This article was published in the Daily Statesman
Emmanuel Kyeremateng Agyarko, the late MP for Ayawaso West Wuogon, served his constituency well. We must all mourn his death and hope that he rests in eternal peace in the Lord.
The source of the problem seems to be Article 94, Subsection 1, clause b of Ghana’s constitution, which provides two options for eligibility to stand as a parliamentary candidate: “he is resident in the constituency for which he stands as a candidate for election to Parliament or has resided there for a total period of not less than five years out of the ten years immediately preceding the election for which he stands, OR he hails from that constituency” (my emphases).
Why can a Ghanaian not stand in any constituency to represent the people of Ghana? Should representation be determined by ethnicity or residency, and are these really necessary to ensure the effectiveness of an MP?
I would argue that the effect of the clause and the two options it provides has given rise to great worry among the Ga people that their politicians cannot fulfil their aspirations and that some seats, even in their own land, are beyond their reach because the spirit of the constitution constrains them even from trying. Equally, their own parties dissuade them from putting themselves forward.
Form, not substance
On closer examination of how the clause has been used in the Fourth Republic, it becomes clear that roughly 80 per cent of MPs are in Parliament because they represent constituencies from which they hail; only 20 per cent have been elected through the residency rule. More remarkably still, it is only in Greater Accra (GA) ‒ one region out of the old ten ‒ that the residency rule has been applied.
It would also seem that there are no tangible advantages to be gained through the “hail from” rule. None at all. Would John Dramani Mahama have served the people of Madina less effectively as an MP than he served the people of Bole? Did our current President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, serve the people of Akyem Abuakwa any better than he could have served the people of Nima? And why should Ezanetor Rawlings, who hails from Dzelokupe and Bantama, go to those areas to find a seat, if she can serve the people of Korle Klottey, where she was born and has lived most of her life?
If we look, too, at the residency rule, it is not clear how the clause ensures that the people in the constituency will be served better by an MP who has lived in the constituency for longer than five years. The conclusion is that the clause is there for purposes of form only, rather than substance: to ensure that the representative has knowledge of that constituency through tribal affiliation or long-term residency.
It is this twin suggestion of tribal affiliation and residency that gives rise to a suspicion of unfairness in the minds of some Ga people, and the contention that Ghana’s laws are being applied unequally. Most work up conspiracy theories to the effect that this provides evidence of some plot to dispossess Gamei of their land, their language and political representation in their home territory.
Overriden by migrants
To put it another way, they ask why it is that no ethnic Ga can go to another region or town such as Bole or Dzelokupe or Kyebi to claim a seat on the grounds of residence, but in-migrants from Hohoe or Duayaw Nkwanta or Akuse or Buduburam can come to Greater Accra and claim seats?
Why is Accra so different and what makes it so different that the rules of eligibility work in such a warped way where Accra is concerned? Why are the leaders of the political parties so blind to these problems of perceived marginalisation of Ga people?
s it because Gamei are just too timid to speak out and complain about the issues, or is it because Accra has been so overridden by migrants that in most people’s unconscious minds Accra belongs to everybody and Gamei have accepted it to be so?
The questions that need asking are: do politicians who hail from a constituency have better qualities than those who have resided in that constituency? Why is the residency rule applied so one-sidedly in GA? And why in this one region are most candidates who have qualified under the residency rule not ethnic Ga Dangme?
Yet there is another dimension to this problem of representation that is very worrying in terms of the type of democracy we want to forge in Ghana. Do we want to create a nation of equals, or do we want to create a nation where representation is based on ethnic arithmetic?
It would seem that, in the minds of the political parties, Accra has been divided into areas that are Ga enclaves, and other areas where there are large numbers of in-migrants and so ethnic Gamei have no chance of standing, because their parties think they cannot win for reasons of demographics.
So we have large parts of Tema, Ashaiman, Ayawaso, Madina, Okaikoi, some areas in Ablekuma, reserved for in-migrant candidates who do not hail from these areas. So are Gamei in danger of being pushed into the sea, as those who shout about this “marginalisation” on all fronts allege?
Qualified and competent
When questions are raised among Ga Dangme politicians as to why they do not aspire to stand in these areas of Accra, the response is often that their own parties do not support them. It is not because they are not excellent candidates: it is mainly because their own parties tell them that in-migrants are unlikely to vote for them. These politicians will tell you that there is proof of this.
So, what do we have here?
A democracy forged on ethnic lines will not stand. It will not give us the type of nation we are intent on building. It will eventually fracture, with disastrous consequences for all the effort that has been put in to build a unitary state.
We are encouraging a kind of democracy that stops qualified and competent potential candidates from being chosen to stand for election in their own land, because there is another candidate who hails from elsewhere but has lived in the same constituency, and he or she is likely to be selected because of the influx of his or her tribe into the capital. Surely this cannot be a plank on which to build a lasting one-nation democracy for Ghana?
In the first part of this article, we looked at constitutional requirements which have led political parties to promote non-indigenous candidates to stand in Greater Accra (GA). And we asked: should budding Ga politicians be deprived of serving their country just because 20 per cent of the population has been squeezed into 1.5 per cent of the land mass of Ghana ‒ a place they call their home but which is now home to all Ghanaians?
Your seats have been taken away from you to suit a system that is unfair, because it gives politicians who hail from other places an unfair advantage over you.
When Odarkwei Obetsebi-Lamptey warned you about preferring Kwame Nkrumah over him in symbolic Ga Central for the 1951 election, did he foresee that you would all be written out of the political arithmetic as Northerners, Akans and Ewes battle for representation in your own land?
My plea is for an amendment to scrap the constitutional “hail from” rule. It has been used like many other rules, such as the lintel laws, intended to make Ghana a better democracy free for all, to dispossess Gamei and to give others another option for representation while limiting the options for Gamei. But we must also scrap the residency rule, as it serves no credible purpose.
To create a fair and progressive democracy we must scrap these tired rules about representation. But how do we begin to sensitise Ghanaians that ethnicity in politics detracts from building a democracy based on a culture which ensures that all can aspire to give Ghana their best, wherever they are in the country? We must promote a system that makes ethnicity irrelevant.
In the UK, when minority groups have complained about representation in politics, different parties have used different options. The Labour Party introduced all-women shortlists and is now being encouraged to introduce all-black shortlists.
The effect is that minority-ethnic candidates can gain seats in areas with a larger resident population of ethnic-minority people. The Conservative Party, on the other hand, created an A-list of candidates to ensure that they are offered a chance to run in what are considered to be safe conservative seats. Thus, there are minority-ethnic Tories representing lily-white areas in Parliament. Not a perfect solution but it is encouraging, I suspect, and it is working.
So what I propose for a progressive democracy in Ghana is for the political parties to propagate this message to their members: representation is not about one ethnic group or the other, it is about ensuring that the voices of all are heard and that votes are cast in line with the vision which best addresses the overall development of constituents.
The political parties should select prospective candidates centrally: people who receive training ahead of time on the role of an MP and the way in which they can most effectively represent their constituents. Then, when a seat becomes available, they place the candidate in that seat.
The essence of representation has nothing to do with ethnicity and relates far more to access to information and knowledge of constituents’ needs. The needs are often those of other Ghanaians and the perpetuation of ethnicity in selection criteria gives false hope that you are a better representative if you understand a culture better.
What we should be attempting to achieve is a single, progressive Ghanaian culture based on competence and excellence, as we build a country based on science and technology. These will be the chief ingredients for our development.
Scrap the rules
To Ga politicians, what I offer is hope. Serve your parties well, excel in all deliberations, let your competence shine through in campaign work and in recruitment of new members to your party. Make sure you can prove to all that you are better at representing the interests of all your constituents whether they are Ga or not, and even whether they are members of your party or not. Assist in the development of your communities and ensure that the watchwords of your forebears who led the way in democracy in Ghana are at the fore of all you do.
A better democracy is not created by reserving seats based on ethnicity. Neither the “hail from” nor the residency clause will lead us to a sustainable democracy which can create unity among Ghanaians. So I do not think that all seats in GA Region should be reserved for Gamei. If I had to choose, I would prefer the residency only rule, but if pressed I would ask for both clauses to be expunged from the constitution. All you need to stand in an election for any position in Ghana is to be a Ghanaian!
The wider Ga polity should know that Ghana is a republican country and our true leaders are our politicians; whether we have a paramount chief or not is neither here nor there. What we need is for all of us to join in political and community activity. That is the only way we can bring our parties to account and the government to book. It is also the only way that we can engage in principled, community-based activity to deal with the plight of the urban poor.
We must accept that the idea of “ablekuma aba kuma wɔ” (“let others join us so that we may become many”) has served us well and will continue to do so. We must also accept there is peace in Ghana now because we have been accepting of all and have contributed in no small way to helping the tribes coexist in our land.
Let us continue to do so, but be bolder to express our views at this perceived marginalisation in our places. Let us bring it into the open for debate, so that all others see that this strident view of ethnic politicisation of all things, from employment to allocation of resources, will become a thing of the past.
Governance by consent
I am sure that the politicians are listening to this call. I am sure that the politicians are aware of this issue of Ga people feeling their rights have been trampled on and their views pushed aside in their own land. The solution is not to shout louder but to do so smarter, to point to the injustices and to ask for redress.
Let me remind those who think they wield power over a people that they should be careful how they use it. Expert and reverent use of power engenders commitment. When the power exercised is legitimate and people feel rewarded, there is compliance, but when people think that because they are a majority they can run roughshod over a people in their own land, what happens is resistance.
The proverb says it all. Afi kɛɛ: mɔni gbe mi edɔɔ mi fe mɔni famɔ ntsɛjiŋ (“The partridge says, ‘The one who plucked my feathers hurts me more than the one who killed me’”). Indeed, the Ga people are gradually being diminished by some whom they have drawn closest.
Ade Sawyerr is a management consultant working on social and economic issues affecting disadvantaged communities in Britain (www.equinoxconsulting.net) and a past chairman of CPP UK. He passes comment on issues of interest to people of African heritage in the diaspora. Twitter @adesawyerr. http://www.adesawyerr.wordpress.com