Ghanaians living in the UK respond to the granting of the Diasporan vote
As the issue of ROPAA continues to rage in our country – with the aggrieved Minority still boycotting Parliament in protest to the recently passed Representation of the People (Amendment) Act – The Statesman went to the people who will really be affected by the new legislation to find out what they think. There are about three million Ghanaians living in the Diaspora, with the United Kingdom and the United States as the two most popular destinations. Estimates of the number of Ghanaians living in the United Kingdom range from 65,000 – the number officially registered with the Ghana High Commission in London – to some half million, and there is a close-knit and vibrant Ghanaian community particularly in London where some 80 percent of those Ghanaians live.
On Saturday, over 1,000 Ghanaians gathered in Tottenham, North London, for the 5th annual forum of the Ghanaian community in the UK to hear the guest of honour and principal speaker, the Foreign Minister Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. The minister used his address to speak out about ROPAA, which was passed by Parliament Thursday February 23. Addressing a number of the continued criticisms and concerns of the opposition National Democratic Congress and calling for their return to the House, Nana Akufo-Addo praised the contribution of Ghanaians living in the Diaspora to the ongoing development of the motherland (see p 3).
The packed turn-out and lively question and answer session which followed the minister's speech provided evidence for the unseverable attachment many Ghanaians still feel to their home country, even when they have lived outside the country for many years. “Ghanaians everywhere – we are one people,” said Francis Addei, 40. “If even people from countries like Iraq get to vote when they are outside the country, I don't see why we shouldn't. Remittances account for about 40 percent of GDP – the Government needs to recognise this and show us their appreciation in letting us vote.” Although Mr Addei, an accountant, has lived in the UK for 12 years and has dual citizenship, he still considers himself Ghanaian above all else, he said.
Maxwell Appiagyei, 50, has spent 10 years in the UK working for a utility company. He pointed out that the ROPAA will create new voters not only outside Ghana's national boundaries, but also within Ghana, by allowing those who have been resident within a constituency for over six months to vote. “It is important that all Ghanaians are allowed to have a say in the running of this country,” he told The Statesman.
Alex Prempeh has lived in the UK for even longer – after 26 years, the UK has in some ways become his home, with a wife and children also in London. “But we still have families in Ghana; I still visit as often as I can, and we Ghanaians living abroad are always thinking about the motherland – just look at the number of people who have turned out for this forum tonight.
“If US citizens can vote in their elections when they are outside the country; if British citizens can vote in theirs, I think it is only right that we have also been granted the right to vote.”
One of the main, albeit unstated concerns of the opposition party has been that by granting Ghanaians abroad the right to vote, in line with Article 42 of the 1992 constitution, and completing the necessary second step of the Dual Citizenship Act which was passed by the NDC government in 1995, an election victory for the NDC will be made impossible.
Although they have accused the ruling New Patriotic Party of simply wanting to rig the elections – “Golden Age of Election Rigging,” they quipped in protest banners – the real fear is that Diasporans would freely chose to vote NPP in fair elections. The Diasporan vote is perceived by the opposition to be strongly weighted towards the ruling NPP, partly because a large number of Ghanaians left the country during the Rawlings years.
However, a brief survey of Ghanaians gathered in London Saturday suggested these opposition fears might be unfounded.
Hayford Atta-Krufi is the Chairman of the UK branch of the New Patriotic Party, but he thinks that discussion on the ROPAB in the UK has been remarkably balanced. In the weeks preceding the final reading of the Bill and its passage last Thursday, Ghanaian radio stations in the UK were alive with discussions on the issue, he said.
“Listening to programmes on Rainbow radio [a satellite channel which transmits across Europe] and Hot FM, it was difficult to detect any clear advantage for any one political party. People want the right to vote, full stop. I think there were probably as many NDC as NPP contributors to those shows.”
Emmaunuel Adofo, 31, agreed. “The NDC are totally wrong if they think that most Diasporans would vote against them, although actions do need to be taken now to ensure that the way the Bill is implemented means it can't be corrupted.” Mr Adofo has only lived in the UK for seven months, working as a social worker, and plans to return to Ghana within the next few years: he describes the right to vote in home elections as “extremely important” to him.
There are others, however, just as in mainland Ghana, who are more apathetic towards politics.
Christina Gordina Mensah, 31, is a member of the Ghanaian Methodist Chaplaincy Choir, which performed at Saturday night's event. “There is a very strong Ghanaian community in London – it helps you still feel connected with home,” she said. Clearly, Ghana is still at the very centre of her identity, but politics not so much, she admitted. “I love my politics, and I think ROPAA is important for those who want to vote; but I don't think I will,” she said.
Still others expressed scepticism about the Act at all, questioning the ability of Ghanaians outside the country to make informed decisions about who best should cover it. “There are people who have lived here for years, who don't follow the news and don't visit – how would they know who to vote for? They would vote for the same party their parents and family always have, even though things are changing in Ghana.
“I don't think this is right and I don't think these people should have the vote,” said Maxwell Akyampong, 56, a sales consultant who has lived in the UK with his wife and children for the last 30 years.
He still visits Ghana regularly and would vote in the next elections, but wonders whether those who are less politically engaged should be allowed to do so.