Most of the ethnic groups that live in Ghana today migrated into the region during the 12th to 16th centuries. There they formed small states, the most powerful being that of the Ashanti.

Ghana Empire around 1050.Ghana Empire around 1050. This map shows the location of the Ghana Empire as it existed about 1050. Ghana ruled an area in West Africa now occupied by Mauritania and Mali. The Soninke people of the Ghana Empire controlled trade across the Sahara in gold, ivory, and slaves.

The first Europeans to arrive in Ghana were the Portuguese, in 1471. They built their first trading post, Elmina Castle, in 1482. The region became known as the Gold Coast for its principal export, gold. By the early 1700's, however, slaves had become the most important export.

In 1642, the Dutch seized Elmina Castle and ousted the Portuguese from the Gold Coast. The Dutch soon found themselves competing against other Europeans—the Swedes, British, French, Prussians, and Danes—all of whom built trading posts and forts in the region.

While the Europeans controlled the coast, in the interior the Ashanti were building a powerful confederation. In the early 1700's, the Ashanti chief, Osei Tutu, brought all the states in central Ghana under Ashanti rule. He founded the Ashanti capital, Kumasi. Tutu's successor, Opoku Ware I, conquered all the states of northern Ghana.

The British by the early 1800's had eliminated most of their European rivals in the Gold Coast, but were confronted with a new rival in the Ashantis. The British and Ashanti fought several wars, and in 1874 the British finally prevailed after destroying Kumasi. The British forced the Ashanti to recognize their control of the coast, and the Gold Coast was established as a crown colony.

In 1896, the British defeated the Ashanti in another war, and made the Ashanti confederation a protectorate. In 1902 the British annexed the Ashanti protectorate to their Gold Coast crown colony.

A portion of the former German protectorate of Togoland, in the east, was made a British mandate in 1922 and called British Togoland. It was administered by Great Britain as a United Nations trust territory after World War II.

In 1957, the Gold Coast and British Togoland were united and gained independence as Ghana. The country remained within the British Commonwealth. Kwame Nkrumah became prime minister. A new constitution in 1960 made Ghana a republic; Nkrumah was elected president. His rule was dictatorial, and in 1966 he was overthrown by the army.

Much instability followed, and subsequent civilian governments were short-lived. In 1979 a group of military officers led by Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings seized power. He soon turned the country over to civilian rule, but in 1981 seized power again Under his rule, Ghana had one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa. Following the adoption of a new constitution in 1992, Rawlings was elected president.