The spirit of Nkrumah and Pan-Africanism still lives on in Ghana today through its various citizenship laws. Ghana is the first African country to provide the right to return, and indefinite stay for Africans in the diaspora. The government also recently passed legislation giving Ghanaians in the diaspora the right to vote.
As we commemorate Ghana at 50, let us not forget the founding father of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah and his notion of pan-Africanism. Kwame Nkrumah pursued the political independence of Ghana and committed himself to the struggles against foreign domination in other African colonies. He cemented Arab-African ties through special friendships with Egyptian leader Gamar Abdel Nassar. He welcomed Africa freedom fighters such as Malcolm X, W. E. Dubois, and George Padmore. He established a continental radio station (the External Service of Radio Ghana), which helped fuel the African liberation struggle. To this end, Kwame Nkrumah envisioned pan-African citizenship for all peoples of Africa.
50 years later, Ghana continues the vision of Kwame Nkrumah in its generous citizenship laws that provide for a permanent home for peoples of African descent. In 2000, Ghana introduced the Dual citizenship Act 2000 under which a citizen of Ghana may hold the citizenship of any other country in addition to his Ghanaian citizenship. A person of non-Ghanaian origin could also apply for Ghanaian citizenship by registration if s/he is an ordinary resident of Ghana, and by naturalization if s/he has made a substantial contribution to the progress or advancement in any area of national activity.
However, critics of the law point to the fact that the 2000 Act was intended to reward Ghanaians in the diaspora who have acquired another citizenship but contribute greatly to the national development of the country. In fact, following the enactment of the law, Dr. Addo-Kufuor, then acting Minister of Interior explained that Non-Resident Ghanaians had remitted US$400,000,000 annually to boost Ghana’s economy against contributions of Foreign Direct Investment, which since 1994 to 2002 had contributed US$1.6, or about US$200,000,000. Indeed the acquisition of Ghanaian citizenship by registration and naturalization is subject to ability to speak and understand an indigenous Ghanaian language.
Nevertheless, Ghana is the first African nation to provide the right to return and indefinite stay for Africans in the Diaspora. Under Section 17(1)(b) of the Immigration Law, Act 573 of 2000, the Minister may grant the 'right to abode' to a person of African descent in the diaspora with the approval of the President. Some say, this provision was aimed at tapping into the rich African Americans who have returned to Ghana since its independence and taken up residence in the country, and rewarding those who contribute to the budding tourist industry.
Despite the contestations and shortcomings, all these achievements indicate the persistence, hard work and pan-African spirit of the Ghanaian government, Ghanaian parliament, ordinary Ghanaians, and Ghanaians and other African peoples in the Diaspora. Last year, the Ghanaian Parliament responded positively to lobbying of Ghanaians in the Diaspora by passing the Representation of the People Amendment Bill, (ROPAB) granting them right to vote in national elections. In December 2008, Ghanaians in the diaspora will vote for the first time in Presidential elections through absentee ballots. Their next move is to challenge through Ghanaian courts a provision in the Citizenship Act, 2000, which prohibits Ghanaians who have acquired citizenship of another country from standing for political office in Ghana. Later this year, the same group working with Benjamin Afrifa of the Africa Federation, Inc. intends to launch an African TV station broadcasting from the US. The TV station will broadcast African diaspora affairs as well as continental affairs. Ultimately, Ghanaians hope to carry on Kwame Nkrumah’s mantle, and influence other Africans in the diaspora to engage fully in their own nations.
I hope that all African countries will follow suit by allowing us free access to our continent without visa restriction and administrative humiliation. It is true that some African countries have embraced Kwame Nkrumah’s pan-Africanism and granted citizenship to African immigrants or refugees. For instance, Tanzania granted citizenship to Burundian refugees in the early 1990s and offered long-term stay to many freedom fighters from Mozambique, South Africa and Uganda. Senegal extended citizenship to Mauritanian refugees expelled from their home country in 1989. These gestures of welcoming Africans as citizens in other African countries needs to be recognizsd and encouraged throughout Africa.
It is a pity that in most African states, we continually experience unfriendly citizenship and immigration laws in the name of 'national security'. Many countries still in fact still uphold laws inherited from colonial regimes that have either separated nations across the border or deemed Africans as strangers in our own continent. It is often easier to enter an African country carrying a European or North American passport than, say, a Ugandan passport. For instance, Senegal, which parades itself as the 'Land of Teranga' still upholds an immigration law inherited from the French that makes it hard for Africans bearing a passport from a non-ECOWAS country to enter. This is not to suggest that a Senegalese does not need a visa to enter Uganda, however, the process is less cumbersome particularly for African visitors. Why should a country that struggled to rid itself of the colonial regime still uphold colonial law as national law? Why don’t we in Africa give preferential treatment to each other as members of the African Union, similarly to how this is done in EU or the United States? Or is movement within Africa a right for only African diplomats, Europeans and North Americans?
As a start, we could abolish visa regimes for Africans in preference for regional arrangements similar to the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) and the East African Community (EAC). We could also follow the EAC arrangement and issue African Union passports to all peoples of Africa, from the African continent and the Africa diaspora. Opponents of free borders argue that people will migrate en masse from their homes/regions of economic hardship and stay indefinitely in economically well-to-do countries if borders were made more porous. However, evidence within the ECOWAS, EAC or the EU illustrates that where borders are open to community members, people move back and forth. Everyday, Ugandans, Kenyans, Guineans, Senegalese and others within the EAC and ECOWAS community move freely between the borders and return to their places of permanent residence. In fact, the greatest pan-Africanists are the border communities engaged in daily socio-economic and cultural activities across the borders, such as the Masaai along the Kenya-Tanzania border, the Peulh along the Seno-Mauritania border and the Luo on the Uganda-Sudan border.
However, a fear of one's neighbour guides immigration and citizenship policies in most of Africa. Zimbabwean traders who travel across the border to Botswana are subject to stringent entry visa restrictions and high fees even though both countries are member states of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). This trend, though not unique is particularly disturbing coming from Botswana whose economic development owes a lot to the huge number of African professionals who have lived and worked in Botswana for many years. Many are still denied the right to citizenship based on unfair residence laws that grant short-term stay with hardly any chance to qualify for legal permanent residence. Similarly, many Africans whose ancestors were taken as slaves to Europe and the Americas have expressed disappointment about being excluded from the new dual citizenship regimes sweeping Africa. Whereas African Presidents appeal to Africans living in the diaspora to participate in national development, incentives are provided for those 'who left on their own free will', as against those whose ancestors were sold into slavery. On the other hand, there are sentiments among Africans on the continent that it is possible to be a national without being a citizen, and the latter should be reserved for 'those left behind' who are working for national development. For instance, Oteng-Attakora, a Ghanaian writer, argues that although Ghanaians in the diaspora have family ties and their remittances may alleviate the pain of the fortunate few, they neither pay taxes nor create jobs that would contribute to national building.
Ultimately, African states should borrow a leaf from Israel, which encourages and in fact solicits all persons of Jewish heritage to immigrate to Israel and gathering a in of its exiles. The African Union could sponsor annual tour to Africa (like Israel does for the Jewish diaspora) to visit the homeland. If called upon, interested Africans of the diaspora will finance their own trips to the homeland, as evidenced by on-going return and tour trips to the Cape Coast in Ghana, Goree Island in Senegal and others. Certainly, the Africa diaspora has a role to play, not only in lobbying for political rights but also in contributing to national development and promotion of the African affairs. Until we as Africans learn to value and trust each other, we cannot demand other countries, particularly in Europe, Asia and the Americas to value us. VIVA OSAJEFO!
* Doreen Lwanga is a Pan-Africanist and a Scholar of Citizenship and Security in Africa. She can be reached at [email][email protected]
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