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A historical account of the movement that led to ROPAA and what must be done to see it to fruition

I don’t know what I was thinking but for a moment I convinced myself that I was a lawyer. The constitutional provision (Chapter 7 (42)) read: “Every citizen of Ghana of eighteen years of age or above and of sound mind has the right to vote and is entitled to be registered as a voter for the purposes of public elections and referenda.”

“Wait,” I said to myself. “It doesn’t say ‘every citizen of Ghana residing in Ghana…’”

That’s when I started entertaining this crazy idea that we Ghanaians abroad can actually vote in Ghana’s election. Interestingly the ‘crazy’ part was not just my word – that’s the very word used to address me the first time I mustered the nerve to present this idea at the NPP North America Congress in New Jersey in 2002. Fortunately someone had the same faith I had. In 2004 Kofi Boateng, then the Chairman of NPP-USA invited me to make an elaborate presentation on the idea at the party’s national congress in New York City.

My presentation featuring sample ballots for Senegalese diaspora vote happened to catch the interest of Keynote Speaker and Foreign Minister of Ghana Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo. After my presentation he motioned me to come over and show him the Senegalese absentee ballots. At the presenters’ table, so absorbed were we on our ensuing discussion that we both were oblivious of the fact that we were actually interrupting the proceedings until Kofi Boateng drew out attention to it. Nana promptly gave me his business card and asked me to stay engaged with him on the subject.

For the next few months Nana and I would interface routinely on how to move forward the idea of Ghanaians living abroad voting in Ghana’s election. Through it all, though, I could sense his struggles; on the one hand he truly believed in the fairness of, and the legal argument for Ghanaians abroad voting in Ghana’s elections. On the other hand, his thinly veiled presidential ambition made his open pursuit of such a proposition tricky to say the least. The Ghanaian media would take him to the cleaners if he became the face of the movement to get Ghanaians abroad voting in Ghana’s elections while at the same time planning to run for president.

It didn’t make things easier that Nana Akufo-Addo headed one of only two ministries (Justice and Foreign Affairs) with the statutory jurisdiction to spearhead the issue in Parliament. Thankfully any possible backlash was averted when in early 2005 the Minister of Justice submitted the Representation of the People Amendment Bill (ROPAB) to Parliament. And that’s when the idea graduated from crazy to the hottest cause to be involved in.

All along since embarking upon this crusade, I had been the fortunate recipient of technical guidance from none other than Nana Sarfo Kantanka, Deputy Electoral Commissioner in charge of operations. Thus in May 2005 when Nana Sarfo Kantanka informed me of his June vacation trip to the United States, I saw an opportunity to organize Town Hall Meetings with communities to galvanize support for the diaspora voting campaign. If the idea of Ghanaians in the diaspora voting in Ghana’s election coming from Jermaine Nkrumah was a crazy concept, an authoritative figure such as the Deputy Electoral Commissioner saying the same thing would definitely lend credence to the campaign.

I promptly set up a town hall meeting in Houston on June 25, 2005 and got Kofi Boateng to agree to set a second one up in New York City a couple of days later. Although concept supporters such as attorney Nuamah in Seattle, Washington, Counsel Agyenim Boateng of Louisville, Kentucky, and Michael Baffoe in Montreal, Canada could not hold similar town hall meetings in their respective localities, they agreed to participate in the first conference call scheduled as a follow up to the town hall meetings in Houston and New York.

We needed a group to champion the movement and I thought Diaspora Vote Committee (DVC) was an apt name. For the initial conference call I suggested that we recruit two people per city and reach out to our friends in other parts of the world so as to give the movement a global flair. But it would have been counterproductive to have tried to obstruct the stampede-like enthusiasm from the New Yorkers. In fact we needed that to get the formal movement off to a great beginning. And Kofi Boateng’s organizational skills was evident early so I had no problem allowing him to lead DVC.

It was all-hands-on-deck from that point on. Agyenim Boateng (Kentucky) and Kwaku Azar (Florida) provided valuable legal guidance as some of us penned advocacy articles. And thanks to Kwasi Afrifa (New York)’s efforts, we secured funding to send 16 of our members to Ghana to lobby Parliament and blitz the airwaves in support of passing ROPAB. Our trip ended up being a game changer because the opposition to ROPAB was much fiercer locally than we knew of from the other side of the Atlantic.

In fact so organized was the ROPAB opposition that spies were sent to SSNIT Guest House where we stayed as a group to monitor our movements. But we were not deterred. SSNIT Guest House remained our operational base for roughly two weeks before we dispersed although many of us remained in Ghana long enough to see Parliament pass ROPAB into law. But it wasn’t until His Excelllency President John Agyekum Kufuor signed the bill into law on February 24, 2006 that we breathed a sigh of relief to signal the crossing of a historically significant milestone.

A couple of months or so after Representation of the People Amendment Bill (ROPAB) had become Representation of the People Amendment Act (ROPAA), during the Memorial Day Weekend, Michael Baffoe was gracious enough to host members of the DVC in Montreal, Canada to brainstorm ideas on how the new law would be implemented. Although I missed my flight and miss the all-important meeting, my colleagues did an outstanding job of collating brilliant ideas on ROPAA implementation.

Unfortunately political will to implement ROPAA has been a scarce commodity. As we sought to ride the adrenaline of ROPAA’s enactment to push for its implementation for the 2008 election, the NPP posited that in light of the stiff opposition to the law from the opposition NDC and the likelihood of electoral violence as promised by some elements of the NDC in the event of ROPAA’s implementation, the government should shelve the law and “beat the NDC without ROPAA” before implementing it in 2012. Needless to say, history took an entirely different course and ROPAA has remained on the shelves.

But with His Excellency President Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo’s announcement eleven years later at the opening ceremony of the 2017 Ghana Diaspora Homecoming Summit that ROPAA will be implemented in the 2020 elections, the Ghanaian diaspora community would accept nothing less than the full implementation of ROPAA for our next general election.

But how would ROPAA be implemented?

(Watch out for Part Two of this article for proposed ideas)

By Jermaine Nkrumah

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