Feature Article of Monday, 27 August 2012

Columnist: Forson, Prempeh

Who Is A Ghanaian Citizen?

I strongly believe that this is one of the most important questions that need to be answered in Ghana and yet remains opened. The citizenship of any country is closely protected and anyone wishing to be part of any country is often subjected to a very long and exhaustive process which can last, in some instances, for many years. For those of us coming from less developed countries of the world, it is always a nightmare to even obtain a mere entry permit (visa) to visit a developed country. There is always this deliberate attempt to keep out people - almost all of us - who may be perceived as attempting to migrate in search of greener pasture. And the treatment that we face at the hands of foreign authorities and citizens when we finally set foot in these foreign lands is another matter for different discuss. Amazingly I find in all of this something to admire and that is the seriousness those people attach to their citizenship and how closely they guard the integrity of their national territories. We can give many examples and any African who has travelled the world will certainly have many experiences to share.
I am particularly concerned about the establishment and protection of citizenship as means to avoid some of the political tensions we have experienced in Africa in recent times. A case in point is the Ivorian elections which saw Laurent Gbagbo protesting that Allessane Outarraa is not an Ivorian and also many of the people of Northern Ivory Coast who voted for him are in fact from Burkina Faso. We all bear witness to what that led to in Ivory Coast. In Ghana today, some political parties are branded by their opponents as anti-foreigner and there is always a talk about how a particular party is encouraging foreigners to register as Ghanaians and vote in their favour.
Equally important is using such data to aid the development of our country. Whereas in some countries there is always an accurate data on how many chickens are infected with bird flu, in Ghana the minister of Social Welfare and Employment admits to not having unemployment figures in the country, neither are they able to tell us how many Ghanaians on the average will reach the retirement age in the next 5 years.
The Ghanaian identity exists loosely as the ethnic or tribal identity of the people is more pronounced. As difficult as it may be we must be bold enough to ask who a Ghanaian is. This should elevate us to exactly where the problem of National Identity lies and begin the process that will offer a lasting solution to this important issue.
Per the 1992, we do not have birth right in Ghana which means that any child born to two foreigners in Ghana do not automatically become Ghanaian citizen. However Ghana is currently more or less a no man’s land. Anyone who is black enters the country and refuse to register for residence permit but is still able to go about acting and enjoying everything as though a Ghanaian citizen. After few years in Ghana, illegal immigrants, as long as they are black, can easily walk boldly to the births and deaths registry to obtain a birth certificate and proceed to obtain passport. They are able to send their children to school in Ghana and enjoy freely all the subsidies that the Ghanaian tax payers shoulder for these social services. And finally they are able to vote to elect political leaders in the country and even submit themselves for political positions.
It appears that very few of our leaders are treating this matter with the importance it deserves and that is one of the reasons why I have taken a rather direct approach to the issue. I am tempted to say that those who wrote the 1992 constitution deliberately or mistakenly avoided this question by vaguely defining Ghanaian citizenship, but to arrive at this conclusion without some degree of investigation and critical analysis will not be fair to the framers of our supreme law. The 1992 constitution defines Ghanaian citizenship as follows:
“Article 6(1) Every person who, on the coming into force of this constitution, is a citizen of Ghana by “LAW” shall continue to be a citizen of Ghana
6(2) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, a person born in or outside Ghana after the coming into force of this Constitution, shall become a citizen of Ghana at the date of his birth if either of his parents or grandparents is or was a citizen of Ghana.
6 (3) A child of not more than seven years of age whose parents are not known shall be presumed to be a citizen of Ghana by birth.
6 (4) A child of not more than sixteen years of age neither of whose parents is a citizen of Ghana who is adopted by a citizen of Ghana shall, by virtue of the adoption, be a citizen of Ghana.”
Articles 7 to 10 go further to state some of the other means by which a person who is not a Ghanaian citizen by any of the means provided in article (6) can apply and acquire the citizenship of Ghana and also how one can maintain, lose or regain their Ghanaian citizenship. However, the true definition of who is a citizen of Ghana is still missing from our constitution. For the purpose of this discussion, we have to revisit the first clause in our citizenship law per the 1992 constitution of Ghana:
Article 6(1) “Every person who, on the coming into force of this constitution, is a citizen of Ghana by “LAW” shall continue to be a citizen of Ghana.”
The key word here is “Law” and the question one will ask is; was there any law which defined who a Ghanaian is prior to the coming into force of the 1992 constitution and how did that law established the citizenship of Ghana? In order to solve this puzzle it becomes necessary to refer to the previous constitutions which were abrogated by the numerous coup’detats suffered by the nation over the years. If any of them provided enough definition of who is a citizen of Ghana we can then assume that to be the reference point of Article 6(1) of the 1992 constitution quoted above. (1957 constitution, 1960 constitution, 1969 constitution and 1979 constitution)
In most parts of the world, to a large extent excluding Africa, countries made effort to keep records and are able to trace ancestries into centuries using multiple methods. Almost every country in Europe and Asia had developed a reliable Register of all persons who qualify as citizens by the turn of the 18th century. The registers of these countries were the basis for their citizenship and as technology improved, they took the advantage to update and secure their records as proofs of one’s claim to citizenship. It is fair to say that by the 1900 nearly all of such countries knew their citizens and have made it almost impossible for one to make a false claim to citizenship. In those systems citizenship were then ‘basically’ defined by the law as:
“Any child born to a citizen in or outside of the country, or any child simply born in the country”
In the United Kingdom, the process was a bit complex because the English had conquered many territories and brought them under colonization. While some of the territories could claim to be citizens of Britain others were describe as British subjects. Nevertheless, Laws were enacted to correct those confusions especially as most of these countries gained independence and broke off to form Sovereign Nations. The British Nationality Act of 1981 finally came into effect to affirm the existing citizenship as well as to control the future claims and means by which one can become a British National.
Besides the registry system, most countries have created different means by which one can become a citizen. Such means include marriage to a citizen, adoption by a citizen, and or a proof that a person is stateless. It is also important to mention that citizenship can be claimed in certain countries by birth regardless of the legal status of the parents whereas in other countries the parent must be a legal resident. For instance a child born in America is automatically a citizen. In Switzerland, citizenship is not by birth regardless of whether or not the parent (mother) is a legal resident. For a foreigner to give birth to a Swiss anywhere in the world the mother of the child must either be a Swiss or married to a Swiss man at the time of birth.
In view of this basic establishment of who a citizen is and the fact that there has been an existing record (Register) to justify anyone’s claim of citizenship, most constitutions around the world dealt with only future claims to citizenship and future means of acquiring citizenship. In other words, the constitutions do not define citizenship but rather explain how a person becomes a citizen dating from the time of the particular constitution.
This is where the architects of the Ghanaian constitution made the mistake. They went with the standard description of how one can become a citizen of Ghana in future with no regards to the existence of a national register of citizens. Article 6(1) says that anyone who was a Ghanaian “by Law” at the time the 1992 constitution came into force remains a Ghanaian. WHO THEN WAS GHANAIAN BY LAW? As at 1992 no one was a Ghanaian by Law because there was no Law or physical action that specifically stated how we all came to be Ghanaians and upon which future Ghanaians are to come into existence.
In 1957 the population of Ghana was estimated at 6 million. At that point Ghana became independent and the first thing the government should have done was to get every single Ghanaian present at the time of independence registered through the Births and Deaths Registry. The register could have formed the basis of Ghanaian citizenship and every Ghanaian alive today can trace his or her Ghanaian citizenship or ancestry to an entry in that National Register. Although this was not done, the Birth and Death Registry subsequently was and still is rendered a less important institution. As a result of that they cannot consolidate any meaningful or reliable data to be used as basis for Ghanaian citizenship. Anyone who lives in Ghana can boldly acquire a birth certificate with a relative ease.
The current boundaries of Ghana was established by the colonial masters and if any of our neighbors encroaches on us, our reference point will be the documents that the British left behind which map out the boundaries they left to us and we accepted as Ghana. However, we did not establish a register of the indigene of those territories that were handed to us and came to form the nation Ghana.
We perhaps did not bother about registering and establishing a proper citizenship database because we took the view that our boundaries were nothing but artificial creation of the White Man and as far as we were concerned every black person is Ghanaian – African Unity or some similar notion.
In solving the problem we can choose either of the following approaches:
1. Register everyone who claims to be Ghanaian with ‘minimum’ proof, close the register and open it to only the newly born or naturalized Ghanaians.

2. Adopt the Swiss system: Everyone registers to be citizens of their region and then automatically become a Ghanaian. This approach is necessary if you want people to prove that they are indigenes of the various Ghanaian territories and therefore Ghanaian citizens.
For example, the birth and death registry in Eastern Region will register indigenes of Eastern region and so on. If the process closes the register will not be opened to any citizenship claims anymore, except the newly born or naturalizations. It is only then that everyone can be given ID and the electoral commission will apply the same register and ID. There shall be only one national ID to cover everything.
If we choose the Swiss approach we can assume that since our constitution recognizes customary law, just as in customary ownership of the Lands in Ghana, anyone who belongs to one of the Ethnic or tribal groups with ancestry from within the borders of Ghana can hold himself or herself to be a citizen of Ghana (Akan, Mole- Dagbane, Ewe, Ga-Adangbe and Guan) In Switzerland everyone is first a citizen of a Canton before he or she becomes a Swiss. It is always the case that if a province in Switzerland grants one a citizenship the person will most certainly be accepted to become a Swiss by the Federal Government. For example, in the case of Ghana the region you come from must first grant you a citizenship of that region and then you become a full Ghanaian automatically.
The positive linkages of such exercise are numerous and these are example:
1. Nearly accurate compilation of Ghanaian citizenship data in the interim and accurate data in a long term.
2. Effective issuance of national ID which can be used for all purposes especially the electoral process to avoid the recurrence of expenditure to the tune of millions of dollars every 3 years by the electoral commission.
3. Assignment of National Insurance Number along the registration by the Inland Revenue to monitor revenue collection and effective payment of tax.
4. To control the population and ascertain the various age groups for economic planning.
5. To strengthen our immigration and detect false citizenship claims As well as illegal immigration.
6. Monitoring and removal of thousands of ghost names on government pay list.
With all due respect, the current exercise being carried out by the National Identification Authority whereby people are asked to queue and register to be Ghanaians is very careless and dangerous. It is almost to say that our citizenship is worthless and should be given out freely. I am personally not surprise that the exercise so far has been a complete waste of money. A future authority should be given to a body composed of members of the Birth and Death Registry, Ghana Immigration Service, and the Inland Revenue Service working hand in hand to establish an accurate and reliable data for the development of Ghana. It is not too late to do the right thing.

Prempeh Forson prempeh.forson@gmail.com