Ghana Country Information
- Posted Jan 27, 2011
Almost all Ghanaians belong to one of about 100 black African ethnic groups, each with its own language and cultural heritage. Major groups include the Fanti in the coastal areas, the Ashanti in the south central area, the Ga-Adangbe and Ewe in the south, and the Hausa and Moshi-Dagomba in the north. The small proportion of non-blacks (0.2 per cent) is made up mostly of Europeans, Lebanese merchants, and communities of Indians and Chinese. Ethnic tensions between groups in the north resulted in serious violence and many deaths in 1994. The largest city is Accra, the capital. Other main towns include Kumasi, Tema, Sekondi, Tamale, and Bolgatanga.
Although there are movements to grant official status to local languages, successive governments have avoided favouring any one of the many ethnic languages over another. As a result, English is still the official language of Ghana and is used in schools, business, and government. However, Akan is the primary language of 44 per cent of the population, while Mole-Dagbani is spoken by 16 per cent, Ewe by 13 per cent, and Ga-Adangbe by 8 per cent. Other languages include Fante and Hausa. The Twi dialect of Akan is most used on a daily basis to communicate between ethnic groups. Most Ghanaians are at least bilingual.
Traditional African beliefs are held by 38 per cent of the population and play an important role in the lives of the people of Ghana. Thirty per cent of the people are Muslim and 24 per cent are Christian. Traditionally, Ghanaians believe in a Supreme Being who has created all things. The people also recognize ancestral spirits who are referred to with reverence. Although outsiders often refer to these beliefs as “animism”, because there is an emphasis on reverence for living things, many Ghanaians would not accept the term to describe their worship. The culture also includes a belief in wizards, witches, demons, magic, and other supernatural phenomena.
Marriage and Family
In Ghana, family structures vary from one ethnic group to another. Some groups have a matrilineal family organization, in which inheritance is passed down through the wife’s family rather than the husband’s. In these groups, the chief responsibilities for the family fall on the women. Others have male-dominated structures. All elderly members of the family are deeply respected and exercise a great deal of influence on family decisions. Ghanaians normally put individual interests and ambitions after those of the family. Funerals are significant family events and dominate the lives of those involved for the three days that they last. Some marriages are arranged by families, although children may reject arrangements they consider undesirable. Polygamy is practiced by some Ghanians, but this has become less common, especially in urban areas. It is also traditional that the groom pays the bride’s family a “bridal token” to indicate responsibility for the new bride.
Diet and Eating
The diet in Ghana consists mainly of yams, cassava, corn, plantains, and rice. Ghanaians enjoy hot and spicy food, and most of their meals are accompanied by a pepper sauce made with fish, chicken, or other meat. Popular dishes include fufu (a dough-like combination of plantains and cassava or yams), ampesi (boiled unripe plantains), and palm, coconut, or groundnut oil sauces and soups. Ghana also produces a variety of tropical fruits and vegetables. Ghanaians usually eat meals with the right hand. A bowl of water is provided at the beginning and end of the meal for people to wash their hands. Food is scooped and formed into a ball with the right hand before being eaten. Most larger restaurants serve western food as well as native Ghanaian food.
Greetings vary from area to area according to ethnic tradition. English greetings are common, and a handshake is important when greeting most people. Before beginning a conversation, a general greeting is necessary, such as the Akan Me ma wo akye (“Good morning”), Me ma wo aha (“Good afternoon”), or Me me wa adwo (“Good evening”). Most greetings are in the dominant local language and are followed by questions about one’s health, family welfare, journey, and so forth. Titles and family names are used to address new acquaintances. Friends and family members often use first names. Children refer to any adult who is well known to the family as “aunt” or “uncle”. Similarly, adults of the same age might refer to each other as “brother” or “sister”, regardless of their relationship, and will use “auntie” and “uncle” for respected older people. Visiting plays a key role in everyday life. Friends and relatives visit one another frequently, often unannounced, and appreciate the visits of others. Ghanaians work hard to accommodate their guests. On a visit to someone’s home, it is considered polite to bring at least a small gift for the children. In some homes visitors are expected to remove their shoes upon entering. Refreshments—at least water—are usually offered to guests, and it is polite to accept. Visitors are generally welcome to stay as long as they wish. It is polite to avoid visiting during mealtimes, but an unexpected guest is normally invited to share the meal. Visiting is most popular on Sundays, and many people like to dress up for the occasion. When a visit is over, guests are accompanied to the bus stop or taxi stand or given a lift home. It is impolite to let them leave without an escort.
Soccer is the national sport in Ghana. Other popular sports include hockey, horse racing, volleyball, athletics, tennis, and boxing. People enjoy theatre, cinema, and other cultural presentations, and during festivals music and dance. Ghana has its own film industry. Various ethnic festivals are celebrated throughout the country.
Holidays and Celebrations
Holidays include Independence Day (6 March); Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Sunday), Easter Monday; May Day (1 May); Revolution Day (4 June); Republic Day (1 July); Farmers’ Day (1st Friday in December); Christmas Day (25–26 December); and 31 December (to celebrate the 1981 revolution).
Ghana is officially a multi-party democracy, although in practice the country is still in transition from a dictatorship to a democracy. The president is head of state and head of government, but must now work with the elected legislature to establish laws, and cannot rule by military edict. The voting age is 18. Ghana is divided into ten administrative regions.
The Ghanaian economy is based primarily on agriculture. Ghana was once the world’s leading producer of cacao. It now ranks only fifth, but cacao is still the most important cash crop, accounting for about 45 per cent of all exports. Other crops include rice, plantain, corn, root and tuber crops, sorghum, millet, and groundnuts. With gold, bauxite, manganese, aluminum, and diamonds as natural resources, mining is also important to the economy. Fishing, light manufacturing, and logging are key industries. Other industrial crops include palm oil, cotton, sugarcane, rubber, and tobacco. The economy is dependent on world prices for commodities, and the government has encouraged diversification and foreign investment through a program of privatization, among other economic reforms. The currency is the cedi.
Most businesses are open from 8 AM to noon and 2 PM to 4:30 PM, Monday to Friday. Some are open on Saturday mornings. Business dress is conservative. Dash is a common Ghanaian form of compensation in money, goods, or favours for various services. While the system of dash is discouraged by the government, it is widely practiced, and includes anything from a tip for watching over someone’s car to a payment for expediting the movement of goods in and out of the country.
Transport and Communication
A rail system connects Accra with Kumasi and Sekondi, and a fairly good bus network connects major cities. There are also some domestic air services. Most people do not own cars but rely on public transport or other means of travel. The tro-tro is a public minibus used for traveling short distances; taxis are also available. Postal and telephone services are not reliable; the government is hoping to improve the communication systems through investment from the private sector.
Ghana has one of the best-developed educational systems in West Africa. It consists of six years of primary education, beginning at age six, followed by three years of junior secondary education, and three years of senior secondary education, which consists of vocational programs or courses that prepare students for university studies or other third-cycle coursework in high-level polytechnics and specialized institutions.
University education is provided at institutions such as the University of Ghana, with campuses at Legon and Accra (established 1948), the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology at Kumasi (1951), the University of Cape Coast (1962), and the University for Development Studies at Tamale (1992). In addition, there are many technical and training colleges in the country, and Accra is home to the National Film and Television Institute (1978).
The enrollment in all schools, especially in secondary schools, has soared dramatically since Ghana achieved self-government. In addition to government-funded schools, there are a number of private schools at both elementary and secondary levels. Universities are difficult to enroll in, for the number of available places often falls short of the demand from qualified applicants. Despite the heavy national expenditure on education and the large school population, Ghana's literacy rate, although among the highest in West Africa, is relatively low by world standards. Because of the extensive use of the audio and visual media, however, illiteracy is not as serious a handicap as it formerly was. English is widely spoken, especially in the urban areas.
In 2002–2003, 79 percent of primary school-aged children attended primary school. Attendance at the secondary school level was 39 percent and 3 percent at the university level. A greater percentage of boys attended school than girls, the gap widening above the primary school level. However, the disparity in attendance by gender was not due to any state policy. Ghana’s educational system is open to all. The adult literacy rate in 2005 was recorded at 76.9 percent, with male literacy at 84.3 and female literacy at 69.8.
The University of Ghana, at Legon (near Accra), was Ghana’s first university, established in 1948. There are three other universities in the country, located at Cape Coast, Kumasi, and Tamale, and numerous teacher training colleges and vocational institutions.
Health and Welfare
Major health problems in Ghana include communicable diseases, poor sanitation, and poor nutrition. The main emphasis of government health policy is on improved public health, and, since independence, many improvements have been made in nutrition and in maternal and child care. Many of the endemic diseases, such as malaria, pneumonia, and diseases of the gastroenteritis group, which formerly took a heavy toll of life, have been brought under a measure of control as a result of improved hygiene, better drugs, and education. However, most communities still have inadequate sanitation and water-supply facilities, which hinders efforts to improve public health. Although AIDS is present in the country, Ghana has one of the lowest reported HIV infection rates in Africa.
There are hospitals and clinics provided by the government and by various Christian missions in most parts of the country. Supplementary services consist of health centres, dispensaries, and dressing stations (first-aid centres). Considerable progress has been made in the quantity and quality of health facilities and medical personnel, but rapid population growth continues to impose great pressures on the available facilities. In addition to the large number of doctors in the public service, many private practitioners operate their own clinics and hospitals. Registered doctors and dentists are supported by a paramedical staff of nurses, midwives, and pharmacists, as well as by auxiliaries. There are medical schools at the University of Ghana in Accra, the University for Development Studies in Tamale, and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi.
Government- and non-government-administered rural community development programs are augmented by village improvement projects undertaken with the participation of the residents. Outside of urban areas, welfare and certain economic matters are handled by the national government. In the urban areas, welfare services concentrate on casework, probation work, youth activities, and guidance through voluntary organizations. There is a government-sponsored pension plan for wage employees.