The Constitution of Ghana is a living document that embodies the nation’s commitment to democracy, rule of law, and the protection of fundamental rights. Since the approval of the 1992 Constitution, it has gone through a historical journey that reflects Ghana’s tumultuous path from colonialism to independence and its evolution as a stable democracy in West Africa.
In this post we will explore the rich history of Ghana’s constitution, highlighting key milestones, amendments, and the role it plays in shaping the nation’s destiny.
Origins and Pre-Independence Era
Ghana, formerly known as the Gold Coast, was a British colony before gaining independence in 1957. During the colonial period, the Gold Coast had no constitution of its own; instead, it was governed by British colonial administrators. The British employed a system of indirect rule, using traditional authorities to govern the local population.
The first signs of constitutionalism emerged with the introduction of the Guggisberg Constitution in 1925. This marked the beginning of limited representation for Ghanaians in legislative bodies. The constitution established the Legislative Council, which included six elected African members, though they were in the minority compared to the appointed European members who were eleven.
The demand for more representative government grew in the following decades, leading to the promulgation of the 1946 Bums Constitution. This constitution expanded the number of elected African members in the Legislative Council and granted African representatives more authority. However, it still fell short of full self-governance.
Independence and the First Republican Constitution (1957-1960)
On March 6, 1957, Ghana achieved independence from British colonial rule under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention People’s Party (CPP). This historic moment marked the birth of the nation and the need for a constitution that reflected Ghana’s sovereignty.
In 1957, Ghana adopted its first republican constitution. The constitution established Ghana as a republic with a parliamentary system of government closely modeled after the British system. It featured a Westminster-style parliamentary structure, with a Prime Minister as the head of government and a Governor-General representing the British monarch as the head of state.
Kwame Nkrumah, the leader of the CPP, became Ghana’s first Prime Minister. In 1960, Ghana declared itself a republic and adopted a new constitution, which replaced the Governor-General with a ceremonial President elected by an electoral college. Nkrumah became the nation’s first President, further solidifying Ghana’s commitment to self-governance.
Nkrumah’s presidency marked a period of centralized power and socialist policies. Despite the democratic framework, his government’s authoritarian tendencies led to a decline in political freedoms and the eventual suspension of the constitution following his overthrow in 1966.
Military Rule and Constitutional Suspensions (1966-1992)
The post-independence period in Ghana was marred by political instability, coups, and military rule. The overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah in 1966 marked the beginning of a tumultuous era for the country’s constitution and governance.
After the coup, Ghana experienced multiple changes in leadership, often led by military juntas. The constitution was suspended, and the country’s governance was marked by authoritarian rule.
One significant constitutional development during this period was the adoption of the 1979 Constitution. This constitution, enacted under the leadership of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC), sought to establish a hybrid system that combined elements of socialism, military rule, and multi-party democracy. It created the position of a President and a Council of State but retained significant powers for the military.
In 1992, Ghana’s military rule finally gave way to a return to constitutional governance and multiparty democracy. A new constitution was promulgated, marking a turning point in the nation’s history.
The Fourth Republican Constitution (1992-Present)
The current constitution of Ghana, known as the Fourth Republican Constitution, was adopted in 1992 and has remained in effect to this day. It reflects Ghana’s commitment to democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights.
Key Features of the Fourth Republican Constitution:
- Presidential System: The constitution establishes a presidential system of government with a directly elected President and a Vice President.
- Bicameral Legislature: Ghana’s Parliament consists of a unicameral legislature, known as the Parliament of Ghana. Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected from constituencies across the country.
- Independent Judiciary: The constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary, ensuring that the courts can uphold the rule of law and protect citizens’ rights.
- Bill of Rights: Ghana’s constitution includes a Bill of Rights that outlines fundamental human rights and freedoms, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the right to a fair trial.
- Multi-Party Democracy: The Fourth Republic has seen the flourishing of political pluralism, with various political parties participating in elections and power transitions.
- Constitutional Amendments: The constitution provides for its amendment through a defined process, allowing for changes to be made to adapt to evolving circumstances.
- Electoral Commission: An independent Electoral Commission is responsible for organizing and conducting elections in Ghana, ensuring free and fair processes.
One of the most significant features of the 1992 Constitution is its commitment to decentralization and local governance. This has allowed for the devolution of power to local authorities, enhancing citizen participation and promoting development at the grassroots level.
Amendments and Evolving Democracy
Since the adoption of the Fourth Republican Constitution, there have been several amendments to address evolving needs and challenges. These amendments have touched on various aspects of governance, including the terms of elected officials, decentralization of government, and the establishment of new regions.
One notable amendment was the extension of presidential and parliamentary term limits. Originally, presidents were limited to two four-year terms, but a referendum in 2018 resulted in the extension of the term limit to two four-year terms with the possibility of an additional two terms, making a total of eight years.
Another significant development was the creation of new regions through referendums. In 2018 and 2019, Ghana witnessed the creation of six new regions, increasing the total number of regions to 16. This decentralization effort aimed to bring governance closer to the people and promote development at the local level.
Some of the articles contained in the Ghana constitution
- Article 11 of the Ghanaian Constitution contains the Directive Principles of State Policy. These principles provide guidance to the government and public institutions on how they should formulate policies and make decisions to achieve the socio-economic development and well-being of the people.
- While they are not enforceable by the courts, these principles are considered fundamental in the governance of Ghana and include principles such as promoting social justice, protecting and preserving the environment, and ensuring equitable distribution of resources.
- Article 17 of the Ghanaian Constitution enshrines the fundamental human rights and freedoms of every individual in Ghana. These rights include the right to life, personal liberty, freedom of speech, and equality before the law.
- The article also provides for limitations on these rights under specific circumstances, such as for national security, public safety, and public health. However, any limitations must be justifiable in a democratic society.
- The economic rights of the Ghanaian citizenry – right working condition, equal pay and right to holidays when requested.
- The right to join trade unions for the “promotion and the protection of his economic and social interests”
- The right to education – access to equal education opportunities and facilities. Basic education will be free and secondary will be accessible to everyone. Higher education will also be accessible to everyone but dependant on individuals capabilities.
- Access to education for the disabled and their protection against discrimination and abuse.
- Encompasses civil, political, economic, social and cultural practices Ghanaians engage in.