'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’: Recent Developments in Mental Health Law Reform in Zambia and Ghana

Peer-reviewed article
(2021 Aug) Mental Health, Legal Capacity, and Human Rights 184-198


Heléne Combrinck and Enoch Chilemba


Since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2006, several African countries have undertaken reform of their mental health legislation. This chapter examines mental health laws introduced in recent years in two African countries, Zambia and Ghana, to establish whether these legislative measures comply with CRPD standards in respect of the recognition of legal capacity. To examine this question, we first provide a brief overview of Article 12 and General Comment No 1 issued by the Committee on the Rights of persons with Disabilities, briefly noting the controversy that has arisen in respect of the Committee’s interpretation of this Article. We also consider the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The chapter then measures the Zambian Mental Health Act of 2019 as well as the Mental Health Act, 2012, of Ghana against the international and regional norms on legal capacity. In this process, we also consider the difficult question of whether the approach which holds that involuntarily psychiatric interventions can never be compatible with the CRPD is feasible in African contexts with limited resources. We finally look at the lessons that may be drawn from the legislative processes in these countries.