new internationalist
issue 314 - July 1999
Country profile

Where is ghana? If an award were to be given for the country with the friendliest people in West Africa, Ghana would win hands down. Ghanaian hospitality is proverbial and the ready smiles in the markets, on the street corners and in the trotro (minibus), leave a lingering impression on the mind.

Accra, the capital, with almost two million inhabitants, remains the liveliest city along the West African coast. Tourists not destined for the beaches used to travel through rolling hills toward the Ashanti region, which contains the Obuasi gold mine – reputed to be the world’s richest single mine – and Lake Bosumtwe, the only natural lake in West Africa. But they are just as likely now to head for the central region, where the tropical semi-deciduous rainforest is being developed for ecotourism in ‘reserves’.

The rise of tourism in Ghana is an offshoot of the economic recovery programme launched in 1983. The changes are visible enough: roads and ports are being rebuilt; gold has replaced cocoa as the country’s leading export and consumer goods are everywhere. But not everyone shares in the success. The cedi, the national currency, continues to drop against the major currencies due to inflation and more than 30 per cent of Ghanaians live in conditions of hard-core poverty. Many factories producing for the local market have had to close, unable to compete with the foreign goods flooding the market as a result of trade-liberalization policies.

These policies have won Ghana the plaudits of the international financial institutions, the World Bank and the IMF. The country is continually cited as an example of good management and commended for establishing a multiparty democracy under the leadership of President Jerry John Rawlings, a former flight-lieutenant and revolutionary who is a convert to free-market economics and parliamentary democracy.

Rawlings seized power – for the second time – in 1982 in protest at the Government’s preoccupation with foreign capital. But his own preoccupation has been even more marked, especially since he submitted himself for election: since 1986 around 200 of the 300 state-owned companies have been privatized and Ghana’s health and education systems have suffered badly under the IMF-inspired policies of the 1980s and 1990s.

Whatever you think of its economic policies, or its professed goal to be a middle-income nation in the next decade (its current GNP per capita stands at just $360), Ghana is unquestionably a force for stability in a West African region beset by conflict. It has played a key role in resolving regional conflicts and this diplomatic reliability can only be enhanced now that it has a native son, Kofi Annan, as Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Ghana’s political parties are now gearing up for the next general elections in the year 2000. As usual, the contest will be between the ruling National Democratic Congress and the main opposition, the New Patriotic Party. Rawlings himself is bowing out, in deference to the constitution which allows a President only two terms. He will remain a major force, though his attempt to ensure an even smoother succession – offering his wife as the ruling party’s next presidential candidate – was strangled at birth by widespread opposition.

Ghana was once a beacon for anti-colonialism and Pan-Africanism – under inspirational leader Kwame Nkrumah it was the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence from colonialism, as the British flag was run down on 6 March 1957. Now it is a beacon of a rather different kind: the World Bank has called it ‘black Africa’s economic showcase’. This is probably not what Nkrumah had in mind when he said at an anti-colonial victory rally: ‘The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked to the total liberation of Africa.’

Mike Anane


School children of Ghana, photo by MARK EDWARDS LEADER: President Jerry John Rawlings.

ECONOMY: GNP per capita $360 (UK $19,600). When last profiled in 1987 this was almost exactly the same, at $350.
Monetary unit: Cedi.
Main exports: gold (40%), cocoa & its products (25%), timber & its products (13%).
External debt: $6,202 million, or $348 per person.
Debt service: 27% of exports. Tourism is now the third-largest source of foreign exchange. Agriculture is still the mainstay of the economy, accounting for 50% of GDP and employing 60% of the working population.

PEOPLE: 18.3 million.

HEALTH: Infant mortality 68 per 1,000 live births (Nigeria 112, Canada 6 per 1,000).

ENVIRONMENT: Only about two million hectares of the country's closed forest remain, 30 per cent of the original area, and 22,000 hectares a year are lost to loggers, farmers and bush fires.

CULTURE: Akan 44%, Moshi-Dagomba 16%, Ewe 13%, Ga 8%. Religion: Indigenous beliefs 38%, Muslim 30%, Christian 24%, other 8%.
Languages: English (official), Akan, Moshi-Dagomba, Ewe and Ga.

Sources The World Guide 1999/2000, The State of the World's Children 1999, Africa Review 1998, Forestry Department of Government of Ghana.

Previously profiled June 1987.

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INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
An urban élite may have more consumer goods but the gap between rich and poor has increased markedly under structural adjustment.
1987 [image, unknown] [image, unknown]

[image, unknown] LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Not much improvement at 65%. 30% of children receive no primary schooling.
1987 [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Heavy reliance on imported goods and a substantial foreign debt.
1987 [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
The country's constitution has given the media a new lease of life: private newspapers are boldly independent and regularly expose government shortcomings and corruption.
1987 [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Inequalities exist but more women rise to occupy important positions each year.
1987 [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
58 years (Nigeria 52 years, Japan 80 years). The health system has been badly hit under structural adjustment.
1987 [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]


[image, unknown] NI ASSESSMENT [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Ghana now has stable political institutions with significant decentralization. But the impact on the poor of the IMF-approved economics embraced so wholeheartedly by the Rawlings Government has been devastating. The transition to the post-Rawlings era will be a significant test of the new democracy.

NI star rating

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