History Files


African Kingdoms

West Africa





Ghana is a western African state which opens out onto the South Atlantic Ocean. 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 Ashanti 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 the Ghana Empire, or Wagadou.

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


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


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


c.1140 - 1160


c.1160 - 1180


c.1180 - 1200

Diara Kante

c.1200 - 1234


1234 - 1237



The kingdom falls to Mali.

1400 - 1415

Kind Reidja Akba

Ruler of the Akwar area small settlements.


English Gold Coast is created.

Kingdom of Asante / Ashanti
c.AD 1680 - 1902

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.)

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


British Gold Coast becomes a crown colony, incorporating the coastal stretch near the kingdom's borders.


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.


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 the aptly-named British Gold Coast.


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. In 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

Prempeh I



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.


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 that exist for modern Ghana.

Modern Ghana
AD 1957 - Present Day

Ghana is located on the southern coastline of Western Africa. It is bordered by Togo to the east, Burkina Faso to the north, and Ivory Coast to the west. The Republic of Ghana has its capital at Accra, which is also its largest city.

Modern Ghana was formed from the merger of two colonial possessions - the Gold Coast and British Togoland - by a plebiscite which was pushed by the United Nations in 1956. In doing so, this made 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.


Sir Charles Noble Arden-Clarke

British governor-general. Former colonial 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 takes the reigns of power as the country's first president.

1966 - 1981

Kwame Nkrumah is deposed by a military coup while he is abroad on official duties, perhaps with support from the USA. The coup is one of many during these years, with rule being handled by various councils, until Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings takes power in 1981. He suspends the constitution and bans political parties. Many Ghanaians emigrate to Nigeria during the period, but Nigeria forcibly returns many of them in 1983.

Jerry Rawlings
Ghanaian leader for thirty-four years, Jerry Rawlings

1969 - 1972

This is Ghana's Second Republic period, which is halted by another unelected change in power.

1979 - 1981

This is Ghana's Third Republic period, which is ended when Jerry Rawlings seizes power.

1981 - 1992

Jerry Rawlings

Seized power.


After overseeing a return to democracy, 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,

1993 - Present

Ghana's Fourth Republic period begins as full democracy returns to the country.

1999 - Present

Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II

Hereditary asantehene of Asante.