From Traditional States to a Republic: My Perspective on Ghana’s Constitutional challenges and suggestions for reforms

Ghana Constitution The Constitution of Ghana and the national flag

Wed, 24 Nov 2021 Source: Kofi Adu

In 1992, Ghanaians began yet another ambitious journey to create a system of governance that would meet the hopes and aspirations of all its peoples and chart a permanent course for a successful future.

The 4th Republic was born with the 1992 Constitution and it was hoped that the new dispensation would end the instability that befell the new nation right after independence on 6th March 1957.

At the time European Traders/Colonialists set foot on the land currently called Ghana in the 15th Century, various Kingdoms and Traditional states thrived there, notably the Kingdoms of Ashanti and Dagbon.

These states were viable monarchies that had unique systems for governance, war, trade, social relations, etc. They related, traded, allied, and fought among themselves just like any other state did elsewhere in the world.

However, by the early 1900s, the Ashanti Kingdom was eventually defeated, and the British were in total control of the whole territory, called the Gold Coast. The British administered the Colony until independence in 1957.

During this period, the British brought in their systems and processes to govern the territory, headed by an expatriate Governor.

Although they had lost their Sovereignty by this time, the various Traditional states existed side-by-side with the British Colonial state of the Gold Coast.

Unlike elsewhere in the world, the British did not do much to destroy the Traditional states within the Gold Coast and left them largely intact to perform important customary functions.

Therefore, by the time Ghana was born and became a Republic in 1960, there was in existence a two-tier state system – The Republic state that emerged from the British Colonial state and the various Traditional states that existed within.

The new state Ghana had derived its sovereignty from basically the collective sovereignties of the Traditional states that were absorbed by the British.

One would ask that if the British took the Sovereignties of Traditional states to create a colony, then why not simply return them to the rightful authorities when leaving?

Nevertheless, Ghana opted for a republic status; here, the authority of the State is derived from all the people that lived in it. The new nation Ghana kept most of the colonial systems intact and after experimenting with the Presidential (US) and Parliamentary (UK) systems of government separately, the 1992 Constitution created a hybrid of the two systems.

In spite of the good intentions of the framers of the Constitution, such a novel idea has created some serious challenges, almost three decades on. Therefore, it has become imperative for Ghanaians to review the 1992 Constitution and make the necessary changes to ease the process of governance for accelerated growth and the advancement of our traditional systems.

Ghana has transitioned from a collection of Traditional States/Monarchies to a Modern State/Republic where the traditional states exist within. It is really very important to have this transition in mind as the country adopts systems and principles of governance from elsewhere. One such principle is Levels of Government.

This defines the hierarchy of how the government gets close to the people. Generally, best practice suggests three main levels or divisions – National Level, Sub National Level, and Local Level.

For instance, in the United States where the Presidential System is practiced, the three main divisions are namely Federal, State and Local. And, to ensure proper separation of power, there is the widely accepted principle of three Branches of Government – The executive, Legislature and Judiciary.

Now, let us examine how the 1992 Constitution handles these two principles and the unintended negative consequences.

In the Presidential system, the Executive is voted-in to carry its programs and agenda for the country within laws and procedures set by the Legislature. And while this is going on, the Judiciary acts as the referee, interpreting what the laws mean.

This works well when the Legislature and Judiciary are independent of the Executive, with the latter being subject to various tools by the other two branches to check its excessive behavior, e.g. Power of the Purse.

In the Parliamentary system on the other hand, apart from the Legislature making Laws, the majority party in the Legislature is given the mandate to run the Executive.

In a sense, Parliament runs the Executive. The Judiciary performs the traditional functions of interpreting the law. Here again, the Legislature and Judiciary have various tools to check the Executive that is being run by the Majority in Parliament.

One such is the Confidence Vote. The Majority running the Executive can easily collapse when new alliances are created in Parliament to create a new Majority. The existing Majority would lose the confidence vote.

Looking back at the governance structure of Ghana’s Traditional states, it looked as if the Kings exercised all three functions. Yet, there were inbuilt structures that ensured that the King did not have absolute power.

However, in modern Ghana, the 1992 Constitution follows best practices and sets up the three Branches as in the Presidential system. However, Article 78(1) states-

"Ministers of State shall be appointed by the President with the prior approval of Parliament from among members of Parliament or persons qualified to be elected as members of Parliament, except that the majority of Ministers of State shall be appointed from among members of Parliament."

The idea of having members of the Legislature appointed to Executive positions is a creature of the Parliamentary system. As discussed above, each system has its own checks and balances to limit the excesses of any branch, especially the Executive.

However, having this novel idea in a Presidential system strips the Legislature of an important oversight function and endangers its independence. We cannot have important members of the Executive overlapping with the Legislature. This provision in the 1992 Constitution needs to be reviewed and if possible, removed.

The Levels of Government in the Traditional states are very much in line with modern principles. In Asante for instance, we have Asanteman on top with Asantehene as Head of State; then the Divisional Kings next; and finally the Local Chief of a town.

This structure and divisions were in line with their history, culture, natural boundaries, etc. They were definitely not arbitrarily set. However, things take an interesting turn when we look at the divisions of Ghana. Article 4(1) and 241(1) state

"The sovereign State of Ghana is a unitary republic consisting of those territories comprised in the regions which, immediately before the coming into force of this Constitution, existed in Ghana including the territorial sea and the air space."

"For the purposes of local government, Ghana shall be deemed to have been divided into the districts in existence immediately before the coming into force of this Constitution."

Thus, Ghana adopted the divisions of the state which the Colonialists had set up to administer the country in the interest of the UK with little or no regard for local preferences. This hierarchy is basically - Ghana is on top at the National level, Regions are at Sub National level and Districts are at the local level.

However, these divisions have no place in the Ghanaian experience, except perhaps for the colonial government. Looking from the top of the hierarchy, it should be obvious that the most natural divisions of Ghana should have been the various Traditional states that exist within it.

Therefore, the natural division should rather be - Ghana is on top at the National level, Traditional states are at the Sub National level, and Towns at the local level. This is analogous to the US example – Federal; US States; Towns.

So what happens to the current setup with Regions & Regional Ministers and Districts & District Chief Executives? And how can the Traditional States be incorporated into an effective administration of modern Ghana?

To answer the above questions, let us consider this: Who are the dedicated Town Managers of the various Ghanaian towns? Currently, we have the District Chief Executive who has jurisdiction over so many towns within the District. However, apart from the Chief of a town, there is really no executive that is dedicated to the development of towns in our current democratic system.

Is this an oversight? Or in an attempt to adopt what the Colonialists left, we have left a huge hole in local government? Most likely the former. The fact remains that Ghana does not have officially dedicated managers of Towns (Villages and cities included).

Therefore, we have seen from the analysis above the Districts and Regions are arbitrary and alien to the Ghanaian experience. They are basically redundant. Rather, the natural and viable structures within Ghana already in place are the Traditional states and then at the very local level, the Villages, Towns, and Cities. Local Government administration should be based on these.

If the proper main levels of government in modern Ghana are – National, Traditional States, and Towns, how can the three branches of government operate within these? Let us take a closer look at the Executive and Legislature.

At the national level in contemporary Ghana, both the Executive and the Legislature have been properly set up. Ghana has a vibrant functional Presidency and Parliament. However, if we are going to adopt the Traditional States as a division of the state, then how would we define Executive and Legislative functions there?

Let us begin with the Executive. At the top of the Traditional State is the Paramount King or Omanhene. With this being a monarchical system, there is a need to modernize it by bringing the representation of the people into the structure. I would propose a “Prime Minister” concept here.

Not for Ghana as a whole, but at the Sub-National level in Ghana where the Traditional States thrive. Ghana needs to define an Executive Authority to work closely with the central government, the traditional authority, and all other stakeholders for the development of the Traditional State.

The actual selection could be by balloting of the people of the area, or by appointment of President or by the Paramount King, or by some combination of these methods. It would also be interesting and useful to give this Traditional State Executive a seat at the Omanhene Palace, similar to the concept of Nkosuohene. This position would be analogous to the current Regional Minister.

The lack of a dedicated Town Executive or Manager a.k.a. Mayor is a major constraint in Local Government in Ghana. The position of District Chief Executive cannot suffice here, as Districts comprise many towns and villages and the occupant cannot be dedicated to the development of just one. One negative consequence of the lack of actual mayors in our towns is the involvement of Members of Parliament in developmental projects in the localities.

The main task of Parliamentarians is to work hard to make good laws for Ghana and perhaps in addition, for the benefit of their specific locality. Therefore, the competition for MPs should be about who can best make laws for Ghana and not about who has built roads or KVIPS for their towns or made huge donations to charity. These days, we see MPs running around the country doing all sorts of executive functions while recording many absent days in Parliament. This cannot be acceptable

In the Traditional Setup, we do have a town Manager, i.e. the Chief of the Town. However, in contemporary Ghana, there is no equivalent executive position. Again, I would propose the “Prime Minister “concept at the local level. Every town needs to have a mayor who could be appointed or elected or some combination thereof by the people of the Town and the Chief of the town. And again, the occupant will have a Seat at the local Palace as the Nkosuohene or something similar.

The Legislature can be broken down similarly. We would need a representation of the people at the Traditional State level and at the Town level. These two bodies would work with the Traditional State Executive and the Mayor for effective local government administration in Ghana.

In contemporary Ghana, the structures of the Judicial branch of government seem to be properly set up for all the levels of state and functioning quite effectively to meet the challenges. Therefore, I would not propose any changes, except where it becomes necessary for the changes in the other two branches proposed here to be effective.

In addition, the changes proposed in this paper are simply broad guidelines that would require a more careful study and refinement. Nevertheless, I dare say that it is about time for Ghanaians to think out of the box and make the necessary changes in the governance of the country to ease the process of development; It is useful to adopt foreign systems, but in doing so, one needs to be mindful of local conditions and improvise appropriately.

Columnist: Kofi Adu