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Opinions of Sunday, 16 August 2009

Columnist: Anor, Ofori G.

This Anti-Dual Citizenship Clause: Scrap It

by G. Ofori Anor

“…………………. a citizen of Ghana shall cease forthwith to be a citizen of Ghana if, on attaining the age of twenty-one years, he, by a voluntary act, other than marriage, acquired or retains the citizenship of a country other than Ghana.” (quoted from Ghana’s 1992 Constitution).

This constitutional provision is seen by a great many Ghanaians who live and make a living overseas as shortsighted and a miserable act of ingratitude and vindictiveness. To us, it is a painful rejection of a constituency that should be courted, cajoled and exalted for its role in tending to a sick and dying patient until the arrival of a saving angel (if you can call the World Bank and the IMF that). For years, Ghana has been gravely sick economically (politically too) and one cannot help but wonder what she would be today but for those who ventured out when the business of keeping body and soul together became a life and death preposition.

Dual Citizenship in Today’s World The concept of dual citizenship allows for a person to hold more than one citizenship at the same time and most of the world’s democracies like the USA have laws to that effect. Many of the world’s great democracies like UK, France, Australia, Belgium, Nigeria, Brazil, Kenya, Israel, Pakistan, have dual citizenship laws. Others like Canada, South Africa and Germany allow it under certain accommodations.

Among the very few countries that do not permit it are China, the Koreas, India and of course Ghana. Go figure!

A person naturalized as a U.S. citizen may not lose the citizenship of the country of birth. U.S. law does not mention dual nationality or require a person to choose one citizenship or another. Also, a person who is automatically granted another citizenship does not risk losing U.S. citizenship. Apart from the President and with it, the Commander–in–Chief of the nation’s armed forces, dual citizenship in the world’s most powerful nation entitles one to all rights and privileges that any citizen – natural born or naturalized – is entitled to. For many the vast majority of immigrants, taking up citizenship of their new homes is a matter of common sense and convenience. Pure and simple.

Ghana and the Ghanaian Diaspora

Ghana sits firmly and solidly among nations described as third world states, bottom of the barrel nations where the vast majority of its citizens endure severe forms of poverty, diseases, deprivation and civil strives. It is estimated that about 30 % of the entire Ghanaian population of some 23 million live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day and life expectancy a mere 56 years. Well endowed with natural resources, Ghana remains somewhat dependent on trade and international assistance as well as the activities of a very vibrant Ghanaian Diaspora. Ghana remains one of the world's top gold producers. Other exports such as cocoa, timber, diamond, bauxite, and manganese are major sources of foreign exchange. An oilfield which is reported to contain up to 3 billion barrels of light oil was discovered in 2007. Oil exploration is ongoing and receipts from oil exports continue to increase. (Source: Wikipedia)

Even so, Ghana is touted as the closest to success you will find when placed side by side some 50 other nations that share the same continental land mass. Talk about the one eyed fellow being king in a land of the unsighted!

Why would anyone therefore moan and wail when denied the citizenship of a nation so “third worldish”, so HIPC; a nation where laws are made but barely enforced, school-age kids sell dog chains on streets during school hours, where leaders and public servants do cause heavy financial losses to the state and end up as ambassadors, ministers do cause the collapse of state corporations (airline carriers) and go on to manage or mismanage health care.

Wouldn’t it make the most sense for one to simply go on and enjoy what comes with having acquired the citizenship of advanced nations like the U.S., Britain, Norway? In these lands, electricity is always but a switch away, clean water (hot or cold) runs in faucets, mass transportation systems in the form of buses and trains run 24/7. I’m talking about nations where laws are enforced, hospitals and the medical services function as they should for the health and well being of the citizens and social assets are repaired and maintained.

We moan and wail because we have a deep seated emotional and sentimental attachment to Ghana with all its “third worldish” credentials. It is an attachment that cannot be defined in terms of running faucets and fast food restaurants. This is unconditional and inviolate. You are a Ghanaian because you are a Ghanaian and should remain so until by actions and words you openly and unequivocally renounce it. The Ghanaian Diaspora has by its actions and deeds more than demonstrated where its heart and loyalty lie.

Let’s flash back to the Fires and Famine of 1983 – a year when brush fires literally burnt down Ghana from Bawku to Cape Three Points, and simultaneously from Half Assini to Aflao. If we were like more successful nations, this will be solidly written into our collective consciousness to serve as mileposts and reminders to what works and what hurts. But we are a people without historic landmarks, heroes and heroines to emulate and inspire. We make villains and fools of those who sacrifice themselves for the common good.

Otherwise, we would recall with gratitude the immense mitigating role diasporan Ghanaians played during those hungry smoke-filled days. Some of us recall with gratitude, how Ghanaians living in Nigeria in particular loaded buses and trucks with foodstuff (rice, canned foods, cooking oil, medicines and practically anything that Nigerian authorities would permit) and sent them under extreme harassment by Benin and Togolese security personnel to starving folks back home.

We cannot dispel with a wave of the hand the extent diasporan Ghanaians in Europe, America, etc went to ensure that money and goods got through to their embattled kith and kin smarting under the bullwhip and guns of “eye hann, eye kanea” revolutionary cadres and operatives.” Currencies were hidden in powder cans, stuffed animals, baby diapers, canned foods, not to mention items of clothing, even toilet paper, the list goes on and on. To this day, visiting home means traveling large and heavy with money and gifts because the so-called economic prosperity of the times is all but a mirage to many.

It is indeed a big deal that the Ghanaian Diaspora remits billions of dollars annually into a country whose nominal GDP in 2008 was $16.12billion. In 2007, then President John Kufuor sought to gain political capital by claiming that remittances sent home by Ghanaians living overseas which in 2006 stood at $4bilion was a “reflection of confidence in his administration.”

There is now a healthy overseas market demand for Ghanaian yams, dried fish/meat (okusie included!!), shea butter, palm products etc. Who do you suppose purchase these in New York, London, Toronto, Frankfurt Melbourne, etc and thereby provide employment and income to millions of our brethren back home? Filipinos, Puerto Ricans Italians, and Germans? Think again!

Of Traitors and Saboteurs

Let it not be said that the framers thought of those who ventured out in the 80’s and 90’s as traitors and saboteurs with no sense of patriotic loyalty and must therefore be served their just desserts. Could they be thinking that dual citizenship holders are less patriotic than coup plotters, secession advocates, terrorist, spies, corrupt public officials who steal, pillage and lay billions of social capital to waste?

Nearly all the traitors (army/police officers, civil servants, diplomats etc) who spied and worked for the CIA during Nkrumah’s administration were all home grown and home based. They made it possible for the most progressive government we ever had to be undermined and eventually overthrown. Remember the Sousudis Spy Episode during one of Rawlings’ administration? All the traitors (again soldiers, policemen bank officials and civil servants) who were caught and traded over to their CIA benefactors were all home grown and home based!!

We are inclined to suspect that this anti- dual citizenship clause in the constitution is built on a false premise and needs to be scrapped, amended, reviewed, refined, rewritten, removed, repealed outright or “re-something”. Everything in our experience points to a constituency that must be embraced and courted, not vilified and thrown to the wolves.

Only when a person demonstrates an intention in to give up his Ghanaian citizenship should he/she be automatically stripped. Renunciation should be the only and most unequivocal way for one to manifest an intention to relinquish one’s citizenship.

Diasporan Ghanaians have amply demonstrated their unequivocal and manifest intention to remain citizens of their beloved country of birth. Otherwise, we will bequeath the immense wealth, knowledge and experience we have acquired to weird and truly bizarre causes (like advocates for animal marital rights!!) in foreign lands.