Dual Citizenship And Voting By Ghanaians Abroad

Thu, 26 Oct 2006 Source: Afrifa, Benjamin Kwasi

Political Posturing Or Electoral Opportunism?


It is estimated that about three million Ghanaians live outside the country that comprise the emerging Ghana Diaspora. The significant contributions Ghana’s Diaspora make to the economy is well noted. The importance of individual, collective, and social remittances has been documented and acknowledged also. It is estimated that by the end of 2006,Ghana would receive over $5 billion in private unrequited transfers from its Diaspora for familial, investment, recreational and other purposes. In spite of this contribution to national development, Ghana’s governments have largely failed to institutionalize policy mechanisms to link and engage Ghana’s Diaspora as a resource for national development. So when Ghana’s Parliament in 2000 passed the Dual Citizenship Act of 2000 (Act 591) and again in 2006 the Representation of the People’s Amendment Act of 2006 (ROPAA), the feeling among most overseas Ghanaians was that Ghana is on track toward adopting norms in international relations on national engagement of Diasporas for development.

Dual citizenship, as the name implies, involves the right of Ghanaians in the Diaspora to simultaneously maintain their Ghanaian citizenship in addition to that of their host countries. ROPAA, allows Ghanaians overseas to vote in future national elections. The Electoral Commission of Ghana is currently developing the guidelines for its implementation for the 2008 general elections. In fact, both legislations may be considered national landmarks for ushering Ghana into a class of progressive nations (i.e., India, Israel, China, etc.) that have engaged their Diasporas for national development. With these laws, Ghana has extended its territorial and political borders and has opened up the political discourse and dispensation to its own external agents – the Ghana Diaspora.

However, the enthusiasm following the passage of the laws-Dual Citizenship and ROPAA - soon dissipated turning into rage when most overseas Ghanaians became aware of Section 16 (2) of the Dual Citizenship Act, and Article 94 (2) of the Constitution; that specifically bar overseas Ghanaians of dual citizenships from holding senior level positions in government or contest electoral positions. Simply stated, Ghanaians with dual citizenship cannot serve as members of Parliament or be appointed as Ministers, Deputy Ministers; or hold senior level positions such as Director of Prisons, fire, and police, among others. As the present provisions are constituted, even those currently occupying positions as Chief Executive Officers of public corporations and other entities under a Minister’s purview, cannot escape from the clutches of these inimical provisions. A test case is the recent disqualification of Akwasi Agyemang Prempeh who in June of 2006 was disqualified by a Parliamentary subcommittee after been nominated by the President as Deputy Minister of Ashanti Region. He was disqualified because he holds a dual Ghanaian and American citizenships.

The relevant text of the Dual Citizenship Act, 2000 (Act 591) reads as follows:


16. (1) A citizen of Ghana may hold the citizenship of any other country in addition to his citizenship of Ghana.

(2) Without prejudice to article 94(2)(a) of the Constitution, no citizen of Ghana shall qualify to be appointed as a holder of any office specified in this subsection if he holds the citizenship of any other country in addition to his citizenship of Ghana:

(a) Chief Justice and Justices of the Supreme Court; (b) Ambassador or High Commissioner; (c) Secretary to the Cabinet; (d) Chief of Defense Staff or any Service Chief; (e) Inspector-General of Police; (f) Commissioner, Custom, Excise and Preventive Service; (g) Director of Immigration Service; (h) Commissioner, Value Added Tax Service; (i) Director-General, Prisons Service; (j) Chief Fire Officer; (k) Chief Director of a Ministry; (l) The rank of a Colonel in the Army or its equivalent in the other security services; and (m) Any other public office that the Minister may by legislative instrument prescribes.


Over one hundred and fifty (150) countries have extended variations of dual citizenship privileges to their Diasporas of which ten (10) are in Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Egypt, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa. What is most relevant for the Ghana context is how citizens of dual nationality are treated with respect to their citizens’ participation in the international labor force.

For example, a number of Americans holding dual citizenships have held rather senior level positions without any official prohibition by law in their countries of origin. For example, Raffi Hovannisian became Foreign Minister of Armenia, Mohammed Sacirbey, was the Foreign Minister of Bosnia from 1995 to1996. Aleksaner Einseln, the chief of the Estonian Army from 1991 to 1995 also was an American. Valdas Adamkus became the President of Lithuania after several years of serving as an administrator in Chicago. Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State of the United States was approached to seek the Presidency of the Czech Republic which she declined.

Others have occupied high level and sensitive public positions in the United States without being forced to renounce their dual citizenship statuses. For example, California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger from Austria; Miguel Estrada, a Federal Judge is from Honduras; Michigan Governor Jennifer M. Granholm is a Canadian from Vancouver; Zalmay M. Khalilzad, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and now Iraq, is a Pashtun; and John Abizaid, the former Commander of U.S. Central Command is a Lebanese-American. Also, in 1990 Adriano Espaillat, an American from the Dominican Republic, became the first Dominican elected to a U.S. statehouse.

In Africa for example, the Nigerian Constitution’s provision on citizenship provides a vivid contrast to that of Ghana on the definition of citizenship. Nigeria does not wrestle with this problem of dual citizenship in as much as Ghana does. According to the Nigeria Constitution Article 25 (1) a citizen of Nigeria is defined as “Nigeria by birth”. Any Nigerian whose grandparent belongs or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria is a “citizen of Nigeria”. Similarly, citizenship extends to any person born outside the country to Nigerian parent. Nigeria. Thus, unlike Ghana, a citizen of Nigeria who comes within the ambit of Article 25 may enjoy all the privileges and responsibilities available to its citizens. These include running for any political office including President, Governor, State and Federal Parliament and, can be appointed to any high office on the judiciary and executive branch of government. One cannot stop being a Nigerian just because one has acquired a second citizenship. Nigeria and Ghana evolved or emerged from a similar colonial background and checkered political history but, the latter have not found it prudent to bar its developed overseas human resource from a meaningful participation in the country’s socio-politico-economic development. Ghana should not be the exception


It is understandable that a nation should expect the highest levels of allegiance to it from those serving in its sensitive positions. As important as this expectation, Ghana cannot afford to keep at bay its vast national resource- professional Ghanaians in the Diaspora, especially those who are willing, have the requisite resources (such as ideas, networks, skills, and money) and are prepared to return. Historically probably starting from Tetteh Quarshie who brought cocoa (Ghana’s main export cash crop) from Fernando Po and to pan-African icons such as George Padmore, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Dr. J.B. Danquah, and others, Ghana’s Diaspora has always led its important milestones.

Most professionals left Ghana to seek gainful and competitive employment opportunities overseas which has led to the so-called “brain drain.” Our leaders decry the negative impact of the “brain drain” and have utilized every opportunity whenever in the midst of Ghanaians abroad that the professional Ghanaians should return to participate in the ongoing nation building efforts. It’s therefore absurd and contradictory to see that Ghana has such laws in the Constitution effectively baring the same professionals on their return from occupying senior level positions or contest electoral positions. The sad truth probably is that Ghanaian professionals would not return in droves to Ghana under these conflicting circumstances. The issue is whether or not Ghana is actually serious in addressing the negative impact of the proverbial “brain drain” and is prepared to reversing it to a “brain gain” as other countries have successfully done. Any attempt to reversing the current situation by way of repealing those inimical provisions in the Constitution would send a signal to not only the professional Ghanaians abroad, but also to the suffering Ghanaian masses who are currently deprived of the benefits from the resources that would accompany these professionals along on their return. If not for political reasons, what is the rationale for these provisions in our Constitution anyway? Who are the intended beneficiaries of these inimical provisions and what purpose is it serving? Isn’t it opportunistic that our monetary contributions is integral to the electoral and political process, yet the Ghana’s Diaspora is prohibited by official State policy through the law of the land- our Constitution- from electoral contest or even apply for a job in Ghana, in effect marginalizing and discriminating against the Diaspora? Are we entertaining the displacement effect where given the opportunity, the professional abroad may dislodge resident Ghanaians by taking over the reigns of the political process? I doubt and do not anticipate such a trend. However, if that is what our leaders are brooding over then so should it be; Ghana needs the “cream of the crop” at this transformational stage. The country needs good managers with the requisite technical skills to help consolidate the democratic and development gains and such skills are abundant in the Diaspora. One Ghanaian stated that it is absurd that the exclusionary categories are technocratic positions where the distribution of the talent pool of which favors Ghanaians abroad.

It is therefore very disturbing almost backward to witness that while other countries are institutionalizing linkages with their Diaspora for national development, Ghana is rather institutionalizing official Constitutional mechanisms to keep its Diaspora away for political opportunism. It is time for our political leadership to declare as a national priority Ghana’s engagement with its Diaspora for national development by amending the Section 16(2) of Act 591 (Dual Citizenship Act) in order to repeal Article 94 (2) of the Constitution to end the prima facie discriminatory practice which effectively bars Ghanaians of dual nationality from exercising their full rights as citizens. The celebrated remittance of over $4 billion that is injected into Ghana’s economy by the Diaspora is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the enormous contribution that the Ghana Diaspora could make to Ghana.

It’s also quite disturbing to witness the manifestation of hatred (for lack of a better word) among some of our brothers and sisters back home for the Diaspora in a sense creating and perpetuating a “we versus them” dichotomy and often forgetting that the reverse could be the case where today’s resident Ghanaian might become part of tomorrow’s Ghanaian Diaspora and vice versa. It was a callous calculation that our political leadership perceived Ghana’s Diaspora as having little political power and marginalized them through State action. However, as attentive Ghanaians witnessed during the debate over ROPAA, the Ghanaian Diaspora was well mobilized in the body of the Diaspora Vote Committee (DVC) and became an effective force. The Ghana’s Diaspora is more than ever ready to fight for inclusion and is determined to end the discriminatory practices of Article 94 (2) and others that are yet to be discussed.

The President recently created the Ministry for Tourism and Diaspora Relations. But we know that this re- christened Ministry is more for picking the pockets of the old Africa Diaspora- Afro-Americans and Afro- Caribbean than harnessing the resources of Ghana’s new Diaspora who speak Twi, Ga, Ewe, Hausa etc. We submit that this is short-sighted. Not to sound exclusionary; a careful husbanding of the new Ghana Diaspora would yield at least ten five times the monetary benefit that could be expected from the old Diaspora.

The challenge of globalization demands that nations incorporate the energies and talents of its Diaspora resources for social and economic development International treaties and conventions such as U.N Millennium and Africa Union Declarations, which Ghana is a signatory, emphasize the need for governments to grant free franchise and make all efforts to tap and reintegrate the resources of both material, human and talents of its Diaspora to help in resource development. The most effective and practical way of handling the Diaspora issue is the creation of a specific and separate Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. This call for a separate Ministry for Diaspora Affairs will be in line with examples of other countries, such as India, Mexico, Italy, Israel and Egypt which have created such Ministries to harness the talents and resources of its Diaspora.

It’s noted that human rights obligations generally fall to governments, not to individuals. But the power and legal standing of human rights norms have enormous implications for the behavior of citizens. Ghana’s attempt to marginalize its Diaspora from seeking higher office under Article 94 (2) is a human rights issue as it violates international human treaties and conventions: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, 1966). The former recognizes principally the rights to life, liberty, security, and freedom from unjust discrimination, due process of law, and free expression and association. These rights are not subject to balancing against other state interests and none may be “derogated,” or suspended, unless the state officially proclaims the existence of a national emergency and any derogation cannot involve discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, and political orientation. It thus declares that all people have ‘a responsibility to strive for the promotion and observance of the rights recognized” in the Covenant.

Reading from the two covenants above, the State structures as a manifestation of the nature of employment relationship with the state; administrative mechanisms that lack procedures for contesting State demands; and disincentives to promote human rights, all reinforce the discriminating effect of Article 94(2). The provision is in fact discriminatory and patently unconstitutional as it, in essence, establishes two levels of citizenship: a resident Ghanaian who enjoys all the privileges and immunities appertaining to the citizenship on one hand, and on the other hand, a second class non-resident Ghanaian overseas whose rights of citizenship is limited only to obtaining a dual citizenship certificate, a passport, probably a right to vote in future elections but who cannot run for an elective Parliamentary office, hold any high office within the country’s judiciary or executive branch of government. The latter is a classic example of separate and unequal protection under the law of the land.

The effect of this action on the constitutional development of Ghana cannot be ignored either. The fundamental tenet of every Constitution is that it both empowers and limits governmental action. Full recognition of the need for the adjustments is inevitable in a dynamic society such as Ghana. The constitutional system is not regarded as separate from the political system, but a necessary part of it, performing the vital function of giving order and structure to the inevitable process of change. Our tinkering of the Constitution should be seen as incremental. Carl Friedrich’s magisterial analysis of world constitutions has noted:

“Constitutionalism is an achievement of the modern world… Indeed, it is a very complex system of providing for orderly change, and there is no reason for assuming that the need for change will come to an end in the immediate future.”


Through the appropriate institutional venue both domestic and International including courts and the legislature (Parliament), Ghana’s Diaspora, would pursue multi-level paths to seek redress including:

(i) Utilizing the potential effect of ROPAA on 2008 elections, the Diaspora Vote Committee (DVC) will seek an amendment in Parliament to repeal the discriminatory provision of Article 94 (2) because of its inconsistency with Article 17. The DVC will use ROPAA as leverage to seek the repeal of such discriminatory and unconstitutional provision which being not an entrenched provision could be amended by a simple majority vote in Parliament pursuant to Article 291.

(ii) If Parliament fails to act on our request, the DVC would challenge, in the Supreme Court the constitutionality of Article 94(2) arguing that it contradicts the equal protection clause of Article 17 of the Ghana Constitution . Specifically, the DVC will seek redress through the Supreme Court of Ghana seeking a declaration that both Article 94(2) and the Section 16(2) Public Law 591 are discriminatory and thus unconstitutional. It must also be pointed out that , said Article 94(2) is part of the inconsistent provision that Article 1(1) refers to and , therefore, needs to be voided. Further Article 30 of the Transitional Provisions authorizes the President to modify, repeal any law which is not inconformity with the provisos of the Constitution of Ghana.

(iii) The DVC will develop public education programs though the Embassies and Consulates for Ghana’s Diaspora, on one hand, and on the other, use the news media, especially, FM radio stations in Ghana to educate the Ghanaian public on the egregious effect of Article 94(2).

(vi) The DVC will develop public education programs through the Embassies and Consulates for the Ghanaian Diaspora to educate them on the Dual Citizenship application process.

(v) The DVC will call on the Ministry of Interior to expedite the processing of Dual Citizenship applications to a maximum of thirty days (30) days from the present six months period.


There is an incomprehensible contradiction in which tremendous progress coexists with depressing backwardness. A totally new perspective, new thinking and new action programs are essential if Ghana’s entry into development status is to become meaningful. Old hackneyed ideas of short-sighted men and matters have to yield to new dynamism that will inform the coming century and if we do not, we will be left behind in the garbage bin of history. Ghana cannot afford but to march with the times. It is with certain amount of sorrow and sadness that we have not attempted to put our foot forward for the onward march but we march backwards counting upon obsolete clichés and mounting empty slogans which served the yester year to secure votes and crowds in our favor. The political system is pulled in different directions all at the same time that resultant force is nil- a dynamic stagnation- reducing our fledgling democracy to a sham.

The period when the Diaspora was exploited for electoral opportunism or political posturing is now passed. Ghana’s Diaspora is demanding the leveling of the playing field and seeks to be recognized with the full rights and responsibilities appertaining to Ghanaian citizenship. Any political maneuver that attempts to exclude the Diaspora would be translated as an official proclamation that the ongoing national and political development is reserved only for resident Ghanaians. The discriminatory State practice that further marginalizes the Diaspora’s from exercising should be ended. Ghana at this transformational stage of development cannot equate itself to other countries that can afford the luxury of marginalizing a group of its citizens who possesses the requisite resources need for national development. Thus a call for Diaspora resource mobilization should be a prominent feature of our national development calculus.

How can we proclaim to be visionaries in our national development aspirations and at the same time, for the sake of political posturing and electoral opportunism, be so blatantly divisive and discriminatory? The exclusionary and discriminatory practice as enshrined in Section 94(2) is inconsistent with our vision of developing a capitalist and democratic state and society. It is also inconsistent with our attempts to addressing the problem of “brain drain” by reversing it to “brain gain” phenomena. There is no time and need for pedestrian arguments. The philosophy of public service is an honor and opportunity to serve the people. Our political leaders should muster the courage, smoothen the rough edges of our political system and level the playing field for all Ghanaians to serve our dear country.


In a wonderful poem, “The Road Not Taken,” American poet Robert Frost describes walking along a path in the woods that splits into two directions. He can see that one path is well traveled—the other less so. In the last stanza of the poem, Frost writes:

“I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverge in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.”

Now, like Frost, Ghana find itself at a crossroads having to decide what path to take on the issue of promoting inclusion. If the right course is pursued, years from now we will look back on this decision as having been critical to shaping the political and economic future of our dear country, Ghana. A realistic response requires Ghana to move toward a sound Diaspora management model which integrates all citizens of Ghana into a web of rights and obligations in the extended community with Ghana being the center. What is important is to ensure that the relationship between Ghana Diaspora with the country remain strong. Stay tuned!!!

The author Benjamin Kwasi Afrifa, is an Adjunct Professor, School of Public Affairs and Black & Hispanic Studies Department, Baruch College/City University of New York a Member of the Diaspora Vote Committee (DVC); (B.Afrifa@fordfound.org or afriben1016@yahoo.com) and Grants Administrator at the Ford Foundation, New York.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Afrifa, Benjamin Kwasi