Mahama is a member of the Gonja ethnic group from Ghana's Savanna area, and he hails from Bole. Mahama was born in Damongo, in the Northern region's Damango-Daboya constituency, into a political family that dates back to the country's First Republic. Emmanuel Adama Mahama, a wealthy rice farmer and teacher, was the first Member of Parliament for the West Gonja constituency and the first Regional Commissioner of the Northern Region under Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, during the First Republic. During Ghana's Third Republic, under Hilla Limann, who was deposed in 1981 by Jerry Rawlings, Mahama's father served as a senior presidential advisor.
Before going Ghana boarding school at Achimota Primary School, Mahama received his primary education at the Accra Newtown Experimental School (ANT1). He attended Ghana Secondary School for his secondary education (Tamale, Northern region). He went on to get a bachelor's degree in history and a postgraduate diploma in communication studies from the University of Ghana, Legon, in 1981 and 1986, respectively.
He was a member of Commonwealth Hall as a student (Legon). He also studied social psychology at the Institute of Social Sciences in Moscow, Soviet Union, where he received a postgraduate degree in 1988.
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