Constitutional history of Ghana

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Brief political history

Modern Ghana, formerly know as the Gold Coast, was the first country in Sub-Saharan to gain political independence from colonial rule in 1956. Following years of British rule that lasted from the early 19th century to the mid 20th century, a new legislative assembly elected in 1956 passed a resolution requesting independence for the British colony of the Gold Coast, which was granted on 6 March 1956. Under the Constitution promulgated for the new nation in 1957, a Westminster system of government was established with the prime minister as head of cabinet and the British Monarch as the head of state.

The independence constitution of 1957

Besides setting up a parliamentary system of government, the 1957 Constitution provided for the representation of chiefs and tribal authorities in the regional councils, converted the legislative assembly to the national assembly, and entrenched clauses relating to its amendments. Amendments to the Constitution in 1960 transformed Ghana into a Republic under a president and set up one party state.

Constitutional and political developments: 1960–1988

The constitutional amendments of 1960 gradually transformed Ghana into a one party state in which fundamental rights and political participation were either severely restricted or completely banned. During these years, Ghana championed the liberation and independence movements across Africa while internally becoming an authoritarian state. The outcome was deep resentment and internal opposition to the Nkrumah regime, resulting in numerous military take-overs and unstable military regimes in 1966, 1969, 1972, 1978, 1979 and 1981.

Following the continuous downward spiral of the country under the successive military regimes, Flight Lt Jerry Rawlings of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), which had been responsible for the 1979 coup d’état, successfully staged another in 1981. The AFRC, though often criticized, considered itself on both occasions as responsible for restoring a sense of responsibility, direction, morality and accountability in the development of the state.

The coup d'etat  of 1981 set out to implement far reaching reforms that set the country back on the path to democracy and development. It suspended the 1979 Constitution as well as its institutions. A nine member Provisional National Defence Ruling Council (PNDC) with legislative and executive powers was set up to preside over the reforms. To directly develop and implement the strategy for democratic restoration, a National Commission for Democracy (NCD) was established. The PNDC also decentralised government by setting up elected regional assemblies and elected district assemblies to bring the government closer to the people.

Constitutional reforms in the 1990s

In line with its vision of fully restoring the country to a democratic system of governance and also spurred by similar democratic trends across the region in the 1990s, the PDNC  authorised the NDC to embark on a public consultation process designed to collect, analyse and collate Ghanaians views on the form of state they desired. The process led to a report which resulted in the appointment of an inclusive 258 member Committee of Experts to draw up constitutional proposals for consideration by a Consultative Assembly. The Assembly prepared a draft constitution based on proposals submitted to it by the PNDC, as well as previous constitutions of 1957, 1969 and 1979, and the report of the Committee of Experts. The final draft constitution was unanimously approved by the people in a referendum on 28 April 1992. This Constitution, also known as the Constitution of the Fourth Republic was promulgated in January 1993.

The constitution of the fourth Republic

The Constitution of the fourth republic, promulgated in 1993, provided for the following:

  • Reinforcement of the unitary nature of the state while allowing for decentralization and local government
  • A US style presidential system of government with an executive president elected for a four year term, renewable once.
  • Greater press freedom and fundamental human rights guarantees

This Constitution, which survived for eighteen years is currently being reviewed, following the elections of John Atta Mills in 2008.

Ongoing constitutional reform process

In 2008, John Atta Mills won the presidential elections on a platform of, inter alia modernising the Ghanaian constitution. In keeping with the promise, the government established a Constitutional Review Commission in January 2010. The Commission, which has a three year mandate, has three key roles:

  • Ascertain from the people of Ghana their views on the operation of the 1992 Fourth Republican Constitution and, in particular, the strengths and weaknesses of the Constitution
  • Articulate the concerns of the people of Ghana as regards the amendments that may be required for a comprehensive review of the 1992 Constitution
  • Make recommendations to the Government for consideration and provide a draft Bill for possible amendments to the 1992 Constitution

Key issues submitted by the population for consideration

These are questions that relate to the following categories:

  • Executive
  • Judiciary
  • Parliament
  • Decentralisation
  • Independent constitutional bodies
  • Chieftaincy
  • Human rights
  • Public services
  • Transitional provisions

The review process, which is expected to be completed by 2013 is, therefore, not expected to result in the replacement of the constitution, but rather to suggest amendments which can be made to improve it.

 Timelines

December 2009

 John Atta Mills is elected president on the platform of change

January 2010

 Following Cabinet approval of a memorandum on constitutional review, the CRC is set up to drive the process

February

 First Press Conference of the CRC

April

 July 2010 – District and community level consultations held

August – November 2010

Regional level consultations

March 2011 –

National Constitutional Conference (see Conference Brief and Tentative Programme)

2013 –

Expected completion date of process