Quick Reference

Ghana has achieved one of Africa's few transfers of power through the ballot box

Apart from scattered hills and plateaux along its eastern and western borders, Ghana consists mostly of lowlands. These include a coastal plain that extends up to 80 kilometres inland and incorporates many lagoons and marshes. Almost two-thirds of the country, however, consists of the basin of the Volta River, which now includes Lake Volta, which was formed by the Akosombo dam—the largest artificial lake in the world. There is a sharp climatic division between the dry north and the wetter and lusher south.

Ghana's population comprises dozens of ethnic groups of whom the largest are the Akan. The population has been growing rapidly—at around 3% per year, though this rate is expected to drop.

By the standards of Sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana is relatively well off. Even so, 28% of the population live below the poverty line—and poverty is generally more severe in the north. Health standards have been low but in 2003 the government introduced a National Health Insurance Scheme which now provides insurance for almost 60% of the population. Education standards have also been low but literacy rates are rising.

Around 50% of people still make their living from agriculture, which accounts for around 42% of GDP. The main food crops are maize, yams, and cassava, while the main cash crop, and one of the leading export earners, is cocoa. Cocoa is produced by more than 1.6 million peasant farmers, mostly on plots of under three hectares and although production collapsed in the mid-1980s it has now bounced back—partly because the government has raised producer prices and farmers have replaced trees.

Even so, overall agricultural productivity has been falling, a consequence of low investment and the removal of subsidies on inputs such as fertilizers, which many farmers can no longer afford. Some are now reverting to subsistence production. Another important agricultural export is timber, though there are concerns about deforestation.

Ghana, whose colonial name was the ‘Gold Coast’, once again has gold as its leading export. The main producer is the Ashanti Goldfields Corporation. Other important mining activities involve manganese and diamonds. In 2007, oil was discovered off the coast. Production will start in 2010 and is expected to contribute around $1.2 billion annually to the state coffers.

Ghana also has a diverse collection of manufacturing industries, a legacy of earlier efforts at self-sufficiency.

Ghana has important historical slavery sites

In 1983, Ghana started to follow the market-led structural adjustment recipes of the IMF and the World Donors rewarded Ghana with considerable aid. This stimulated entrepreneurial activity, particularly in financial services and trade, and imports flooded in. Tourists also started to arrive to visit Ghana's ecological reserves as well as historical sites related to slavery.

But development did not reach far into the rural areas, and the loans steadily piled up. By 1999, Ghana's total debt was equivalent to four years of export earnings and the economy was in steep decline. In the past few years, however, the economy has been growing at around 5% annually.


Subjects: History — African Studies.

Reference entries

See all related reference entries in Oxford Index »