A position paper by Rashid Dumbuya for the consideration of the Constitutional Review Committee of Sierra Leone
November 25, 2015 Author: Rashid Justice Dumbuya
A constitution simply put, is a body of fundamental principles that guides the way a country is being governed. It is often referred to as the most important or supreme law of the land. A constitution defines the rights and duties of citizens as well as the state, and further shows the mechanisms through which authorities and governing institutions can be checkmated. Most constitutions of the world emerged out of a brutal past or special circumstance. Hence, the need for having a preamble.
The Preamble of a constitution can therefore be defined as a brief introductory statement that sets out the guiding principles and purpose of the constitution. It is a fundamental statement within the constitution that usually reflects a historic bridge between the past of a deeply divided society that was characterized by conflict, strife, injustice and suffering; and a future that is founded on democratic values, peaceful co-existence, social justice and development opportunities for all irrespective of gender, race, colour, religion or tribe.
South Africa is one example of a country that maintains a Preamble within its constitution. Since it underwent an oppressive past in the hands of the Apartheid regime, the preamble in its new constitution of 1996 reflects a genuine commitment of the South African people to transition from an oppressive past to a constitutional democracy that is based on the rule of law, democratic values, social justice, equality and human rights. Below is an excerpt of the preamble within the constitution of South Africa:
“We, the people of South Africa,
Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to-Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
May God protect our people.
Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso.
God seën Suid-Afrika. God bless South Africa.
Mudzimu fhatutshedza Afurika. Hosi katekisa Afrika.”
The same is equally true of the preamble in the constitution of the Unites States of America. It does reflect a commitment of the people of the United States to transition from an oppressive and violent past to a constitutional democracy that is based on the rule of law, liberty and freedom of the citizens, democratic values, social justice, equality and human rights. Below is an excerpt of the preamble enshrined in the United States Constitution:
‘We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.’
Ironically however, the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone does not contain a preamble. Perhaps the drafters never saw or contemplated the need for having this since at the time of the review, the rebel war had just begun in the rural areas of Sierra Leone and was at its genesis or lowest ebb.
But now that the country had witnessed the horrors of a brutal civil war of cosmic and monumental proportions coupled with the agony of some of the bloody coups that took place in the capital city, it may be appropriate for the drafters to insert this time around a preamble into the new constitution so as to remind us of our broken past and to further re-create a picture of the future we all crave to see in our beloved Sierra Leone.
Justifications or Reasons for having a preamble inserted into the new constitution of Sierra Leone
There are good reasons for having a preamble inserted into the new constitution of Sierra Leone.
Firstly, as had been stated, a preamble reflects a statement of strong commitment by the society to transition from an oppressive past to a constitutional democracy that is based on the rule of law, democratic values, social justice, equality and human rights.
Secondly, a preamble gives a vivid picture to the judges that interpret the constitution about the historic past of a deeply divided society that was characterized by conflict, strife, injustice and suffering; and the future that is being craved for by the people of that country – a future that is based on democratic values, peaceful co-existence, social justice and development opportunities for all irrespective of gender, race, colour, religion or tribe.
Furthermore, there is a special understanding, motivation and drive that flow from a preamble when it is provided for within a constitution and read by everyone. The Preamble helps to bring out the true spirit and fundamental principles of the constitution.
More importantly however, the courts and citizens are always guided in their interpretation of the provisions of a constitution when a preamble is adequately provided for within the constitution.
Finally, now that Sierra Leone has gone through a bitter past, there is every reason for a preamble to be inserted in the new constitution to remind the present and future generation of how far the society has surged on and the expectations craved for in the future years to come.
Excerpt of Proposed Preamble to be inserted into the new Constitution
Below is a proposed example of a preamble that may be appropriate for the new constitution of Sierra Leone. The choice of words has been carefully selected to reflect our peculiar situation.
“We, the people of Sierra Leone,
Recognize the brutal wars, injustices and agony of the past;
Honour those who have died in defense of the unity and freedom of our land;
Respect those who have worked tirelessly to build and develop the country and
Resolve never again to fight and destroy our motherland.
We therefore adopt this Constitution as the Supreme law of the land so as to heal the pains of our brutal past and establish a society that is based on democratic values, the rule of law, peace and justice, religious tolerance, social cohesion, unity in diversity and fundamental rights and freedoms.
No other law should conflict with it; nor should any person or institution do anything to violate it.
We do this for posterity and for the land that we love. May God bless our Sierra Leone.’’
The need for a preamble in our new constitution cannot be over-emphasized. Sierra Leone has witnessed one of the most horrifying wars in human history. The constitutional review process is certainly a first step towards accountability and the righting of the wrongs of our brutal past. But inserting a preamble into the new constitution will always serve as a reminder to the judges as well as the present and future generation of how far the Sierra Leonean society has surged on and the expectations being craved for in the future years to come.
*All Rights Reserved
Rashid Dumbuya is a practicing Barrister and Solicitor from the Republic of Sierra Leone as well as an international human rights advocate and Public Defender. He is currently a state prosecutor at the Anti- Corruption Commission and a part-time lecturer in the Department of Law, Fourah Bay College University of Sierra Leone.
For further inquiries, please contact RASHID DUMBUYA Esq. via Email: email@example.com