Lana Osei is a JURIST staff correspondent in Ghana and a recent graduate of the GIMPA (Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration) Faculty of Law. She files this dispatch from Accra.
Over the weekend, hundreds of people thronged the streets of Ghana’s capital, Accra, to protest the poor socioeconomic conditions in the country. As a precursor to this event, Democracy Hub, a non-partisan, non-aligned civic movement headed by Oliver Barker-Wormawor notified the Accra Regional Police Headquarters in a letter dated 21st August 2023 citing their intention to exercise their constitutional right to protest on 21st September 2023 under Article 21(1)(d) of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution. This was done against the background of Section 1 of the Public Order Act (Act 491), which provides that any person who desires to hold any special event within the meaning of that Act in any public place shall notify the Police of their intention not less than 5 days before the date of the special event.
The special event last Thursday called on the President and members of the Economic Management Team to fix the country, given the level of economic mismanagement and theft that had engulfed the government from the highest levels. The picketing also allowed citizens to express their opposition to the proposed military intervention in Niger as well as any other government policy decisions or initiatives. The hashtag #OccupyJulorbiHouse, which was the theme of the picket, went viral on X (formerly Twitter), garnering over a million posts.
The police filed an order for an injunction against the protest a day before it was slated to happen. The conveners of the picket issued a press release citing that their position to proceed with the protest stems from the legal position that the mere filing of an application does not prevent the exercise of a constitutional right. Consequently, according to police communication, about 49 protestors were arrested on the first day of the three-day picket and were to be charged with unlawful assembly under the Criminal Offenses Act (Act 29).
In an exclusive interview with JURIST, Mr. Prince Ganaku, one of the lawyers who facilitated bail for protestors on the first day, shed light on a critical aspect. He told me that “On a flawed understanding of contempt law, the police tried to sabotage the protest by filing the application the day before, thinking that it would vest them with the authority to arrest for contempt. But you cannot imprison someone for contempt otherwise than by a court order.”
The foregoing facts reveal the brass tactics utilized by the Ghana police to halt the rightful assembly of persons. In my opinion, Ghana’s position as one of the most stable democracies in Africa may be crumbling under the weight of inexcusable scandals and politics that have morphed into a goldrush for persons who have no regard for the rudimentary tenets of the rule of law and basic human decency. The whimpering of a generation of Ghanaians can only be silenced for a time. Our democracy may be a façade at this time, but not forever so.
Opinions expressed in JURIST Dispatches are solely those of our correspondents in the field and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.