1957-2019: Here are Ghana's heads of state since independence

Ghana was initially known as the Gold Coast and changed to Ghana after independence.

Heads of state since independence

So far, the country has had a total of 12 presidents, and the current President is Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

The first head of state/President was Dr Kwame Nkrumah who struggled for the attainment of Independence which freed Ghanaians from colonial rule from the British.

Nkrumah made a significant statement to Ghanaians on the day of Independence declaration and declared:

''From now on, today, we must change our attitudes and our minds. We must realise that from now on we are no longer a colonial but free and independent people. But also, as I pointed out, that also entails hard work. That new Africa is ready to fight his own battles and show that after all the black man is capable of managing his own affairs''.


''We have won the battle and again rededicate ourselves … our independence is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of Africa".

From 1957 to 1960 the head of state under the Constitution of 1957 was the Queen of Ghana, Elizabeth II, who was also the Monarch of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms.

Under the 1960 Constitution, the first constitution of the Republic of Ghana, the President replaced the Monarch as executive head of state.

The President was elected by Parliament for a 5-year term. In the event of a vacancy three Members of the Cabinet served jointly as Acting President.

Here's a brief profile of the heads of state:



Kwame Nkrumah

In 1945, Nkrumah got involved in organizing the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester and worked towards decolonization of Africa by founding the West African Nation Secretariat.

In 1948, Nkrumah was arrested along with other party members, after the police suspected party’s involvement in the recent riots that spurred up in Accra, Kumasi, etc. after police fired on a group of protesting ex-serviceman.

After he was released, he started working vehemently towards the political and social betterment of Gold Coast. In 1949 he formed a new party, the Convention People’s Party.


In 1951, owing to international pressures and internal disobedience, the British decided to leave Gold Coast and organized their first general elections.

Nkrumah was released from the jail in 1951 and formed a government and won the election for the position of Prime Minister, hands down, in 1952 and the first thing that he requested as Prime Minister of Ghana was independence within the British Commonwealth.

In 1957, Ghana was declared free by their Prime Minister Nkrumah as it became a Commonwealth realm. With years of hard work and political maneuvering, he declared his plans to make Ghana a republic.

The presidential election and plebiscite on the constitution were held in 1960 and the constitution was changed, which led to Nkrumah’s election as the President of Ghana.

General Joseph Ankrah


Joseph Ankrah was Commissioned Lieutenant and rose through the ranks to become Lieutenant Colonel in 1947.

He was appointed Colonel and promoted to Brigadier in 1961 and later promoted Major General and appointed Deputy Chief of Defence Staff.

He became Commander-In-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces following the death of Kotoka and in 1969 and died of natural causes in 1992.

Lt. Gen Akwasi Amankwa Afrifa

General Akwasi Amankwa Afrifa was enlisted into the Ghana Armed Forces in 1958, came to military and political limelight on 24 February 1966.


By 1969, following the resignation of General Ankara as head of state and became the Chairman of the Presidential Commission between 1969 and 1970 when the second republican rule was restored and bestowed on ‘opposition leader’ Dr K.A. Busia-led Progress Party on September 3, 1969.

He was untimely executed at the prime age of 43 together with two other former heads of state- Acheampong and Akuffo.

Edward Akufo-Addo

Edward Akufo-Addo was a member of the "Big Six" leaders of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC). He became the Chief Justice and later President.

From 31 August 1970 until his deposition by coup d'état on 13 January 1972, Akufo-Addo was President of Ghana in the Second Republic. Real power rested with the prime minister, Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia. On 17 July 1979, Akufo-Addo died of natural causes.


Ignatius Kutu Acheampong

In 1972, Acheampong used the general discontent on Busia's devaluation of the Cedi by 44% to stage a military coup which overthrew Busia's government, and made himself Head of State, Chairman of the National Redemption Council and the Supreme Military Council, and also, Minister of Defence and Sports. As Head of State, General Acheampong suspended the 1969 constitution, banned political activity, detained over a thousand people and set up powerful military tribunals.

Acheampong proposed a 'Union Government' in which power would be shared by civilians politicians and the armed forces.

In June 1979 he was executed by firing squad after a short trial by the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council which had seized power under the leadership of Flt. Lt Jerry John Rawlings.

Lieutenant General Frederick William "Fred" Kwasi Akuffo


General Frederick William Kwasi Akuffo was one of the Ghanaian military heads of state to be executed alongside with other senior military officers of the Supreme Military Council ((SMC I/II )) on 26 June 1979 at the Teshie Military Range.

This was a quest of the members of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council ((AFRC) to cleanse Ghana of corruption.

Politically, critics argue that Akufo’s palace coup of 5 July 1978 to overthrow the then Head of State, Acheampong and their eventual collective doom, should have been avoided.

Flt Lt (rtd) Jerry John Rawlings

His first political appearance on the Ghanaian scene was on May 15, 1979 when an unsuccessful coup d'état he led resulted in his arrest, imprisonment, and a death sentence. But before he could be executed, his friends in the Ghana military led by Junior Officers and the ranks overthrew the then military government of General Fred Akuffo in a coup on June 4, 1979.


In 1992, Rawlings resigned from the military, founded the National Democratic Congress, and became the first President of the Fourth Republic. He was re-elected in 1996 and after two terms in office, Rawlings endorsed his vice-president John Atta Mills as presidential candidate in 2000.

Hilla Limann

Former president Hilla Limann was elected the presidential candidate of the People's National Party (PNP), the successor of the CPP, for the 1979 elections.

He polled 631,559 votes (35.32 percent) in the June 18 elections to beat nine other candidates. He went into a run-off with Mr. Victor Owusu, the Popular Front Party (PFP).


He was sworn into office on September 24, 1979, and took over from Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC).

He was plagued by internal squabbles in the party leading to his overthrown by Flt. Lt. Rawlings on December 31, 1981. Dr. Limann was in and out of hospital for heart ailment of over the past couple of years.

John Agyekum Kufuor

John Agyekum Kufuor was the second President of the Fourth Republic of Ghana (2001–2009).

On 20 April 1996, Kufuor was nominated by delegates of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) to run for the President on 10 December 1996 and re-nominated on 23 October 1998.


Kufuor won the presidential election of December 2000; in the first round, held on 7 December 2000.

He was re-elected on 7 December 2004, earning 52.45% of the popular vote in the first round and thus avoiding a run-off.

Prof. John Evans Atta Mills

Prof. Mills spent more than twenty-five years imparting acquired knowledge to students, and rose in position from Lecturer to Senior Lecturer to Associate Professor.


A track record of financial knowledge and strong professional credentials led to several important appointments. In 1988, Prof. J.E. Atta Mills became the Acting Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service of Ghana and named Commissioner in September 1996.

In 1997, Prof Mills became the Vice President of the Republic of Ghana and served in that capacity with former President J.J. Rawlings till 2000.

On January 3, 2009, Prof. Mills was declared by the Electoral Commission as the President-elect of Ghana after a second presidential run-off of 2008 the Presidential Elections.

 John Mahama


1996 marks the year of John Dramani Mahama’s entering into politics. He joined the National Democratic Congress and was elected to Parliament to represent the Bole/Bamboi Constituency for a four-year term. He was re-elected in 2000 and in 2004.

During this time, he was appointed Deputy Minister of Communications in 1997, full Minister of Communications from 1998 until 2001 and also served as the Chairman of the National Communications Authority.

On 7 January 2009, John Dramani Mahama became the Vice-President of Ghana, remaining in the post until President John Atta Mills’ untimely death on 24 July 2012, when, in line with Ghana’s Constitution, he became President of the Republic.

Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo


Nana Addo was elected three times from 1996 - 2008 as the Member of Parliament for Abuakwa South in the Eastern Region.

He served his nation from 2001 to 2007 as Cabinet Minister, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, and later as a Foreign Minister under the administration of President John Agyekum Kufuor.

In the December 7, 2008 presidential race, Nana Addo received polled 49.13 per cent of the valid votes cast, in the first round, but lost to the National Democratic Congress’s (NDC) Presidential Candidate, Professor John Evans Atta Mills.

Nana Addo again contested in the 2012 national elections against the NDC candidate, John Mahama after the demise of President Atta-Mills on July 24, 2012.


That election generated considerable controversy, and was finally decided by the Supreme Court in a narrow 5/4 verdict in favour of Mahama.

In the 2016 elections, Nana Akufo-Addo won against President Mahama and was declared president of Ghana.


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