It may falter, but it always rises: 10 fun facts about Ghana, West Africa's trendsetter

Ghana is the only West African country to have held four presidential debates back to back.

IN June devastated Ghana’s capital, Accra, have subsided. The government moved to fix the damage, and and to get the economy back on course.

In seeking to overcome, Ghana drew on a rich history and a track record of resilience. 

Ghana was the first sub-Saharan nation to attain independence, but it didn’t just stop there. This regional champion has since been setting trends throughout the continent, defining its own agenda and creating its own development story. 

This Anglophone country, which sits in a sea of Francophone nations, was always going to get on back on its feet, whatever the odds, but here are 10 fun facts that show why it’s so distinctive: 

1. Ghana was the first of three large Sudanic (Sahel belt) states of the African Middle Ages, the other two being Mali and Songhay. Because of this, patterns of west African history emerged in Ghana which would recur in other states as well: long-distance trade based on gold and salt, the king as focal point of political power, and the relationship between traditional religions and Islam.

2. In the face of its recent economic challenges, it is often forgotten that Ghana is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa that has met the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing extreme poverty in half by 2015. 

In 2006 it celebrated being the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to achieve the target of cutting the proportion of population living in extreme poverty by half, well ahead of the 2015 deadline. The overall poverty rate declined substantially over two decades from 51.7% in 1991/92 to 28.5% in 2005/2006, indicating that the target could be achieved well ahead of the 2015 target of 26%. 

3. Ghana was the first place in sub-Saharan Africa where Europeans arrived to trade - first in gold and then later on in slaves. 

4. Ghana is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa which successfully implemented a social health insurance at national level. This can be attributed to the fact that in Ghana the government is the main financier of health, not donors, that there were only small-scale insurance programmes active, better healthcare quality and because of successful enrolment. Already in 2008, five years after implementation of a national health insurance scheme, 45% of the Ghanaian population was enrolled.

5. Home to a lake formed by the impact of a huge meteorite - Lake Bosumtwe. It is 86m deep and is also a sacred site. The Ashanti people believe that their souls come here after death to bid farewell to the god Twi.

6. Ghana made history on February 5, 1990 by becoming the first country to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

7. However, it is the only cocoa producing country in the world without a fully liberalised marketing system. In the early 1990s, the Ghanaian government opted for a gradual introduction of reforms, which have so far included only the liberalisation of internal marketing, privatisation of input distribution and reform of exten­sion services. Thus, Ghana’s state-owned Marketing Board (Cocobod) still controls external marketing.

8. In 1992 Ghana became the first African country to win a medal (bronze) in football at the Olympic games. The national coach was Otto Pfisser. 

9. Ghana was the first country in the world to accept  US Peace Corps volunteers, and the programme remains one of the largest. Currently, there are more than 150 volunteers in Ghana. Almost half work in education, and the others in agro-forestry, small business development, health education, water sanitation, and youth development.

10. Ghana is the only West African country to have held four Presidential Debates back to back making it a historic feat and an attestation of democratic maturity for the country. The first ever-presidential debate in Ghana was organised in 2000. It was attended by all presidential aspirants except the candidate of the then ruling party, the National Democratic Congress. His absence cost him the election and his main opponent, John Kufuor of the New Patriotic Party went on to win the election.

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