Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

What The Papers Say

This was the editorial of the last issue of the Catholic Standard. After its publication the PNDC banned the paper from operating in Ghana.

National Catholic Standard, Ghana, December 8, 1985

Of citizenship and Ghana-US relations

In the beginning, there was the arrest of Mr Michael Agbotui Soussoudis in the US which was matched by the arrest of four in Ghana; then the trail in the US of Mr Soussoudis resulting in a 20-year jail sentence matched by the jailing of the four in Ghana for periods of similar length; then the exchange, at eight to one, of prisoners between Ghana and the US; finally deportations from Ghana of four US diplomats for which the US State Department has had to ask our Mission in Washington to reduce its staff by four.

Move and counter-move as of a game of chess are all too familiar in the world of diplomacy though we do not all know the rules of the game. We need to know, for instance, what may be exchanged for what and under what circumstances. We used to think of citizenship of Ghana as a birthright, inalienable, non- negotiable. But considering that the eight who were exchanged for Mr Soussoudis have also lost their Ghanaian citizenship, we are not sure anymore. Are we to understand that the penalty for unpatriotic conduct could be loss of citizenship or exile or both?

True, in the traditional society exiles were not unknown. People whose conduct offends could always be moved out to another part of the chiefdom or to the territory of a friendly chief. In the modern state the business of removal from society temporarily or permanently is more than served by prisons. We still have prisons in Ghana, so why have we had to resort to the extraordinary measure of exiling Ghanaians?

At least to be sent to prison, the procedure is clear. The suspect must be charged and given the opportunity to defend himself in an open court. Four of the exiled were duly arraigned before the courts which passed jail sentences on them. Who changed the court's decision: that instead of going to jail they should be exiled? Four others were not even tried; so how do they too come to be exiled for punishment?

We are even more anxious to know the processes by which anyone ceases to be Ghanaian. Happily, Mr Justice Annan's National Commission for Democracy is still sitting. We suggest that the Commission takes soundings on this subject and pronounce on it in a future constitution. It is not enough to say who qualifies to be Ghanaian. There should be some elaboration of what it means to be Ghanaian. In particular we would want assurances that a Ghanaian cannot be bartered to a foreign power for whatever national advantage. There are always good Ghanaians and bad Ghanaians. And as in the past there will always be Ghanaians who will collude with foreign nationals and institutions to our disadvantage, but they remain Ghanaians nonetheless. If they deserve punishment, such punishment should be administered by Ghanaians on Ghanaian soil.

If, however, it should turn out that as a people we think that Ghanaian citizenship, like a piece of property, may be confiscated, the future constitution should articulate in no uncertain terms the offences which may be so punished and the procedures by which anyone is rendered non-Ghanaian. We of the STANDARD are unable to contemplate the thought of excluding Ghanaians from Ghana or depriving them of their citizenship, let alone prescribing a procedure thereto: does an Ewe, Akan, Ga or Mamprusi cease to be Ewe, Akan, Ga or Mamprusi because his conduct offends?

We invite the public to reflect on the matter and make their views known because while the parameters remain undefined, punishment by loss of citizenship and exile could easily be ours and we may have done nothing beyond dodging taxes which is also unpatriotic, to deserve it. We will all do well also to recall a little bit of our history for guidance: how long ago Parliament in its wisdom passed the Preventive Detention Act, how after the immediate objective of removing "nation-wreckers", "saboteurs" and other "unpatriotic" elements had been secured, the Act found victims in others whose patriotism had previously not been questioned.

We have a question to ask of the US, too. How could the bastion of Western Democracy be party to a deal like this: eight Ghanaians for another Ghanaian? And if we may further ask, what is the status of those who have arrived in the US? By our say-so they are not Ghanaians any more. Are they Americans? If not, are they stateless! Or don't we care? What has happened is sadly reminiscent of an earlier period of our relations with the US when with the cooperation of the powerful among us, and in return for very little, hordes of our people were conveyed away.

There must be some justifiable happiness at the release and return of Mr Soussoudis to Ghana. But greater must be the feeling of sadness and helplessness on the part of the relatives and friends of the Ghanaians who have been banished in return. But most important, we cannot be so self-centred and so insensitive as to fail to realize that the whole episode of trading off both our birthright and our national dignity demeans all of us considerably.

We do not know how others take all this. For our part we cannot help feeling that we are the losers: We have lost eight Ghanaians to the US, the US none to us, not even Miss Scranage who is now presumably no use to the US State Department but had apparently been helpful to us in identifying CIA operatives in Ghana. Also, some of the exiled were engaged in security work before their arrest, and now in America are we sure they are not going to pass on other information that will be detri- mental to us? And at every stage in this chain of events we have first heard the news from the foreign media before tit-bits have been fed us by our own Government. Even now, as we go to press, we don't know the identities of the four unconvicted persons stripped of their citizenship and exiled. If we may infer from this that we are receding from the idea of an open government we are more the losers.


'A TOUCH OF NOKOKO', the column that pulls people's legs, will be back in next week's issue.

Rawlings and Gaddafi on cover of Talking Drums magazine, 1986-01-13 - Ghana stands by Libya in US dispute - Doe pledges reconciliation