Who is a Ghanaian? Reflecting on Ghana's experience

Daniel Domelevo Auditor General?resize=750%2C533&ssl=1 Auditor General, Mr. Daniel Yaw Domelevo

Mon, 8 Mar 2021 Source: Charles Prempeh

The case of Mr Daniel Yao Domelevo's age and citizenship has brought to the fore the complex issues we have had to deal with as a nation.

The idea of a state - framed in light of the Westphalian logic - is a colonial imposition. Before colonialism, different societies existed in Africa. Most of these societies were banded together based on convenient myths.

It is either a myth of sharing a remote common, putative ancestor or ancestress or symbols that had been inscribed with meaning that yielded towards cultural homogenization.

During the late colonial era in the nineteenth century, the colonialists used "define and rule" and "divide and rule" to advance imperialist interest.

This contributed to the tribalisation of the colonised world, where the native population was fractured along binaries of natives and settlers.

To impede any unity among the "native" population, different set of laws were used to govern the natives and settlers.

As colonisation crystallized, the native population in the face of shared experience of marginalisation constructed an identity based on the colonial Other.

In the case of the Gold Coast, unity among the "native" population was defined against the colonial/European Other. Consequently, the kind of unity that was fashioned was similar to something like the following: "We are because we are the oppressed of the colonialists."

As the colonial Other motivated nationalism, independence brought issues of retribalisation. This was particularly in view of the failure of the post-independence state to realize the economic bliss that decolonization promised.

As the various ethnic groups felt let down by the independent state to provide for their respective needs, the political elites had to reinvest in myths.

The myths that the elites invented were part of establishing the boundaries of citizenship. These myths were embodied in national symbols - including the national flag, anthem, coat of arms etc. There were also patriotic histories, songs and state institutions.

Citizenship was accorded, inter alia, based on one's commitment to the national symbols. Cultic attention was to be offered to these state symbols.

It was partly for this reason that J.J. Rawlings, in 1989, banned groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs) - whose orthopraxy repudiates obeisance to national symbols.

At independence, when national unity was under stress from partisan politics, sometimes believed to be modelled along ethnic and religious lines, Nkrumah-led CPP government introduced a number of laws.

One of such laws was the Avoidance of Discrimination Act, December 1957. It sought to suppress all existing political parties, such as the National Liberation Movement and the Togoland Congress Party, that had advocated federalism prior to independence.

Again, Nkrumah introduced the Emergency Powers Act in January 1958 and separated the Bono-Ahafo area in Ashanti Region and created it as a separate Region.

Furthermore, since chieftaincy represented ethnic pride - thus threatening trans-ethnic nationalism, Nkrumah interfered with the institution. He sought to bring chiefs under his control.

Between 1957 and 1966, the Nkrumah-led government passed legislation and inspired party activities to achieve the goal of subjecting chiefs under state control.

The formation of the Ghana Young Pioneer Movement, which was formally launched during the country's first Republican Day Celebration in 1961, was designed, inter alia, to foster citizenship among the youth along nationalistic lines.

The above post-independence measures were innovative efforts at detribalization - leading to the orientation of citizenship towards nation-building.

Individuals who threatened this innovativeness suffered dared consequences, including deportation. Indeed, deportation had been preempted in May 1957 when Nkrumah-led government passed the Ghana Nationality Act (Act No. I).

With the above Act, the government deported Uthman Lardan and Amadu Baba, two of the prominent members of the Muslim Association Party (MAP) in Kumasi.

These members of MAP were deported because they challenged the CPP. But Nkrumah argued that they were aliens who disturbed public peace.

Later in the Deportation Act of 1957, the government acquired additional power to deport individuals who were considered a threat to public order.

During K.A. Busia's regime, there was yet another case of politicizing citizenship. On November 18, 1969, the Busia-led government issued the "Compliance Order" which gave all aliens without residence permits two weeks to obtain them or leave the country.

Given that, about 200,000 aliens left Ghana within six months. This gave the Busia's government and future party a bad image in the Zongoes in Ghana, since most of the residents in these communities were affected.

I have already mentioned how Rawlings responded to the JWs in 1989. It is important to mention that around that same year, the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) were proscribed from operating in Ghana. Their activities were read as subversive to the state, as Rawlings suspected them of fronting for the interest of the US.

Other local groups like the Nyamesom Pa and Jesus Christ of Dzorwulu were also banned.

In all of what l have said, citizenship hardly emerged as a biological product. In post-colonial Ghana and Africa, citizenship is a political project. It is made, rather than created.

It is for this reason that people can change their citizenship at will. It is also the reason different nations have different laws on citizenship.

For example, a child born to non-citizen migrants in the United Kingdom is not considered a citizen. This is not the same in the United States of America.

This implies that citizenship is constructed based on individual's contribution to the common good. It also means that the idea of Ghanaian ancestry as an index of citizenship is not fossilized in history.

In the case of Mr Domelevo, we see a quintessential politicisation of citizenship. He has been in and worked for Ghana for decades and has contributed significantly to the socio-economic development of the country.

It is, therefore, reckless to politicize his citizenship. If Ghana is ready to grant citizenship to African-Americans, why do we trivialize and question the citizenship of a productive citizen of the country?

But l am also mindful of the circumstances surrounding Mr Domelevo's case. His entry into the office of Auditor General raised a needless suspicion in a country where partisan politics and nepotism are ripe. His politicized exit, appears to have begun the first day he assumed service.

I conclude by pointing the government of Ghana to invest energy in building citizens who are committed to the good of the country. We need men and women who will understand what it means to be Ghanaian other than the "accident" of biology.


Columnist: Charles Prempeh
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