls. Many Ghanaians emigrate to Nigeria during the period, but Nigeria forcibly returns many of them in 1983. Slowly the country begins to recover.

1981 - 1992

Jerry Rawlings

Seized power for a second time and retained it.

1992 - Present

In April a constitution allowing for a multi-party system is approved in a referendum, ushering in a more permanent period of democracy. This is Ghana's 'Fourth Republic' period. After overseeing this process, Rawlings is elected president, twice, serving until 2000. The country is a secure and stable democracy by now, which sees free and fair elections on a regular basis.

Jerry Rawlings
Ghanaian leader for thirty-four years, Jerry Rawlings, led two coups to establish an improved level of democracy, albeit retaining power himself for a large period of time after the second coup

1994 - 1995

Land disputes in the north erupt into ethnic violence. Ethnic clashes between the Konkomba and the Nanumba have been taking place over land ownership, but the bloodshed now results in the deaths of a thousand people and the displacement of a further 150,000.

1999 - Present

Osei Tutu II

Formerly Prince Nana Dua. Asantehene of Asante.

2001

This year is a troubled one for Ghana. In February, petrol prices rise by 60% following the government's decision to remove fuel subsidies. In April the country accepts debt relief under a scheme designed by the World Bank and the IMF. In May, a national day of mourning is proclaimed after a football stadium stampede leaves 126 people dead. An inquiry blames the police for overreacting to crowd trouble. In June, the government scraps a public holiday that celebrates Rawling's military coup in an effort to wipe out the legacy of his rule. Finally, in June floods hit Accra, causing ten deaths and forcing 100,000 to flee their homes.

2002 - 2004

A state of emergency is declared in the north in April after a tribal chief and more than thirty others are killed in clan violence. The state of emergency is lifted in August 2004.

2007

Ghana experiences mixed fortunes in 2007 but with the promise of better times to come. In June a major offshore oil discovery is announced. President Kufuor states that the oil will turn Ghana into an 'African tiger', a reference to the rapidly-growing Far Eastern economies of the early part of the twenty-first century. In September, Ghana suffers its worst floods for more than thirty years, causing widespread devastation and destroying much of the annual harvest.