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Opinions of Tuesday, 28 February 2006

Columnist: Oteng-Attakora, George

Citizenship and ROPAB

I followed with great interest the amendment bill, ROPAB, and the numerous corresponding and exchanges for its merit. As we celebrate the success of this bill into law, shall we also remember the responsibilities that accompany such a privilege?

It is unfortunate that the debates preceding the passing of the bill was approached by many with such emotional attachment that threatened to obscure the essence of the issue presented in the Representation of the People Amendment Bill, (ROPAB). Issues arising from the bill have been confused with Nationality, Citizenship, democracy and the right to vote. If ROPAB was sought after just to grant voting rights to people in the Diaspora then it?s a waste of time. If ROPAB was sought after to confer citizenship and the real sense of democracy then it?s worth the effort. As much as I condemn the manner in which the debate was handled both in Parliament and in the streets, I can identify with some of the concerns of the many people in Ghana.

This bill would have been an easy sell if the millions of Ghanaian in the Diaspora have demonstrated true citizenship; citizenship, which implies working towards the betterment of Ghana, paying taxes, volunteer work and efforts to improve life for all citizens of Ghana. Citizenship is not merely one?s basic social and political attachment to a country. It comes with duties; what I call your worth. To see oneself as a citizen of Ghana, begin by asking the question, what is my worth for Ghana? What am I doing that contributes towards the betterment of Ghana, any efforts to improve the life for all citizens of Ghana paid or unpaid? How do I identify with the nation that calls on her citizens to make our solemn vow, steadfast to build together a nation strong in unity with our gifts of mind and strength of arm, whether night or day, in the midst of storm, in every need whatever the call may be, to serve thee Ghana, now and evermore. My friends in the Diaspora, these are neither jingles nor rhetoric. This sense of citizenship does not come only with voting rights. It comes with the realization that our very essence of being is nation building and contributions to the world at large. To those who believe in the Bible, this is the first commandment ever given to man, ?work the land and take care of it?. And throughout the history of the Bible, its all been about nation building.

Until the advent of the Partnership Outreach Program for Ghana, (POP4Ghana), which seeks to mobilize global action of all Ghanaians to provide Direct and Effective Development Assistance in Ghana and the GCG championed by Yaw Owusu, to establish technology centres in Ghana, there were no such mobilized Ghanaian front or citizens in the Diaspora with a common voice and commitment to build even a single local library, (except for small religious and tribal groups). On the contrary, the patronage of such organizations as POP4Ghana and GCG on a global level will provide demonstrable evidence to the people of Ghana that those of us in the Diaspora are ready to serve. If Ghanaians in the Diaspora have had a history of displaying such great virtues of citizenship, working together in partnership for the betterment of Ghana, such fundamental element of democracy as voting rights would not be met with such widespread opposition as seen in the streets of Ghana.

With respect to ROPAB, nationality must be distinguished from Citizenship. Citizenship may come about as a country to which a person is born and has not renounced or is naturalized by conferring of citizenship after birth elsewhere. Of course citizens have the right to participate in the political life of the country of which they are citizens, and this includes voting and standing for elections.

Ghanaian nationals on the other hand need not have these rights. Nationality is simply a legal relationship between a person and a counrty. The US immigration lottery has added to this nationality. The nationals of a country generally possess the right of abode in the territory of the country whose nationality they hold. It is possible to have nationality without being a citizen. And indeed most ?Ghanaians? in the Diaspora are just nationals. They have the right of abode by virtue of their family ties. They have built houses instead of businesses to preserve this right. Their hopes are to retire in Ghana and place a huge burden on the health service, which they haven?t contributed a dime to. You will even find that most of these nationals enjoyed free education and stipends, (Bangla) at the Universities in Ghana and have not returned a dime. Are they citizens? No! Do they qualify for voting rights? No!

Professor Kwaku-ohene-Frimpong, in his article of February 8, 2006 wondered whether Ghanaians who walk the soils of Ghana are any more Ghanaians than those in the Diaspora. Well, Professor Frimpong, so long as Ghanaians in the Diaspora do not render what it takes to fully qualify as citizens of Ghana, Ghanaians who walk the soil of Ghana everyday will lay legitimate claim to their citizenship than those in the Diaspora. And if the only claim to citizen is the daily remittance to Ghana, then our understanding of nation building is very limited. Professor Ayittey was allegedly quoted in the Graphic as inferring that, the daily remittance to Ghana is the engine that stabilizes the local currency. Yes, the daily remittance may alleviate the pain of the fortunate few, but it makes living conditions harsher for the unfortunate Ghanaian who has no dollars, in that it inflates that cost of goods. We lay to much emphasis on the daily remittance. Let create some jobs in Ghana. (I must add here that I salute the great works in the area of sickle cell that Professor Frimpong is engaged in, both in Ghana and in the US).

The bill is passed. What we need now is to sort through the tons of mechanistic difficulties for its implementation for its benefits to be realized. If Ghanaians in the Diaspora would assume full citizenship as they cast they votes and follow through for the betterment of Ghana then we are on to something good. But if we perceived this privilege as an opportunity to play politics then we miss the true sense of citizenship.

George Oteng-Attakora, PhD. EMBA
Project Management Office
Andrx Corporation

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.