Coups as Constitution-Making in Post-Independence African States

In 1960 Ghana declared its independence under a new republican constitution. Six years later the military deposed the democratic government and suspended the constitution. Similar coups would overthrow elected governments in Uganda and Nigeria (as well as the very different case of Rhodesia), and threaten to do so elsewhere. In response to these coups, a new common law doctrine of necessity was adopted and applied by African courts to legitimise the new governments and their new constitutional orders. These decisions were part of a wider discourse across the Commonwealth of Nations on the jurisprudence of coups that proposed new answers to fundamental constitutional questions: who were the people? who represented the people? what made a government legitimate? and who decided? This paper argues that the answers to these questions would transform new and existing constitutions in the aftermath of coups or in anticipation of them.