DIASPORA VOTE – We shall act and we are not alone. It is heartening to know that the President of Ghana has publicly contributed his thoughts on the Representation of the Peoples Amendment Bill (ROPAB) currently working its way through Parliament. In his State of the Nation address on January 31, 2006, President J.A. Kufuor made several points on ROBAB that are worth repeating: That Parliament has the responsibility to debate and vote to approve or reject ROPAB.
That his government does not lay claim to the original initiative to amend the current Representation of the People Act as codified in PNDC Law 284. The first attempt to correct the anomalies of PNDCL 284 was started by the previous administration in 1996, the same authors of that law in a prior incarnation.
That the threats of mayhem and violence upon the passage of ROPAB are “unwholesome” and there should be no justification for the attendant “nervousness”. Thus any group of persons threatening mayhem is “unacceptable”.
That the Electoral Commission will be mandated to work out the implementation of ROBAB after its passage by Parliament. It is sad that while the President was making his points, opponents of ROPAB were shouting: “We want peace!” Whoever said anywhere on the planet that the extension of the voting franchise to its citizens for an inclusive democracy is a declaration of war? It is only when you are unable to articulate your own fears that one will threaten rather than debate and God forbid be swayed by reason. As we come close to the finishing line, we must unmask the not-so hidden fears that those same people who were the proponents of ROBAB in 1996 are hiding behind to sabotage its passage ten years later. Simply put, those same have reason to believe that were the voting franchise be extended to the Ghana Diaspora effective the 2008 elections, a majority of the new voters will not vote for their party. The embedded reason that fuels their own fear is an admission that they played no small part in the exodus of massive numbers of Ghanaians to run from the familiarity of their country for other lands. Need we argue that military adventurism; rule by fear and plunder; and utter collapse of socio-economic structures beginning with the regime of General Acheampong and continued through the various titles and haberdashery of Flt. Lieutenant Rawlings combined over thirty years to the flight away from home under any means possible? It does not take much over such a long time for a people to go from asylum seekers, to economic refugees and finally become a people living outside their traditional homeland, some with no specific intention to return, others renounced their citizenship and still others trying to maintain dual citizenship in the natural race to survive legitimately and support those left behind. It is simply hypocritical and criminal to chase people away and then deny them their constitutional right to have a say in their government to ensure that unrepresentative governments and rule by force do not rear their ugly heads again- ever! Incidentally the current irrational opposition to the passage of ROBAB is not even original. A sad example is what recently happened in Zimbabwe, where fearing defeat, the incumbent President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF stripped 3.4 million Zimbabweans (representing 25-30 percent of the population) who have fled the country on his account, of their right to vote in the March 2005 elections. A group called Diaspora Vote Action Group based in Britain has sued the government in Zimbabwe Supreme court.
The need for reconnection with the homeland and participation in democratic practices as a result of a constitutional dispensation is universal. (Please see the quotes that end this article). There is a group of Ghanaians who have formed a non-partisan Diaspora Vote Committee (DVC) of which most readers are aware. In October and November 2005, DVC sent a thirteen-member delegation to engage opponents of ROPAB in Ghana media. By all accounts, it was a very successful engagement and we are pleased that Parliament has taken ROPAB to its logical next step. As we said in our press conference in Accra and like our brothers and sisters of the Zimbabwe Diaspora, we shall also sue in Ghana's Supreme court for redress if need be. Hopefully Ghana's Parliamentarians will heed President Kufuor's call to “be careful not to let people, who do not subscribe to the tenets of democracy to take advantage of the freedoms guaranteed thereunder to subvert democracy.”
There is confirmation that the opponents of ROPAB are so afraid of its passage that they would do anything to prevent it from being debated. A recent development of a hurried press conference by leading parliamentarian opponents of the bill to warn and threaten in Kumasi instead of debating the logic of ROPAB in Accra is one example. Worse yet is the legal action in an Accra court by the Deputy Minority Leader to restrain the Speaker from allowing further proceedings in Parliament on the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill. No matter what technicalities one finds to file writs in court, how do you ask for a court injunction when as members of parliament, you have all the tools and time to make your own views heard on the issues? Please come away from hiding and let us lay your fears to rest for the train has left the station and you cannot order it to stop. This is a dangerous precedent that is being sought. The Judiciary should not in any way decide what issues Parliament decide to deliberate. The people of Ghana should wake up to this back-door re-introduction of tyranny.
The DVC has written numerous articles on ROPAB and we published the report of our delegation on Ghanaweb on November 12, 2005 under the title “Diaspora Vote- we came, we listened, we answered”. We are painfully aware of the implementation issues ahead of us but please could we at least start from a legal basis to solve them with the Electoral Commission upon a mandate from the passage of ROPAB? How about that for peace sake? All heads are needed for the next step because while we can learn from those countries that practice absentee voting, each has to be customized to its peculiar circumstances. There are no presumed winners. The new voters are a blank slate to be won over by anyone with a winning message. Let us fear not and think straight.
With more than 300 million of the world's population living away from their traditional homelands and remitting amounts that continue to exceed revenues from traditional exports and multilateral loans and grants, the issue of Diaspora Vote has come to the center as the first step of a fuller and organized engagement of this group. Ghana is by no means alone. Please hear the cries of the Diaspora from other countries: Some may even sound frighteningly like they are talking about Ghana.
“Diaspora Voting Rights Bill is a bill long past due on the minds of most Nigerians living overseas. Nigerians in the Diaspora would want to be allowed to register and vote in elections in Nigeria, especially in the gubernatorial and presidential elections.” – Dec 11, 2005- Pan Ndi Igbo Foundation USA, Inc.
“Today, U.S.Rep. Kendrick B. Meek released the following letters to Haitian interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, President George W. Bush and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan calling for arrangements for Haitians residing in the United States to vote in the Haitian elections to take place later this year. “It makes no sense to require U.S. residents to accept the burden and expense of international travel, and the necessary time away from work and family, by requiring them to return to Haiti just to participate fully in the democratic process- A sound alternative exists” Press Release- U.S. Congressman Kendrick B. Meeks January 26, 2005
“We respectfully request the commission to consider a special provision that would allow thousands of Liberians presently living outside of the country to register and vote in the coming elections.” Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas – May 31, 2005
“In his address, King Mohammed VI also announced that the three million or so Moroccans based abroad will be allowed to elect their representatives” – Rabat Morocco January 31, 2006
“Millions of Ukrainian citizens living abroad have the right to vote in October 31 presidential elections. While provisions for expatriates have been made previously, this election marks the first time opposition and elections monitoring groups have focused on such ballots” – Eurasia Daily Monitor – October 15, 2004
“About 93 percent of the 280,000 Iraqi voters registered abroad cast absentee ballots in the country's election, the international agency that organized the vote said Monday”- MSNBC.Com Associated Press Jan 31, 2005
“Under Zimbabwe's electoral laws only citizens outside their home constituencies on official national duty can cast postal votes- a requirement critics say has disenfranchised more than three million Zimbabweans living abroad. A lawyer for a group of Zimbabweans living in Britain- the Diaspora Action Group- told the Supreme Court that by denying those abroad the right to vote in the March 31 elections, Mugabe's government was denying citizens a fundamental constitutional right.” Newzimbabwe.com – February 23, 2005
“And these may be joined by the newly contentious question of how, and to what extent, the Lebanese Diaspora should be permitted to take part in the political process. The current Lebanese electoral law does not allow absentee voting, nor does it permit registered voters living abroad to vote at embassies or consular offices. Although electoral lists are permanent and voters are not disenfranchised if they live abroad or take foreign citizenship, they must be physically present in their home district and show their registration ticket in order to vote. This has meant that although a substantial number of registered voters live in the Diaspora, only those with the resources to travel to Lebanon have been able to take part in elections.” The Head Heed- October 25, 2005
We are encouraged that while some countries like Ghana and Lebanon are trying to decide to extend the franchise to their citizens abroad to vote from their countries of residence, others have made the decision, extended the votes and there have been no single record of mayhem or even fraud recorded anywhere. In Africa we salute Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Lesotho, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Senegal, and South Africa. Isn't it instructive that Zimbabwe was part of this list but the knowledge of the transparency and fairness of the Diaspora vote made Mugabe subjugate that right?
Barely one year hence, will Ghana celebrate its 50th year of independence from colonial rule. The nationalist movement and the yearning for self-rule that was sparked after the second world war was as international and widespread as the current imperative to extend voting to this new breed of people who did not exist in such significant numbers fifty years ago – the international Diaspora. New paradigms call for new solutions. In 1958 Dr. Kwame Nkrumah brought some three hundred people from the far corners of Africa to the All-African Peoples' Conference in Accra to discuss independence for all of colonial Africa. Lest we forget, look at the list of participants of that conference in Accra who went on to become leaders and fathers of their nations: - Julius Nyerere (Tanzania), Joshua Nkomo (Zimbabwe), Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), Hastings Banda (Malawi), Patrice Lumumba (Congo), Amilcar Cabral (Guinea Bissau) and many others who helped bring colonialism down in Africa. Is it the same Ghana that now wants to retreat into a cocoon and not embrace the new vision of international citizens? Is it the same Ghana that stood for some thing as powerful as “our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation o the African continent”?
No we shall not allow others whose motives are for their own self preservation to derail us from this important milestone that was started in 1957 as independence and marches on as participatory democracy by all its citizens regardless of circumstance of abode. We must not allow repressive laws to subvert the hard-earned constitutional rights. You can imagine that the vote of today is a portable right just as the contributions of citizens are not geographically defined. The home-bound voter can easily trade places with the Diaspora voter thus minimizing the need for walled impediments. When we look our faces in the mirror, we see Ghanaians regardless of where the mirror hangs. The challenge is how do modern nations maximize its benefits from this new internationalism? – The absentee vote is a start.
Interested in joining the DVC? Send your name and e-mail address to [email protected]