Gold Coast Independence

Kofi Abrefa Busia

30th November, 19561

Attached hereto for your consideration is a memorandum setting forth in brief outline the standpoint of the Opposition Parties in the Gold Coast as to the safeguards which they consider to be essential if the peoples of the Northern Territories, Ashanti and Togoland are to be persuaded to accept union with the Gold Coast Colony. My colleagues and I would welcome an opportunity of explaining our case in detail, either to individual members of Parliament or to groups of members. In the meanwhile urgent steps are being taken to present a petition to both Houses of Parliament praying that the representations of the majority of the peoples of Ashanti, the Northern Territories and Togoland be considered by Parliament before any further action is taken.

All communications should be addressed to me care of W. Ofori Atta, Esq., 20 Cambridge Square, Paddington, W.2., Telephone No. Paddington 7510.

Yours faithfully,

K. Busia

Leader of the Opposition,

Gold Coast Assembly

Gold Coast Independence

1. The United Kingdom Government announced that the Gold Coast will be granted Independence in March 1957. It is essential that the Constitution of the new independent State should command general acceptance amongst its citizens. If it did not the consequences might be disastrous. The area of the proposed State of Ghana is neither geographically, historically or politically a single entity. It consists of four separate regions. In addition to the Crown colony of the Gold Coast are the separate regions of Ashanti and the Northern Territories. Up till 1901 Ashanti was a separate political unit and even after its annexation in 1901 continued to be administered separately from the Gold Coast colony. The Northern Territories constitute since 1897 a British protectorate. There is also a separate Trust Territory of Togoland. It is not sufficient if the Constitution meets with the approval of the majority of the Gold Coast colony. Unless it also commands the general support of the inhabitants of the other territories, by offering them the security and protection to which they are entitled, the new State will be open to grave internal conflicts at its very birth. The only link which binds these four territories at the present time is British sovereignty. If that link is removed, there will be no bond either legal or political to hold together the proposed new State except upon the basis of general agreement.

2. This agreement does not at present exist. The United Kingdom Government supports the proposal of the Gold Coast Government upon the basis that the Convention Peoples Party obtained a majority at the General Election held on the 17th July 1956. The proposals of the Gold Coast Government are, however, opposed by the National Liberation Movement and its allies. The latter include the Northern Peoples Party, the Moslem Association Party, the Togoland Congress and the Federation of Youth Association. These groups fought in the last Election under one manifesto and under one leader. In the Legislative Assembly they accept one leadership and a common Whip. Their views are shared by the Asanteman Council, which is the supreme authority of the Ashanti nation. The N.L.M. speaks for the majority of the peoples of the Northern territories and Ashanti and generally for the opposition in the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly. We also believe that it commands the support of the great majority of the inhabitants of the Trust Territory of Togoland who, while they wish to join the new State, only desire to do so provided regional and minority interests are properly safeguarded. At the General Election on the 17th July 1956 only 58% of the registered voters actually voted. Of these, 57% voted for the C.P.P. and 43% for the opposition and its allies. In the Gold Coast colony the C.P.P. had a majority but it was defeated in Ashanti and the Northern Territories. Ashanti and the Northern Territories constitute together with Togoland approximately three-quarters of the proposed total area of the new State.

3. The communities we represent wish to take part in the new independent State provided, however, that it is endowed with a Constitution which commands general support amongst its citizens and which gives real and firmly entrenched protection to regional, minority and individual rights and provides sound and stable Government.

4. In 1951 the United Kingdom Government gave an assurance that special consideration would be given to the wishes of the Northern Territories before any further constitutional advances were made. The United Kingdom Government has also agreed that an agreed Constitution is very necessary and that there should be provisions in the Constitution before Independence to safeguard regional and minority rights. The United Kingdom Government has not however, produced any proposals for a Constitution to give effect to these views. In a recent statement by the Gold Coast Government in a white paper entitled "The Government's Revised Constitutional Proposals for Gold Coast Independence", it is stated "Originally the opposition proposed that there should be an entirely new and written Constitution, for Independence. The Government had much sympathy with this idea and in particular, like the opposition, wished to include in the Constitution fundamental rights guaranteeing liberty and the right of political and industrial association, together with freedom of speech and of the Press. The British Government, however, took the view, that these were matters which should be put into the Constitution after Independence and after the British Parliament had conferred full sovereignty on the Parliament of Ghana". The opposition maintains its view that a proper written Constitution for the new State should be drafted before Independence.

5. Some of the more important questions which must be dealt with in the Constitution are as follows:-

(1) The question of alterations in the constitution is vital. Whatever safeguards are given they are of no value if they can be removed easily at any time. It is not sufficient to say that they can only be removed by a majority. The whole object of safeguards is to protect Groups who, taking the new State as a whole, would be minorities. Under the Government's revised proposals it is suggested that certain safeguards be introduced into present Constitution by the time independence takes effect in respect of a limited category of subjects. The adequacy of these safeguards is discussed below. The present point is that wholly inadequate steps are taken to prevent even the Government's safeguards from being removed the day after independence. The Government still apparently proposes that constitutional change can be effected by a simple two-thirds majority of a single Chamber. Assuming the Government could obtain the two-thirds majority, and it might be able to facilitate its task in so doing by altering electoral districts and managing the voting register, it could immediately abolish all the safeguards and could even change the provision in the Constitution itself which requires a two-thirds majority. It could, for example, alter that provision by providing that only a simple majority is required. There is no second Chamber to delay and give a second opinion on the point. There is no provision for any consent or agreement to be obtained from any of the Regional Assemblies or the Chiefs or from any other body.

(2). The Constitution itself.

The U.K. Government has rejected the view that in the instruments conferring independence there should be embodied a new Constitution containing such safeguards as are proper. They merely contemplate that the present Constitution may be amended before independence in certain limited respects but exclude, for example, that the Constitution shall embody provisions as to fundamental rights and constitutional conventions. They indicate that these are matters for settlement by the new State after independence has been granted. By the time that stage has been reached, however, a simple majority will be able to dictate the whole position and none of those safeguards would probably ever be inserted at all. Even as regards the particular matters which the U.K. Government agrees should be inserted into the Constitution before independence it will be seen below that they are in many respects inadequate and for others there is no provision at all.

(3) Regional Assemblies.

The Government's revised proposals leave the following matters to be determined by the Gold Coast Parliament:

(a) The number of the regions and the boundaries thereof;

(b) The authority, functions and powers of, the Regional Assemblies:

There is provision that certain specific matters are to be included in their powers but this is only "subject to the authority of Parliament". This means in practice that Parliament is entirely free to decide exactly what functions and powers the Regional Assemblies shall have from time to time. In fact Parliament could decide by changing the Constitution not to have any Regional Assemblies at all.

There is no provision or safeguard Assemblies. Nor, so far as can be seen, is there provision for the composition and membership of the Assemblies to be provided in the Constitution, Under the present proposals it would appear that the whole matter of the composition of these Regional Assemblies is to be left in the air for subsequent consideration by Parliament. This means again that the safeguards as regards Regional Assemblies are illusory.

(4) Position of Chiefs in Regional Government.

The Government acknowledges in principle that the Chiefs should have a part in the Regional Government of the country and for that purpose state that the office of a Chief as existing by customary law and usage should be guaranteed and also provide for a House of Chiefs in each region. Nevertheless, the provisions made are wholly inadequate. The Regional House of Chiefs is only to have power to consider matters referred to it by a Minister or by the National Assembly and to offer advice with regard to certain specific matters. The National Assembly is under no obligation to refer matters (except in the case of Bills affecting the traditional functions and privileges of a Chief) and is under no obligation to accept its advice. The House of Chiefs is to play no part in the Regional Government of the Country. There is no definition of the rights and powers of the Chiefs which are to be guaranteed by the Constitution.

(5) Checks and balances in Central Government.

There is no provision for any checks and balances. There is no Second Chamber, no Council of State and the Governor-General has always had to act on the advice of the Prime Minister. If this is to be the position as regards the Council of State and the Governor-General, it is particularly necessary that there should be a Second Chamber.

(6) Public Service.

It is clearly essential to have an independent public service but the Government proposals do not secure this, in that they do not provide for the independent nomination of the members of the Public Service Commission. Furthermore, the members should be appointed on a regional basis so as to ensure adequate representation of minorities.

(7) The Judiciary.

The same applies to the Judiciary. In particular the Government proposals enable the Government to appoint the Chief Justice, enable Judges to be removed on a bare two thirds majority of the Assembly and do not provide adequately for the independent character of the Judicial Service Commission.

(8) Human rights.

The United Kingdom Government has rejected the suggestion that the new Constitution should make any provisions for individual rights or the rights of minorities. In this they have apparently not even been prepared to go as far as the Gold Coast Government which, as stated above, has said that it wished to include in the Constitution fundamental rights guaranteeing personal liberty and the right of political and industrial association, together with freedom of speech and the press but that this was not agreed to by the United Kingdom Government. We suggest that the European Convention of Human Rights, which has been accepted by the U.K. Government for application to overseas territories, should be embodied in the Constitution. This Convention includes machinery enabling its provisions to be enforced through the Courts.

(9) Police.

If regional devolution is to be really safeguarded against abuse there should be an autonomous regional Police Force.

(10) Electoral Provisions.

Much depends in a Constitution upon preventing the boundaries of regions or other areas from being adjusted so as to give unfair advantage to one party or the other. There should therefore be a Boundary and Electoral Commission to investigate boundaries and electoral matters. There is no such provision in the Government's proposals.

(11) Agreed Constitution.

The Government has stressed the desirability of having a Constitution which is generally agreed and accepted. Nevertheless it is proposed to introduce independence without any of the above matters having agreed. The Government has even decided on the name for the new country and its flag and coat of arms without consulting the country.

In the light of the above considerations, it is the earnest hope of the majority of the peoples of the Northern Territories, Ashanti and Togoland that the Parliament of the United Kingdom, as trustee for the peoples of the four territories will insist that there be a constitution embodying such safeguards as would make it possible for the Northern Territories, Ashanti and Togoland to accept independence on the basis of a United Gold Coast. It is feared that if no provision is made for such a constitution and H.M.G. take the step of declaring the Gold Coast independent on March 6th next, the effect of the removal of the ultimate control of the Parliament of the U.K. will be sever the only link between the four territories and bring about an extremely confused situation in which Ashanti, the Northern Territories and Togoland will have no alternative but to take the standpoint that they are independent, but as separate entities. It is within the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to prevent such a situation from arising, and it is submitted that effective measures should be taken, before it is too late, to insist upon such constitutional safeguards as will make it possible for

Ashanti, the Northern Territories and Togoland to accept union with the Gold Coast Colony.

1 This memorandum was circulated to MPs before the debate in Parliament concerning Gold Coast Independence four months before Ghana's independence. Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia was then leader of the opposition in the Gold Coast Parliament.

Busia and J.H. Mensah