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29.01.2006 Feature Article

Is This Not What Is Called “Skin Pain”?

Is This Not What Is Called “Skin Pain”?
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How would you react if someone asked your wife, sister or mother whether she in fact needs all the underwear in her luggage, especially if the questioner was someone she was meeting for the first time and only through official contact?

A few years ago my sister was on a visit home. I know the situation has improved immensely but those of you who have once gone through the experience would recall how some time ago at the Kotoka Airport your baggage be searched through and through by different officers who will then leave them in such a way that, especially under pressure, you find it virtually impossible to close them.

With sweat all over and in a frantic effort to close her suitcase anyhow, she was to hear perhaps the most intrusive question she had ever been asked, and from a man who was not in any way quarrelling with her. Pointing at some underwears which he himself had intentionally scattered all over in the suitcase the obviously irritated Customs Officer queried: “So madam, do you mean you are going to wear all these 'pieto' on your bottom”?

I'm sorry, if that sounds vulgar but I'm happy I didn't have to say it in the original Twi language in which the question was posed. If you're thinking the Customs Officer perhaps had a personal problem with my sister, I can assure you that that was not the case. The only problem he had with her was that she was a 'burger' and perhaps, from what he saw, was in possession of more underwear than he considered necessary. Me And My Seat Belt I was once travelling with three friends in a private car. I was on the front passenger seat with my seat belt fastened, the others not, in spite of my advice to do so. We got to a police check-point and one corporal came around to inspect the inside of the car. I'm not sure he would have been more annoyed if I had insulted him than when he saw me with the seat belt. In a rage he pointed at me, and as if he wanted the whole world to witness the abomination I had caused he queried: “But you, what at all do you think you're doing? When you people come from that “aburokyire” of yours you behave as if you've come back from Heaven. You people are too known! Don't you know that if the car catches fire it's you who are going to die?”

There you are with your thoughtful traffic police officer. But perhaps I would have admired the corporal more for his dedication to duty and concern for my personal safety if only he had managed to suppress his over-boiling dislike for “these aburokyire people”.

From whichever angle you look at it there is little doubt that envy (“skin pain”), personal interest and greed is the main cause of the delays and poor services we encounter in Ghana at virtually every service delivery point. As a matter of fact, it even adds to the corruption we are all crying about. After all, if by his own reasoning the person serving you enviously believes that you have more than he has, is it not 'logical' for him to expect some 'compensation' for his services? Or whenever he is in a position to do so, he will do all he can to pull you down from any modest height you may be struggling to reach so that he brings you to his level. For the purpose of this article, however, I shall attempt to limit myself to how this unhealthy attitude, the “P.H.D. (Pull Him Down) syndrome”, affects Ghanaians in the Diaspora in particular. Constitutional Prohibition of Dual Nationality Before the drafting of the current Constitution the then PNDC Government set up a National Commission for Democracy (NCD) to collect ideas from the general public for consideration by the Constituent Assembly for inclusion the Constitution. Among the recommendations of the NCD, after touring the whole country, was that the question of prohibition of dual citizenship for Ghanaians (as it was in the previous Constitution) should be re-examined. In clear defiance to what was clearly the 'voice of the people', the Committee of Experts drafting the Constitution decided otherwise and rather recommended the adoption of the proposals in the 1979 Constitution on citizenship i.e. that a Ghanaian who acquires the citizenship of another country loses his/her Ghanaian citizenship.

When the Committee of Experts' proposals were published and the public invited to send their comments the following is what I said, as published in the “Daily Graphic” of 12th October 1991:

“Taking current realities into consideration I don't see one good reason to use the excuse of not wanting 'an occasion where allegiance to Ghana is shared with allegiance to some other country' to prohibit a full-blooded Ghanaian from retaining his/her citizenship if he/she so wishes. Can anybody tell me the damage this “sharing of allegiance” does to our national interest?

“On the other hand, who does not know the benefits we as a nation have derived from the ability of some of our compatriots to move freely and work in foreign countries, thus making it easier for them to return home to engage in the various profitable ventures which we all see?”

As has always been the case however, the voice of the “Committee of Experts” was more powerful than the voice of the people and the Constitution was adopted prohibiting full-blooded Ghanaians from keeping their citizenship if they acquired the citizenship of another country. In the mean time, not only was the government singing praises to its sons and daughters resident abroad for their remittances which was helping to grease the wheels of the economy, it was, from the Head of State to Ministers of State, and without discrimination, urging them to send even more, and to invest in the country. Somehow, the Committee had forgotten the saying that “yenkoto a, yenna” (you have to kneel down before you can lie down). Amendment of the Constitution Not quite long after the coming into force of the 1992 Constitution the NDC government realised that whatever reason the “Committee of Experts” had for denying some Ghanaians of their citizenship was no longer acceptable. Accordingly, Act 527 was passed by Parliament to amend the Constitution. The Act received formal presidential assent on 31st December 1996 thus making it legal for a citizen of Ghana to hold, in addition to his Ghanaian citizenship, citizenship of any other country.

With this, one would have thought that that was the end. After all, this was not like a project for which funds had to be released or raised before a contract would be awarded and a sod cut. But believe it or not, it took the whole second term of the NDC and a good part of the first term of the NPP for the authorities to come out with guidelines on how to APPLY to be registered as a “Dual National”. In the mean time, if you took things for granted and attempted to leave the country with a foreign passport after entering with your Ghana Passport your fate – whether you would be penalised or not – would depend on the Immigration Officer on duty and his mood at the time.

All over the world today, dual (and in fact multi) citizenship is very common. Nigeria, Switzerland, Canada and Morocco are but a few of the many which I know allow it without any fuss. In Ghana, however, it is considered a special privilege.

When a Nigerian or Moroccan living in Switzerland acquires Swiss citizenship all he/she does is NOTHING! They visit their respective countries with their national passport and return with their Swiss passports because the laws of their land of birth and those of their adopted country allow them to possess the passport of other countries.

For the Ghanaian however, it is an entirely different and much more complicated matter. A full-blooded Ghanaian whose nationality was never in doubt prior to the acquisition of a second nationality is literally required to swear (“Me Do Nyame”) before a “High Court Judge/Notary Public/Head of Ghana Mission or Consulate Abroad”, by completing a four-page form, that he/she is indeed “of good character and Ghanaian by birth...”. In addition, he/she has to, among other things, provide (a) “evidence of Parents' nationality – Passport, Voters ID Card, or Birth Certificate” and (b) “addresses and telephone numbers of parents and two relatives in Ghana”. Thereafter, at the pleasure of the Minister of Interior, a certificate and Identity Card signed by him would be issued to the applicant.

Whether or not the Honourable Minister has the power to withdraw the citizenship of a Ghanaian because he has acquired another nationality as permitted under the Constitution is unclear to me. How much time he has, to be able to personally sign the “Dual Nationality Certificate” of each and every Ghanaian who has acquired the citizenship of another country, in addition to all other pressing issues, is however, a different matter altogether. Voting Rights for Ghanaians During the past year one topic that generated so much controversy and heated debate both in Parliament and in public circles was the proposal by the majority side for the House to consider allowing Ghanaians living outside the country to vote in future elections. As you would expect in a democracy, people from both sides of the argument have given varied but valid points to support their respective stand.

It was one particular comment I heard from a member of a Peace FM discussion panel on this topic that prompted me to write this article. To say the least it didn't only make me feel sick but also brought home to me how easily envy, commonly referred to by us as “skin-pain”, can so negatively affect the reasoning of some people.

After all the panellists had presented their arguments they were asked to make their final submission. The following is a summary of what fell out from the mouth of the gentleman who could simply not hide his dislike for his brothers and sisters whose only offence was that they had travelled outside the country:

“You mean those 'burgers'? I actually don't know what those people want from us. When we are suffering here they have ran away to enjoy better life in other countries. During Christmas and Easter seasons they come with their flashy cars and play loud music to disturb us and do all sorts of things. They also snatch our girls from us. And as if this is not enough they now want us to send ballot boxes to them where they live so that they can vote. What nonsense is this? If they want to vote, why don't they come home and vote?” I leave it to you to make your own judgement. But it saddens me that someone can be so mean that where a matter of national interest is being discussed his own worry is about people he believes are only interested in snatching his girl-friends from him with their flashy cars. The last time I recall hearing a similar remark was way back in the mid-sixties when I was a kid. I was on holidays from secondary school one evening when I heard an obviously agitated town playboy murmuring to himself but intentionally to my hearing: “You these foolish boys. You return from secondary school after one term and just because of khaki trousers and white shirt you snatch our girls from us”. The difference though is that unlike the well educated and knowledgeable member of a radio discussion panel, this one was a semi-literate rural womanizer who found students a threat to his kingdom. Moreover that was more than 30 years ago.

I really wouldn't have paid much heed to this remark if it had come from one of the several unidentifiable callers. But to think that a panellist on a live programme reaching thousands of listeners not only in Ghana but also in all corners of the world could spit this out really saddened me. For one thing, I do not believe that the programme's producer just looked outside his window and invited the first person he saw to come and participate in the programme. In other words, this gentleman must be someone holding a responsible position in the Public/Civil Service, the media or even a political party.

So how do you expect such a person to be able to make an objective decision on any issue involving his sworn enemies - “these buggers”? Unfortunately there appears to be so many like-minded people in the system. They may not necessarily be “anti-burgers” but just out of envy and personal bias they would do everything in their power to make life difficult for others.

The government may have the best intentions in the world but the bottom-line is that somebody somewhere will have responsibility to implement decisions or serve the people. After declaring this year as a year of action against corruption therefore, the government would do very well to ensure that only the right people, and not those whose personal interests take the better part of their actions, are put at the right places. If not and we are all pulled down to the ground floor there may not be enough space for everybody. Kwame Twumasi-Fofie Bern, Switzerland Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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