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02.02.2006 Feature Article

Can “Second class citizens” in the Diaspora beyond Remittances vote?

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Fellow countrymen, beyond qualifying for the World Cup, nothing has captured and engaged the imagination of the Ghanaian political jockey lately, home and abroad, more than the current bill – Peoples Representation Amendment Bill – in front of parliament. Without going into the serpentine detail and quotation of the relevant portions of the constitution, I would rather want to say the bill seeks to extend voting rights and exercise to Ghanaians domiciled overseas. To those who support the amendment, this is a further demonstration of the buoying democratic dispensation in Ghana, a clear and deep demarcation of Ghana as a country on a fast track to political maturity, stability, and confidence after decades of economic slacks and political downslides. To the opponents, the bill is pregnant with all the anxieties reminiscent of the concerns and fears. They are afraid and are keen on seeing that the right people are elected to govern the country, whose policies would not endanger their interests. Politics and the Diaspora Obviously this is the most tempest part of the discussion. Should the Diaspora be allowed to vote in Ghana elections from his distant location? Some would say it is the right of a Ghanaian to engage and take part in national elections. Some would on the other hand slide in that no right is unlimited. That Diaspora do not breathe our air, do not drive on our roads, and do not wear our shoes to know where it pinches us most and therefore should not be allowed to vote. Stop it right there. Who gets to decide who should vote or not, the constitution which is the legal document of the land or an individual politician maligned with subjective biases and or flaw law (PNDC Law…) that is in direct contravention with the constitution? Yes of course the Diaspora do not pay Ghana taxes and generally only feel less the consequences of Ghana elections. They are Second Class citizens. So the presumption is he shouldn't be any more concern than a foreigner anywhere else on the globe, about what goes on inside Ghana. It is like if you are not IN Ghana, you can't be ON in Ghana.

Ironically, the country also sets up diplomatic missions abroad to cater for their diplomatic needs and not the needs of its “Second Class” citizens living anywhere. Who cares for them if they are beaten or killed in some ones country?. They refuse to accept that Ghanaians abroad continue to have interest in election outcomes and in the decision making process. Apart from rights I would posit that it is in the national interest of Ghana to involve the Diaspora in the democratic processes. Ghanaians abroad have valuable contributions to make to public debates just as well their contribution would tend to enrich the quality of the discourse and increase other forms of civic engagement. Participation in elections would turn to create a feeling of duty, a habit of co-operation and interdependence. This is what the manifesto of the Ghana Social Democratic Movement (GSDM) promulgates.

Our dissolution politicians who also send their children abroad to enjoy the green pastures often forget that their children can as well be classified as “Second Class elite”. The forget that many leave behind second generation to the Diaspora to carry on the act of living, whilst they, the first or second generation, relocate back home, to retire or pick up some inheritance and or start some business. I guess it can be said they left Ghana, but the Ghana in them never left. They live everyday, thinking, talking and worrying about Ghana. How to move the country's politics and economy forward. They reserve tremendous amount of goodwill towards Ghana. They put their money where their mouth is, by sending money and items such as hospital equipment's, machinery, vehicles, computers, textbooks, medicine and clothes etc back home to Ghana. That is for the dissolutioned politicians irrelevant.

Fellow countrymen, during the days leading up to the last presidential and parliamentary elections in Ghana, many Ghanaian politicians including president Kufour and Prof. Atta Mills thought it prudent to came to campaign in Canada, UK, Germany, Holland, and USA etc. Why did these politicians bring their campaign to say USA if those of us there are said to be “Second Class” citizens that have no right to vote? Now why did they bother to open overseas chapters of their parties if the Diaspora cannot be part and parcel of the basic process of electing people to govern our beloved country? Was it just to throw as usual “Dust” in the eyes of the poor Ghanaians, or they knew that their success may depend on the “Second class” citizens living abroad who for courtesy sake will communicate with their friends and relatives in Ghana to vote for them. Today these same politicians in their dubious acts have classified Ghanaians in the Diaspora as “Second class” citizen paying no taxes to the country and as such have no legitimacy to vote as an original Ghanaian staying in Ghana. They however welcome diverse remittances we the “Second class” citizens send to our parents and relatives. This they claim we do on our own risk. These remittances are free and irrelevant to the countries development and as such has no voting legitimacy. They have the audacity to tell the world how many millions of Dollars these so-called “Second Class” Ghanaian citizens remit yearly to their country Ghana. Are they lying to the World or they are making fool out of us?

They have forgotten that countries that have experienced large out-migrations run the gamut of attitudes toward their Diaspora, from warmly embracing to coolly instrumental, from active engagement to indifference, from mobilization to hostility. Their policies and practices reflect these diverse views, but the clear trend is for homeland states to court their nationals and the descendants of nationals who are living abroad. The Diaspora are variously seen as sources of financial flows, economic opportunities, technology transfer, political support, progressive attitudes, and a good image of the home country.

They have forgotten that countries of origin that actively court their Diaspora's do so in a variety of different ways and with different priorities. Our politicians refuse to accept that the decision making process in Ghana by opening and extending to them, through the ROPAB bill to all Ghanaians to have the right to exercise their vote wherever they are domiciled will be an ideal thing to do. For the Diaspora, I think it is fair to say our stand is one of; you get crooked hair cut if you go to sleep on the barber's chair and do not engage the barber on how you want your hair to be cut. The Diaspora has an equal amount of vested interest in Ghana.

These hypocrites have forgotten that a country's most precious and important resource is its human resources. Besides the elements, the human resource is the most potent force engaged in the shaping of affairs on the surface of the planet. Without mincing words, in the foreseeable future how a country taps into, engages and utilizes this most precious of all resources would determine whether a country is going to succeed or fail in the face of stiff competition in the global economy. It is important to note that our today short-sighted politicians see no relevance to this. Why should “Second Class” citizens have any legitimacy in Ghana´s political and social dispensation?

Let me welcome them to 21st century global village. A century where strict location of a citizen doesn't really matter but what that individual brings to bear in his country of origin. A government would be much wiser to engage the interest and commitment of its citizens wherever they are found to the mother country than to severe all ties in a fit of convoluted pettiness. Now what better way to secure the attention and money of the Diaspora than to let him/her vote? Voting is a freedom of expression issue. It is a right by birth and citizenship and cannot be divulged from the person unless prescribed by law. What have our Constitution got to say here?. Is our Constitution now discriminating his citizen living outside the country? Voting is an exercise whereby the governed transfer certain rights and privileges to the governor for the purposes of taking and making decisions as to law and order and who gets what, where and how. Without voting the government cannot determine the will of the people and wouldn't be legitimate and mandated to do anything on their behalf. We members of GSDM, cannot predict if our Constitution has easily been amended by unscrupulous former regimes to disqualify the so-called “Second Class” citizens living outside the Ghana territory to serve their selfish ends. They will voice out sooner or later.

The warning bell has to be sounded that the Diaspora is currently upbeat and interested in Ghana. It would be sacrilegious to snub this group today. Who knows tomorrow they might become the head of the cornerstone and by then we might have lost them for ever, as a result of our own unproven and unfounded short sighted fear to rise above partisan politics and put Ghana first. By then the Diaspora would have become disconnected and disinterested in Ghana as a result of our ineptitude. Several things would have to be done to ensure the Diaspora vote is not rigged to favour a particular party. Yet we should start finding solutions instead of wringing our hands and throwing about in dismay that it cannot be done.

In conclusion it is the position of this paper to emphasize that rather than shunning the Diaspora, all the stake holders in Ghana politics, irrespective of which party one belongs to, should show maturity, courage and rise above unhelpful intransigent party positions to embrace and integrate the Diaspora in national affairs, including elections. A well placed Diaspora can function as a bridge between Ghana and the international community. As a bridge to international ideas, investment and capital. The Diaspora could become Ghana's colony overseas to facilitate Ghanaian exports and bring about good things to Ghana. We shun these opportunities at our own perils and stupidity.

Lest I bore your ears with lengthy narration's that should otherwise be left for the academia, I can say that we members of GSDM can proudly inform our disgruntle politicians that they will have no air to breath until Ghanaians in the Diaspora are respected and given their legitimate right to exercises their human rights. They can rest assured that no matter how long it takes, Ghanaians living outside shall prove beyond doubt to the nation that they are not “Second Class” citizens, but we are Ghanaian citizens they can reckon with. This voice of the new generation “The Ghana Social Democratic Movement” shall never be satisfied until Ghanaians in the Diaspora will have the right to vote. We will like to make it clear to our fellow Ghanaians that our motherland does not belong to those unscrupulous politicians of today. We shall ensure that they will never have the right to dictate and treat our nationals with impunity. Their days are counted. Join GSDM and we will finish the JOB. God bless our motherland. Eric Kwasi Botta Ghana Social Democratic Movement USA Branch. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Ato Aidoo
Ato Aidoo, © 2006

The author has 31 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: AtoAidoo

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