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Opinions of Friday, 30 November 2007

Columnist: Nkansah, Charles N.

Ghana's Dual Citizenship Law: A Case For Re-Examinination?

The Dual Citizenship Bill was presented to Ghana's Parliament by Dr. Kwabena Adjei, the then Majority Leader of the House and Chairman of the Business Committee. The bill was the first of its kind in the history of Africa and it seeks among other innovations to provide for dual citizenship and grants the "right of abode" to Diasporan Africans. Under the law, a person may decide to acquire the citizenship of another nation in addition to his citizenship, and thereby become a dual citizen, if the citizenship laws of that nation would permit him/her to retain his/her existing citizenship. The legislative proposal also seeks to replace the Ghana Nationality Act 1971 (Act 361). Thanks to the many Ghanaian organizations in the Diaspora who lobbied for this legislation, and the Bi-Partisan support of the Ghanaian Parliament, the Dual Citizenship Act was launched on Wednesday, July 3rd 2002 by Dr. Kwame Addo-Kufour, the then acting Minister for the Interior.

Even though this law is a one in the right direction, there are many things within the law that does not create favorable environment for Ghanaians living abroad to actively integrate back into their own country of birth, Ghana. This is a right that every Non-Resident Ghanaian who lost his/her Ghanaian nationality would seek and would fight for. This is why I felt and still feel amazed listening to that buffoonery, a faceless group of paid NPP government agents calling themselves the Diaspora Votes Committee (DVC). They claimed they are representing Ghanaians living abroad. They went around and still going around advocating for the passage and implementation of ROPAL without consulting Non-Resident Ghanaians (NRGS) across the political spectrum. To further insult the intelligence of the already suffering Ghanaian taxpayer, this selfish, arrogant and ignorant group of people is also advocating that Ghana borrows more money from donor nations to fund ROPAL. They are not ashamed that the donor nations already fund more than 40% of elections in Ghana. How can you implement a law like ROPAL, when Ghana government has no statistics of Ghanaians living abroad? It is called stupidity versus intelligence.

Dual citizenship (also called dual nationality) occurs when a person is the citizen of two countries at the same time. This innovation, which changes the traditional notion of citizenship and belonging, has been on the rise since the last half of the 20th century with more and more states sanctioning and recognizing its potential. The emergence of globalization has facilitated the clearing of boarders of the world leading to more movement of people in the same way as the flow of capital investment, trade and cultural product across boarders. Advances in technological developments have also triggered affordable travel and global communication between peoples from one part of the globe to another, making immigrants in their receiving countries staying in closer contact with their families back in their countries of birth more than ever.

Dual citizenship allows immigrants to easily integrate into their receiving countries if the necessary environment is created. It increases social, cultural and political participation in their new countries of resident. However, if the laws are stringent, complex and unfavorable as we see in the case of Ghana, it limits integration of Ghanaians returning home, Diasporian Africans that we intend to attract as well as people of other nations who will like to take advantage of our dual citizenship law. People will be reluctant to give up their citizenship of their new countries, as Ghana their own country of birth does not allow them to actively participate in decision-making. Many Ghanaians remain or become citizens of another country because of the advantages, including:

• employment opportunities

• entitlement to social programs, such as pensions

• property ownership

• unrestricted residency

Currently under our Dual Citizenship Law among other things, no dual citizen of Ghana regardless of the person’s qualification shall qualify to be appointed as a holder of any office specified as below:

• Chief Justice and Justices of the Supreme Court;

• Ambassador or High Commissioner;

• Secretary to the Cabinet;

• Chief of Defense Staff or any Service Chief;

• Inspector- General of Police;

• Commissioner, Customs, Excise and Preventive Service;

• Director of Immigration Service;

• Commissioner, Value Added Tax Service;

• Director- General, Prisons Service;

• Chief Fire Officer;

• Chief Director of a Ministry;

• A rank of a Colonel in the Army or its equivalent in the other security services; and • Any other public office that the Minister may be legislative instrument prescribes.

I was following the sittings of the Appointments’ Committee of the Ghanaian Parliament in the case of Ms. Vicky Bright, the President’s nominee for Minister of State at the Presidency. Even though I do not condone her rude behavior towards the Committee neither can I understand the logical or common sense of President Kufour’s mentality to continue appointing so many ministers and special advisers, I was sadden by one fact that, we are using an otherwise law with good intentions in the wrong way. Ms. Bright whom I learnt is a qualified Senior Partner in a law firm in the UK is not qualified to hold position of trust in Ghana, her own country. Her crime, she at one time held a British citizenship.

But I said wait a minute. Do you remember comical Sheik I.C. Quaye? That confused man of a village elder that went around blowing horns in his usual comedies trying to compare the incomparable, comparing President Kufour to the great Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. A man who cannot even find his school certificates in his single room. He cannot even remember the name of a single classmate of his at school. But this kind of man was qualified to be appointed as a Minister of State while qualified other Ghanaians such as Ms. Vicky Bright may be dumped because of the blind side of the law that was supposedly passed to help her.

Even though dual citizenship (also called dual nationality) is not legally recognized in all countries, for example in Germany where I lived for many years, one needs to denounce his/her original citizenship to acquire German citizenship. You cannot hold both. On the other hand, Canada my new native land, does ask anyone to denounce his/her original citizenship as a condition to becoming a Canadian citizen. Canada promotes dual citizenship as an expression Canada’s tolerance and multiculturalism. To Canada, citizenship means participating in the political processes such as voting, taking part in debates around election issues, standing for election, being appointed to positions of responsibility such as those mentioned as the no go areas in Ghana’s law.

Many Canadian-Ghanaians who landed here in Canada with Ghana passports through the proper channel have never at anytime in their lives lost their Ghanaian nationality. So why should such a Ghanaian be asked to seek Ghanaian visa before going to Ghana if he/she still has his/her Ghanaian passport in addition to his/her Canadian passport? And why are our Ghanaian authorities thinking it is an offence to use Ghanaian and Canadian passports interchangeable which makes that person liable on Summary conviction to a fine not exceeding 250 penalty units or a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year or to both?

The million dollar question is if Canada, which is the receiving country, allows Ghanaians to do so and allows us to actively participate in all aspects of Canadian life while we are still Ghanaians, why should Ghana our country of birth for put such complex restrictions on her own peoples’ participation? How would you ask someone who has not denounced his/her Ghanaian citizenship as a condition to becoming a citizen of his/her new country to:

• Apply to the Hon Minister for the interior for the grant of Dual Citizenship?

• Purchase of Form 10 at the cost of $100 at the Ministry of the Interior or from a representative of the Ministry of the Interior in our Diplomatic Missions abroad?

It is understandable in cases where some Ghanaians living in some countries have had to denounce their Ghanaian citizenship as a condition to taking on new citizenship. It is also understandable for Ghanaians who lost their citizenship due to claim of refugee status under different circumstances. But this condition certainly does not apply to anyone who still holds on to his/her Ghanaian citizenship in a receiving country that allows it.

If the Ghana of government truly recognizes the understanding of citizenship in transnational terms and also recognizes the economic advantages and opportunities of the Non-Resident Ghanaians (NRGS), then there is the need to allow active participation of all Ghanaians within the legal framework of Ghana. I therefore, challenge the government of Ghana to truly implement the dual citizenship law to its total transnational meaning if she truly has the interest of her citizens’ abroad. Hiding behind politically explosive and divisive laws such as the ROPAL as an illustration of how the government of Ghana cares about her non-resident citizens is meaningless and an insult to Non-Resident Ghanaians.

In the 1990’s Ex-President Jerry Rawlings suggested that African-Americans should have the right to apply for Ghanaian citizenship while still holding onto their American citizenship. This gesture was seen as a symbol for reuniting African descents in the Diaspora with mother Africa even though we cannot prove that all African-Americans directly come from Ghana. Citizenship should mean, African-Americans could live, invest and help develop Ghana by actively participating in every aspect of the Ghanaian way of life. But as the law now stands, which literally means, bring your money but you are still a half or less than half a citizen would make many reluctant to take advantage of this law due to the limited participation of dual citizens. In July this year, I attended a Ghana House organized public forum here in Montreal. Her Excellency, Ghana’s High Commissioner to Canada Dr. Margaret Ivy Amoakohene and her able assistants tried as they can to explain the procedure for acquiring dual citizenship. They stated security as one of the reasons why, Ghanaians renouncing their citizenship do not qualify to actively participate in politics or hold positions such as those mentioned above. But the question is in this area of globalization, where can you run to and be protected from crimes you committed in Ghana? Dual citizenship (even in case of Canada you can hold one or more nationalities) has been there since 1977. How come some of these security concerns Ghana fears so much never affected Canada? If we have to learn from people who have already done something; we need to do so by improving upon it other than trying to re-invent the wheel. For many Ghanaians in the Diaspora who lobbied for this law in the earlier 1990’s, I believed they were guided by the fact that getting back their Ghanaian citizenship means having the right to actively participate in all aspects of the Ghanaian life and thereby bringing economic benefits and other developments to Ghana. They did not see it as a law that would only give less than half a Ghanaian and disconnect them from the remaining that truly defines their right as a Ghanaian citizen.

I therefore call on our lawmakers and the government of Ghana to re-examine this law as a matter of urgency so as to providing limitless possibilities and advantages to all who wish to renounce their Ghanaian citizenship or seek Ghanaian citizenship. I also challenge part of the law that seeks to make people using their Ghanaian passports interchangeably with passports of their receiving countries liable on summary conviction. If I have never denounced my Ghanaian citizenship, I have the right to hold on to my Ghanaian passport and I will seek no visa when I visit Ghana neither do I need to apply for dual citizenship travel document. There is the need to distinguish between those who lost their citizenship and those never lost it in the first place. A blanket assumption is not the way forward. God Save Our Motherland.

Charles N. Nkansah (nkansahc@yahoo.com Montreal, QC. Canada)

email: nkansahc@yahoo.com