Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> Ghana
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp.908-909
GHANA: The Party System in 1951-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

The modern state of Ghana was formed in 1957 from several territorial units administered under British colonial authority. These included the Gold Coast Colony, the traditional state of Ashanti, the Northern Territories Protectorate, and the Trust Territory of British Togo land. Early nationalist movements were active primarily within the Gold Coast Colony, which had achieved some measure of indigenous participation in governmental organs by 1946. Prominent in the movement for self-government was J.B. Danquah, instrumental in the founding of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) in 1946 and Kwame Nkrumah, who formed the Convention People's Party (CPP) two years later.

The constitution put into effect in December 1950, which Nkrumah had opposed because it fell short of full self-rule, provided for an enlarged legislature with most but not all of the seats popularly elected. Nkrumah and a number of CPP leaders were arrested in early 1950 as a result of their "Positive Action" methods aimed at immediate self-government. In the February 1951 election the CPP won a plurality of seats and, bowing to the inevitable, the colonial administration released Nkrumah to become Leader of Government Business. The UGCC was disbanded after its poor showing in this election, leaving a clear field for the CPP to operate as the sole independence movement for some three or four years. By 1954, however, a number of regional- or ethnic-based opposition parties had arisen to challenge the CPP on the issue of political centralization and on the question of the unitary structure of the independence constitution. Within the area that was to constitute the new state of Ghana, these parties included the National Liberation Movement (NLM, advocating autonomy for the Ashanti region), the Togoland Congress (which opposed the integration of British Togoland with the Gold Coast), the Muslim Association Party, and the Northern People's Party (NPP). The challenge of these parties to CPP dominance and particularly on the issue of constitutional structure represented a potential threat to the smooth transition to independence that the British authorities and the Nkrumah government so greatly desired. What might be interpreted as an impending crisis in national integration was tentatively resolved by the election of 1956 in which the CPP retained its majority position in the legislature and demonstrated at least marginal support in all regions of the country. This cleared the path for independence, which was granted eight months later. Under a new name, Ghana, the nation joined the British Commonwealth as an independent entity on March 6, 1957.

Still threatened by sectional and ethnic cleavages, the new government embarked upon a policy of political consolidation and the suppression of opposition. One of the first acts of the government following independence was the proscription of sectional, regional, religious, and tribal parties. As a result, the NLM, NPP, and other minority parties merged as the United Party under the leadership of K. A. Busia, J. B. Danquah, and other opposition figures. Subsequent acts of political suppression by the Nkrumah government such as the Preventive Detention Act of 1958 considerably reduced the effectiveness of the opposition party. Many United Party members were imprisoned; others, like Busia, went into exile. Danquah, Ghana's first nationalist, died while under detention, having been one of several prominent people arrested following an unsuccessful attempt on Nkrumah's life.

Following independence, the major organs of the press and the broadcast media (owned and operated by the government) were employed to promote the objectives of the CPP government. The independent press was strictly censored. Formal opposition in parliament dwindled as members were detained, left the country or crossed over to the majority side. By the end of our time period, 1962, the United Party held only a handful of seats.

Continuity and Change since 1962

Ghana's graph of party representation over time tells a story of abrupt changes in party politics. None of the four original parties survived to 1978, and one new party formed after 1962 died in infancy.

Original Parties, Terminated

813 National Liberation Movement. Confronted by legislation that banned regional and ethnic parties, the NIM terminated in 1957 by merging with other parties to form the United Party.

814 Northern People's Party. The NPP was threatened by the same legislation and terminated also in 1957 by merger into the United Party.

812 United Party. Created by merger of other parties, the United Party was harassed by the government and ended for certain in 1964, when all opposition parties were outlawed.

811 Convention People's Party. In 1964, it was officially declared that Ghana was a single-party state and that the CPP was the party. In 1966, Nkrumah was overthrown in a military coup and the mighty CP was dissolved with surprising ease.

New Party, Terminated

815 Progress Party. Formed only in May 1969, when the ban on party activity was lifted to prepare for elections to a new national assembly in August, the Progress Party won 75 percent of the seats and became the governing party. But another coup in early 1972 banned all party activity, ending the short life of the Progress Party.


In 1964, two years after our period ended, Ghana officially became a single-party state. In February 1966, however, Nkrumah and his regime were deposed by military intervention, and members of the CPP suffered a fate similar to that meted out to their own opposition. Under the military government, all parties were banned until the restoration of a civilian regime in 1969, which lasted until the coup in January 1972 by General Ignatius Acheampong, who became head of state after the coup. A constitutional commission later set up by Acheampong endorsed a controversial proposal for "Union Government" without political parties. This proposal was narrowly upheld by a national referendum in 1978, the results of which were widely disputed. Acheampong was himself removed from office in July of the same year, leaving the fate of his Union Government proposal unclear. His successor, General Fred Akuffo, later reintroduced a plan for partisan politics under new constitutional provisions. Competitive elections were held in June 1979 involving four new major parties. However, just prior to the elections, yet another coup resulted in the installation of Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings as head of state and the execution of Akuffo (as well as Acheampong). The new military government supervised a return to constitutional government in September 1979, following the election of Hilla Limann to the presidency as the candidate of the People's National Party, which also won a bare majority of the seats in parliament.

1. Our study of party politics in Ghana is based on a file of 1,415 pages from 35 documents, almost all of which are in English (see Table 1.3). The count of pages cannot be given separately for the NLM and NPP, for they were indexed together under code 819 for "general and other parties." The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Steven Smith. Mary Welfling used the file to code the Ghanian parties on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework. Lynn Fischer was our consultant and contributed heavily to this essay.