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The Republic of Ghana, formerly known as the "Gold Coast", lies on the coast of West Africa. Its population of 19.4 million consists of over 50 different ethnic groups speaking various languages and dialects. Despite its great cultural diversity, Ghana has avoided any major ethnic conflicts throughout its 44-year history as an independent nation. While English is the official language, the major dialects of Twi, Ga, Fanti, Ewe, and Hausa are prevalent. Ghana's main urban centers are Accra (the capital), Kumasi, Cape Coast, and Takoradi. Its currency is the Cedi (pronounced see-di), which floats against major world currencies.
Political Developments 
Ghana first shone as a beacon of African hope on March 6, 1957, when it became the first Sub-Saharan African country to achieve national independence. Yet it was to experience nine changes of government, including four military coup's d'etat, before entering a period of relative stability. The former lieutenant Jerry Rawlings initially established military rule in 1981, which he eventually replaced with a democratic system of government. Based on a US-style constitution, the new government consists of three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. Democratic elections under the new Constitution were held in 1992 and again in 1996 - with Rawlings winning the presidency both times and his NDC party consistently maintaining control of the Parliament. In compliance with the Ghanaian constitution, Rawlings did not run for a third term in 2000. The NPP victory in those elections not only brought Kufuor to the presidency; it also granted the NPP majority control of the Parliament as they claimed 100 of the 200 seats. Transition of power between the two parties has proceeded smoothly, with members on both sides vowing to cooperate in the interest of a better future for Ghana.
The NPP is strongly pro-business and market-oriented. President Kufuor has declared his preference for creating an environment that would make Ghanaian enterprises competitive, rather than resorting to protectionist measures. Educated at Oxford University where he received Masters degrees in philosophy, political science, and economics, Kufuor has previously served as a member of Parliament and as deputy minister of foreign affairs. Kufuor's new government looks to continue good relations with international institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, as well as with neighboring governments.
After several years of steady economic expansion and low inflation rates, Ghana was hit hard in 2000 by a decline in global prices of the country's two major exports, gold and cocoa, and a simultaneous increase in crude oil prices. The result was a drop in GDP growth from 4-5% in the 1990s to only 1%, rising inflation, depreciation of the cedi and a growing fiscal deficit. While still not fully curbed, these negative trends did abate during the fourth quarter of 2000.
Despite the recent economic downturn, analysts believe there is still hope for economic success in Ghana. The International Finance Corporation, a private sector arm of the World Bank, made significant investments in Ghana to support further development of telecommunications infrastructure planned by Ghana Telecommunications Company. Oil and natural gas production have begun in several areas around the country, and loans have been obtained in an attempt to start a large-scale cashew industry development project. Gold mines throughout Ghana are producing more than in past years, and a regional decline in cocoa supply has led to an increase in cocoa prices.
Students begin their six-year primary education at age six. Under educational reforms implemented in 1987, they pass into a junior secondary school system for three years of academic training combined with technical and vocational training. Those who continue move into the three-year senior secondary school program. Entrance into one of the five Ghanaian public universities is determined by examination, following completion of senior secondary school. Student enrollment at all educational levels totals almost 3 million.
As the Ghanaian government has shifted its focus and resources towards providing universal primary education, it has been unable to channel as much of its funds to public universities. Recognizing this, the government now actively encourages private sector investment in tertiary education. In 1993, it created the National Council for Tertiary Education to oversee the administration and improvement of tertiary education, and the National Accreditation Board to oversee accreditation of new private institutions. During an informal interview in June 1998, Ghana's Minister of Education indicated that private universities are considered necessary to lighten the heavy taxpayer burden of providing public education. The Ghanaian government is also seeking to encourage private investment in education by granting import tax exemptions for laboratory equipment and library books imported into the country.
Ghana was the first country in the world to accept American Peace Corps volunteers. Currently, the Ghanaian program is more than 150 volunteers strong, making it one of the largest Peace Corps programs. The program places heavy emphasis on education, but also encompasses fields such as agro-forestry, small business development, health education, water sanitation, and youth development.
On the economic front, the US is one of Ghana's most significant trading partners, with American investments forming one of the largest stocks of foreign capital in Ghana. The biggest US investor is VALCO, a joint venture between Kaiser (90%) and Reynolds (10%). Other important US companies operating in the country include Mobil, Coca-Cola, S.C. Johnson, Ralston Purina, Star-Kist, A.H. Robins, Sterling, Pfizer, IBM, Carson Products, 3M, Pioneer Gold, Stewart & Stevenson, Price Waterhouse, Great Lakes Shipping, and National Cash Register (NCR).
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