Until its independence from British colonial rule on 6 March, 1957, Ghana was called the "Gold Coast", a name given it by early Portuguese explorers who first set foot on the shores of the country in 1471. The name aptly described the country's wealth in gold and natural resources, which include to the present day:
Rich mineral resources such as gold, diamonds, manganese, bauxite, iron ore and various clay and salt deposits.
Extensive, rich forests with a wide range of fine tropical hardwoods.
A wide variety of agricultural products and rich fishing resources.
Unique tourist attractions, including beautiful landscapes, inviting sunshine, golden beaches, wildlife parks, the country-side with its rich cultural heritage, and the proverbial warmth and hospitality of the people.
During various periods from the time the Portuguese discovered gold in 1471 to independence in 1957, the monarchs of several European kingdoms, notably Denmark, England, Holland, Prussia and Sweden sent hordes of explorers and merchants to the country for its abundant wealth, both natural and human. They battled for supremacy and control over the land, and built forts and castles which also served as trading posts. Vestiges of the extent of European colonial presence and concentration of activity in the country are evidenced by the fact that 29 of the 32 European colonial forts and castles dotted along the coast of West Africa are in Ghana.
Ghana is located on the west coast of Africa, about 750 km north of the equator on the Gulf of Guinea, between the latitudes of 4°-11°5' north. The capital, Accra, is on the Greenwich Meridian (zero line of longitude). The country has a total land area of 238,533 sq. km and is bounded on the north by Burkina Faso, on the west by Côte d’Ivoire, on the east by Togo and on the south by the Gulf of Guinea. The land area stretches for 672km north-south and 536km east-west.
The coastal area of Ghana consist of plains and numerous lagoons near the estuaries of rivers. The land is relatively flat and the altitude is generally below 500m, with more than half of the country below 200m. The Volta River basin dominates the country’s river system and includes the 400km Lake Volta (the largest artificial lake in the world), formed behind the Akosombo Hydro-Electric Dam. In the north, the predominant vegetation is savannah and shrub, while the south has an extensive rain forest.
Ghana has a tropical climate, characterised most of the year by moderate temperatures generally 21-32°C (70-90°F), constant breeze and sunshine. There are two rainy seasons, from March to July and from September to October, separated by a short cool dry season in August and a relatively long dry season in the south from mid-October to March. Annual rainfall in the south averages 2,030 mm but varies greatly throughout the country, with the heaviest rainfall in the western region and the lowest in the north.
The population of Ghana is 18,845,265 (Source: Ghana Statistical Service, January 2002). The country, with ten regions, has on average a population density of about 78.9 persons per square kilometre, with an annual growth rate of 2.6 per cent.
Most of the population is concentrated in the southern part of the country, with the highest densities occurring in urban areas and cocoa-producing areas.
Ghana’s principal ethnic groups are the Akan (Twi and Fante speaking), the Guans, Ewes, Dagombas, Gas, Gonjas, Dagaabas, Walas and Fafras. There are 56 Ghanaian dialects of which Akwapim Twi, Asante Twi, Fante, Dangbe, Ewe, Kasem, Gonja, Dagare, Ga Dagbani and Nzema are the major languages. The official language of the country is English. French and Hausa are two major foreign languages spoken in the country.
Ghana has a tradition of educational excellence, as the success of Ghanaian professionals, scientists, technicians and teachers throughout the world testifies.
The educational system was originally based on the English grammar school system. But this decade has seen radical changes focusing on the scientific, technical, vocational, managerial and entrepreneurial skills to meet Ghana’s development needs. Proper attention is now also devoted to Ghanaian and African history, art, literature, languages and traditional skills and customs.
The public universities are: the University of Ghana, the University of Cape Coast, the University of Science and Technology at Kumasi and the new University of Development Studies at Tamale, as well as the University College of Education at Winneba. There are also private universities, numerous polytechnics and specialised institutions.
The tertiary education system is being enlarged and its facilities improved, with substantial funds being allocated every year to the provision of academic and residential infrastructure, journals, computers and other equipment.