Today, Ghana celebrates its Constitution which was voted for in a referendum on 28th April 1992 and took full effect exactly 26 years ago (7th January 1993). Constitution Day has been described as a day which affords the nation an opportunity to self-introspect on democratic governance in this 4th Republican Constitution era.
Talking about Republics, Ghana gained political independence from the British on 6th March 1957 and later commenced its first Republican era on 1st July 1960, the day it’s Constitution which granted full sovereignty to its people with a President as Head of State came to effect. However, on 24th February 1966 Ghana experienced its first unconstitutional overthrow of a Government, bringing an end to the First Republic. After this incident, the country experienced two more overthrows of Constitutional eras, with the last one on 31st December 1981.
The 4th Republican era has therefore experienced the longest period of uninterrupted democratic governance with seven successive General Elections every four years, resulting in three successful changeovers of Governments from one political party to another (2000, 2008 and 2016). This according to experts surpasses the ‘two elections turnover test’ of measuring democratic consolidation, a scenario in which government changes hands democratically from one party to another on two successive occasions.
A Constitution can be defined in simple terms as a set of rules that governs a group of people. This group can range from an association to a country. It is important to note that since a Constitution provides clear guidelines to actions and ensures predictability, it is a critical element of democratic governance. To this end, the term democratic governance is sometimes used interchangeably with Republicanism or Constitutionalism. In fact, there can be no democracy without a Constitution although the presence of a Constitution alone does not also guarantee the existence of a democracy or its proper practice.
The Constitution of Ghana in Article 21 (1) (e) grants each citizen “freedom of association, which shall include freedom to form or join trade unions or other associations, national or international, for the protection of their interest”. The Constitution further guarantees economic freedoms to its citizens which in Article 24 (3) states that “every worker has a right to form or join a trade union of his choice for the promotion and protection of his economic and social interests”. With these Constitutional provisions guaranteeing the existence and activities of Trades Unions, the latter have proceeded inhibited in their actions.
As we celebrate Constitution Day, an opportunity is available for the citizenry, Trade Unions, their members and activists to remember that they share a common destiny with the fate of the Constitution, in that they always have an onerous responsibility to defend democracy and advocate for its consolidation. On the individual level, all members of Trade Unions have a responsibility to ensure that democratic consolidation begins at their individual and institutional level, as it is imperative that a threat to constitutionalism anywhere is a threat to constitutionalism everywhere. It is also critical to acknowledge the important role played by Trade Unions in democratic governance since the days of the struggle for independence to the call for return to constitutional rule at various points in the nation’s history. The current generation have a responsibility to continue in this spirit and even raise higher the banner of democracy in Ghana.
As members of Trade Unions, we should be interested in knowing the content of the Constitution of Ghana and that of our Unions and any other group or association we may belong to. This knowledge is important to properly order our steps and actions as its contents confer rights on us and also places responsibilities on our shoulders. A careful balance of rights and responsibilities will therefore ensure good citizenship or membership of our various associations, including of Trade Unions. Knowledge of the contents of Constitutions will also help to hold Office bearers accountable to their members and help members become guardians of the rule of law in their associations to the extent that all members will abhor a ‘defilement’ of the Constitution.
May we use this opportunity to congratulate ourselves on our achievement in democratic governance and urge ourselves on to do more at the level of our individual associations and the nation at large. Let us proceed on the notion that little drops of constitutionalism make a mighty democratic nation.
Happy Constitution Day to all Ghanaians. AYEKOO!
John Doe, Democracy and Labour Rights Promoter.