October 29, 2020

The Strengths and Weaknesses of the 1946 Alan Burns Constitution

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The purpose of this tutorial is to examine the strengths and shortcomings of the 1946 Alan Burns constitution in the Gold Coast (Ghana).

In other words, we shall take a good look at the reasons why the educated elite of the Gold Coast (Ghana) opposed the Alan Burns constitution of 1946.

It is worth-noting that the 1948 Accra riots (or disturbances) in the Gold Coast were, to a very large extent, a direct effect of the weaknesses of the 1946 Burns constitution.


The Burns Constitution came up after the Second World War to reflect the social, economic and political changes that had taken  place in the Gold Coast as a result of the war.

These changes had rendered the 1925 Guggisberg constitution  obsolete.

Here are the strengths of the Burns Constitution.

1. The Extension of the Elective Principle

The elective principle was for the first time extended to Kumasi (Ashanti). Ashanti was thus joined to the Gold Coast colony and represented on the legislative council.

Before this time, all legislation for Ashanti was done by proclamation.

2. More Africans in the Legislative Council

For the first time, the constitution offered greater representation in the Legislative Council to Africans. For example, there were 24 unofficial members as against 7 official members including the governor.

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3. African Representation in the Executive Council

Three (3) Africans were appointed to  serve on the Executive council. These were chosen from the elected members in the Legislative Council. They participated in the policy formulation body in the colony for the first time.

4. Territorial Councils for the Northern Territories

The constitution created territorial councils for the Northern Territories. These councils served as electoral colleges and advised the colonial government on customary issues.

5. Joint Provincial Council for Asanteman

The constitution extended membership of the joint provincial council of chiefs to the Asanteman Council and by so doing, Ashanti was united to the colony

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Weaknesses of the Burns Constitution

Let’s now move on to identify the weaknesses of the Burns Constitution. These were the factors that made the educated intelligentsia of the Gold Coast to reject it.

1. It limited the level of participation of Africans.

Even though Africans were in the majority in the Legislative Council, most of them were chiefs who were mere instruments of indirect rule.

The educated elite, who spearheaded the fight for reforms to indirect rule, didn’t get the level of participation they wanted.

2. Limited Franchise

The elective principle introduced in 1925 continued to be limited to only major urban areas such as Accra, Cape Coast and Sekondi-Takoradi. Kumasi was later included.

The franchise was based on property and income qualification. One had to earn a certain level of income and own a number of properties before they could qualify to vote.

3. No Representation for Parts of the Gold Coast

There was no representation for the Northern territories and Trans-Volta Togoland on the Legislative Council. The Governor continued to legislate for these areas by proclamation.

4. Domination of the Executive Council by Europeans

The Executive Council was still dominated by official members with Africans in the minority.

Also, the Executive Council continued to be an advisory body to the Governor. Its members were not even responsible to the legislative council but to the Governor.

5. Opposition to the Governor’s Veto Powers

The Governor continued to exercise his reserved and veto powers. He could thus accept or reject any bill brought to him by the Legislative Council.

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6. No Mention of Local Government

The constitution was silent on issues of local government. This, to the educated elite, meant that the colonial government was not prepared to hand over political power to the people of the Gold Coast any time soon and by so doing, bring an end to colonial rule.

7. Lack of Progress on Social and Economic Issues

Finally, the constitution failed to address the numerous post war political, economic and social problems confronting the people of the Gold Coast.

It was, therefore, not surprising that the Aiken Watson commission which investigated the causes of the 1948 Accra Riots described the Alan Burns Constitution as “outmoded at birth”.

Thank you!

Ralph Nyadzi

Ralph has a passion for the teaching and learning of Language and Literature mainly because these two help him to understand and appreciate why people act the way they do. Over the past two decades, he has coached over 5000 students and adult learners to achieve their educational goals. Ralph is the founder and CEO of Cegast Academy.

View all posts by Ralph Nyadzi →

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