05.08.2005 Feature Article

Diaspora Voting - The Power of a Passport

Diaspora Voting - The Power of a Passport
05.08.2005 LISTEN

Of all the documents that establish a person's identity, none has been relied upon to also establish a person's nationality than a passport. This is a universal standard, not Ghanaian alone. In today's world of intermarriages, trans-settlements, and the global nature of business, the one document that has come to be relied upon to identify citizenship is a booklet called passport. It is due to the significance of a passport in determining citizenship that it has been elevated higher above regular ID cards in just about every country.

For example, in the United States, one can obtain a state issued ID card, but only to establish one's identity. One cannot obtain a United States Passport unless one has met the criteria for determining United States citizenship, which is a birth certificate, or a Certificate of Naturalization. Similarly, in Ghana, just like the rest of the world, a proof of citizenship precedes the issuance of a passport.

So at a time when Ghanaians are asking who is a Ghanaian beyond the shores and borders of Ghana for the purpose of voting, there can't be any other document that rises to the level of citizenship authentication than the passport does. There have been several attempts to diminish the significance of the Ghanaian Passport. To buttress their points, opponents of the Representation of the People Amendment Act (ROPAA) have sought to claim that there are too many fraudulent and fictitious Ghanaian Passports going around to justify using it as evidence of citizenship. They are wrong and they know it.

For starters, every Ghanaian exiting Ghana was required to have a passport even if the destination was neighboring Togo, Burkina Faso, or Ivory Coast. Hence, if a Ghanaian is in a foreign country without a Ghanaian Passport, then for the purpose of voting he or she would have to settle the citizenship question with the nearest Ghanaian Mission via the Dual Citizenship application, a valid birth certificate, or any other means deemed to determine Ghanaian citizenship as prescribed by the constitution. The registrar of voters cannot be required to make that determination. If a voter registrar is entrusted to make that determination, then people should be able to use their voter registration card to obtain a passport, which we all know is absurd.

Next, they are asking us to question the application process at the Passport Office in Accra and at our Missions around the world. If they knew loopholes existed in these processes, why have they not raised the alarm bell until now? A non-Ghanaian who obtains a valid Ghanaian Passport fraudulently can cause a lot more damage to Ghana than the impact of his or her vote on the outcome of Ghana's elections. For example, if he or she were involved in a terrorist attack, it would brand Ghana as a sponsor of terrorism directly or indirectly. If these loopholes exist, it would be the responsibility of the passport office and our missions to eliminate them. Those loopholes should not constitute a reason to deny Ghanaians abroad their constitutional right to vote.

Another finger is pointed at fictitious Ghanaian passports. This shows the gross underestimation of how comprehensive the process would be. Without predicting what the Electoral Commission would put in place, it would be unthinkable that there would not be a system of verification of passport authenticity with the passport office in Accra. If a 'Koki Nyame' presents a Ghanaian Passport with number X1234 that failed to match the records at the passport office, not only would a voter registration card not be issued to this 'Koki Nyame,' he would possibly be exposing his fictitious identity to local authorities. That is the last thing anyone living in another country illegally would want to do. One vote in Ghana is not enough to risk being repatriated.

Then there is the philosophical saying that when you point one finger at someone, up to three or four are pointing right back at you. For every one non-Ghanaian holding a fraudulent Ghanaian Passport abroad, and willing to vote in Ghana's elections, there are at least 20 Togolese, Ivorian, and Burkina nationals crossing over to vote with Ghanaian relatives swearing they are Ghanaians. They would have us believe the former will present more problems than the latter, but we know otherwise.

This Diaspora voting will admittedly be complicated to execute. As such, it would bode well for us to simplify the process. Many have suggested the use of Birth Certificates and other documents to substantiate Ghanaian citizenship. First, most other documents are relatively easier to obtain, and the passport office is better equipped than the voter registrar to determine which birth certificates are valid. Second, all those suggested documents precede the issuance of a passport, and not the other way round. That means by the time a person is issued a Ghanaian passport, he or she would have presented one or some of those documents. Third, every Ghanaian passport has a unique, yet formatted number that could serve as the reference point for any data compilation – sort of like the Social Security Number in the United States States. Additionally, the passport number will facilitate verification of citizenship via the records at the passport office.

No country has a foolproof method in place when it comes to issuance of passports. As such, holding a valid Ghanaian passport abroad does not guarantee Ghanaian citizenship. But neither is living in Ghana. Currently, a person whose Ghanaian citizenship comes into question in Ghana needs only to have someone vouch for his or her citizenship in front of a committee. So a 'Kwaku Brefo' can be trusted to authenticate someone's Ghanaian citizenship in Ghana, but our missions and the passport office, both of which have more comprehensive systems in place, cannot be trusted to do the same? If the more flawed system of citizenship determination at home has not prevented Ghanaians at home from voting, why should a less flawed system overseas prevent Ghanaians abroad from voting?

Finally, the area that opponents of ROPAB make the biggest deal about is the question of offspring. They have sought to create unnecessary anxiety over what is essentially a streamlined provision in the constitution. The fact that a person qualifies to be a Ghanaian does not mean he or she will claim Ghanaian citizenship.

Here is how it works: A child born to a Ghanaian mother and, say an American father in Ghana can claim citizenship of either country at the magical age of 18, which is the age of suffrage in both countries. That child can claim the citizenship of one and forfeit the other, or upon claiming American citizenship, apply for Ghanaian citizenship via the Dual Citizenship application process. If the same set of parents had the child on American soil, the child is automatically an American, and can apply for Ghanaian citizenship via the same dual citizenship process. In either case, the ensuing citizenship certificate would qualify that child for a Ghanaian Passport. If that child's great grand child wants to claim Ghanaian citizenship, the applicable Ghanaian Mission will make that determination. And the applicable Ghanaian Mission has no way of telling which citizenship application is being presented solely for the purpose of voting so the so-called political appointee's influence on the elections is null and void.

The question then becomes what if the passport does not arrive in time for registration. To that I ask what happens to the Ghanaian at home whose 18th birthday falls between the registration deadline and the day of elections? With the passport office now promising a five-day turnaround time, chances are, those few days quagmire abroad would present less problems than the 18th-birthday quagmire at home.

When you use the passport as the identifier of Ghanaian citizens, it becomes a question of percentages. What is the percentage of non-Ghanaians with Ghanaian Passports abroad who would be willing to vote in Ghana's elections compared to the percentage of non-Ghanaians who live, register, and vote in Ghana during elections? Considering that some Togolese nationals speak Ewe fluently, considering that some Ivorian nationals speak Nzima fluently, considering that some Hausa speakers actually hail from Burkina Faso, and considering that there is currently no system nor ID card to delineate them from real Ghanaians, it's safe to say there are more problems associated with citizen identification in Ghana, than abroad. Jermaine Nkrumah – Diaspora Vote Committee (DVC) Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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