Can you imagine with Ben ACKAH-MENSAH: forget it! You cannot vote in 2024 too


Election 2024? Are you a Ghanaian living abroad (GLA)? Forget it! You might as well hold your guns, or fire it blank. My, brethren and ‘sistren’, ‘to mu da’, for you do not have any vote yet. Considering the time left for the country to go to the polls, barely seven (7) months down the lane, you might as well dim the lights, draw the curtains, pull up the duvet tight and sleep some more.

The government and the Electoral Commission, mainly, have no tangible plans for you to decide who runs your beloved country come December 7, 2024. It’s a shame! Why? Despite you not being physically present in Ghana, Article 42 of the 1992 constitution of Ghana allows you the voting rights so far as you are a “…citizen of Ghana of eighteen (18) years of age or above and of sound mind… is entitled to be registered as a voter for the purpose of public elections and referenda”.  The Supreme Court on March 24, 2010 granted even prisoners in Ghana the right to vote based on the same Article 42.

This is not to say that, as a person living abroad, you are more human or Ghanaian than a prisoner but you also contribute in one way or the other to the social, economic, religious and political advancement of the motherland. Think about the numerous remittances, the many business upstarts by brethren and ‘sistren’ in the diaspora, the many tangible and intangible introductions into the country, the ubiquitous opportunities availed to relatives, friends and compatriots for the betterment of Ghana, and you deny them of their natural franchise to vote?

Think also about the many Ghanaians who lived abroad in the past and their immense contributions towards the development of the motherland. Yet we still deny our compatriots of one of their basic human rights as citizens irrespective of where they live in the world? Think about the following past GLAs and their usefulness to the country: Tetteh Quarshie (cocoa), Kwame Nkrumah (Independence), Kofi Annan (United Nations), Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II (Chieftaincy), H.E. J. A. Kufuor (Presidency), H.E. Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo (Presidency), Hon. Dr. Papa Kwesi Nduom (Politics and business), H.E. Amb. Kabral Blay-Amihere (Media, Diplomacy etc), Hon. Oboshie Sai-Cofie (Governance, media and business), the many parliamentarians and ministers of state, business men and women, scholars, artistes, and yours truly  etc etc who returned home to contribute to the socio-economic and political development of Ghana.

It has been quoted elsewhere that as far back as 2005, a government document named Diaspora Policy revealed that there were about 1.5 million Ghanaians living abroad. This figure surely would have been an official one and very conservative too, knowing my people. Human spillages into neighbouring countries such as Togo, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Benin, Nigeria, and other African countries could easily amount to this figure, let alone the rest of the world in its entirety. In any case, this figure can be about five times more today.

Total remittances from GLAs was also quoted to be about USD4.3 billion in 2020. Na lie! Multiply this by two and that should give us a real range to work with today. So we can appreciate a clear picture of the importance of GLAs. Knowing this, is it worthwhile to continue to disenfranchise Ghanaians living abroad?

Therefore, on a very fateful Friday in the year 2006; t’was the 24th day of February, the then incumbent president of Ghana, H. E. John Agyekum Kufuor (himself, one time GLA) assented to Act 699, Representation of the People’s Amendment Act (ROPAA), after parliament had debated wisely to pass it, to allow Ghanaians Living Abroad (GLAs) to vote in the country’s subsequent elections.

The Author

The Representation of the People Amendment Act (Act 699) then become a momentous legislative measure in Ghana aimed at expanding the democratic process to include Ghanaians living abroad. The Act, so passed and assented to some eighteen (18)  years ago, and which seeks to amend the Representation of the People Law, 1992 (PNDCL 284) to enable eligible citizens residing outside Ghana to register and vote in presidential and parliamentary elections, is yet to be implemented by the EC. Political ‘asoordzin’! How? 2008? No show. 2012? No! 2016? For the where? 2020 nsoso, well dodge! And now for 2024, EC, government and most political parties have suddenly become deaf, dumb, and blind (No offence intended). Hear no evil, say no evil or see no ROPAA.

Frustrated but not surprisingly, a group of Ghanaians based outside the country, led by their counsel, Sampson Lardi Ayenini sued the EC and the then Attorney General in 2017 in Accra for the slog in implementing ROPAA. In his ruling on December 18, 2017, His Lordship, the Late Anthony Yeboah found the EC to be “deliberate” in denying GLAs their franchise. He ruled that GLAs should be registered to vote in the 2020 general elections and beyond.

Torfiakwa! The EC might have murmured. Where’s the money to do this? Well, whatever the reality was then, the EC cited financial constraints for its inability to operationalize the law over the last 11 years; and if you remember, COVID-19 was also blamed but Fellow Ghanaians, elections took place in Ghana, there were many contesting political parties, Ghanaians at home voted and H.E. Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo was re-elected anyway.

So, what are some of the key features of the phantom called ROPAA and why the delay and dragging of feet in welcoming it? And why are we afraid of it?

A lot of light has been thrown on these but allow me to recap a few. The main feature or character of ROPAA-the-ghost is to allow for extension of voting rights. It would suddenly and in a ‘spooky manner’ enfranchise Ghanaians living abroad, granting them the right to participate in the electoral process. Some politicians on both divides are afraid of this.

The Act also provides for the establishment of registration centers and polling stations in Ghanaian embassies, consulates, and other designated places abroad. What’s the big deal? Financial constraints abi? You and I know how this constraint can be surmounted. Prioritization! To register GLAs, the National Identification Authority has been fingered to have also raised this excuse but GLAs say that ‘come, we will pay’ but no show.

Eligibility criteria is no problem. Article 42 of the 1992 constitution is clear on who is a Ghanaian and who can vote.

As for the benefits, (my other Ghanaian brothers would say Tsooo!), implementing ROPAA would ensure that all Ghanaians, irrespective of their location, can exercise their democratic right to vote. This inclusivity strengthens the democratic process and ensures broader representation in government. Also, by involving the diaspora in the electoral process, ROPAA fosters a sense of belonging and engagement among Ghanaians living abroad. This can lead to increased political awareness and involvement in national issues.

Moreover, Ghanaians abroad often contribute significantly to the country’s economy through remittances. By engaging them politically, the government can harness their skills, expertise, and resources for national development.

At an interaction session with Ghanaians in Denmark during the celebration of Ghana’s 67th independence anniversary earlier in the year, Ghana’s Ambassador to Denmark, H. E. Amerley Ollennu Awua-Asamoa has been quoted as saying that, “Ghanaian Diaspora in national development has won unprecedented recognition from the current government. President Nana Akufo Addo’s administration prioritizes Diaspora investments. This is evident in his vision on Diaspora inclusiveness in building the new Ghana, the Ghana beyond Aid.”

Well, so what is happening to the implementation of ROPAA during his tenure? Somewhere mid-December, 2023, Ghana launched the “Diaspora Engagement Policy”. This was led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, and an establishment at the Office of the President called the Diaspora Affairs unit but I do not know if implementing ROPAA comes under their remit.

What I am sure of is that Government, the EC, and all other stakeholders may, at least, be remotely aware that implementing ROPAA will strengthen national unity, bridging the gap between Papa Samo and Efie Wura – those at home and those abroad.

Currently, many democracies around the world allow their citizens abroad to vote. During the recent general elections in South Africa, citizens living outside the country were allowed to vote at the country’s embassies around the world. European citizens outside the EU also vote at their respective embassies so are citizens of many other countries. This is called international best practice.

Furthermore, a call for the implementation of ROPAA should not be a spoken curse. It had better be seen as an appeal for wider electoral reforms, including overall electoral efficiency, transparency, and deliberations on campaign financing guidelines.

The Representation of the People Amendment Act (Act 699), as has been pointed out severally by many people, is a progressive legislative measure. Its objective is to get GLAs to exercise their democratic franchise to decide who they want to lead the country; who they think can best protect their investments back at home while they are away. Its implementation clearly offers numerous advantages. However, addressing logistical, financial, legal and administrative challenges is crucial for the successful realization of the benefits. Strong political will and consensus among various stakeholders, including political parties, the Electoral Commission, and the diaspora community are needed.

This year might be too late for my brethren and ‘sistren’ living abroad to vote but for 2030 dieeer, let’s have the balls! Aaaaaba!!!

Leave a Reply