Wednesday 22nd July, 2020


By Dr. A. Mohammed

Now that the registration exercise was over, perhaps it is appropriate to discuss the delicate issue of who is a Ghanaian in a more somber atmosphere devoid of partisan motivation. 

In the past few weeks, the question of who is a Ghanaian has occupied the centre stage of discussion in many of the local papers.  The question has been discussed from different angles and have been very healthy.

In this regard, I am particularly impressed with the contribution of Prof. Kumado on 'who is a Ghanaian citizen' in one of the local papers. I believe many have been enlightened by his scholarly presentation of the issue.


I wish as a non-legal person to present here my humble contribution on the issue. There was nothing as a Ghanaian or Ghanaian citizen before 1957.  The bulk of the people living in the land that we call Ghana today were British subjects or protectorates.  The people were affectionately called Gold Coasters.

On the eve of Independence from the British colonial dominance, it became necessary to define and delimit the citizenry of the new country Ghana.  Towards this end, a law was promulgated by the Government of Ghana on the 10th of May, 1957 on the subject matter. It is of particular interest to note that the subject matter of Ghanaian citizenship was discussed in depth between Governments of Ghana and United Kingdom for many months and debated fully in Ghana's first Independence Parliament before it was enacted. 


The historic law on citizenship which was passed into law on the 10th May, 1957 was entitled the "Ghana Nationality and Citizenship Act" in short, the Citizenship Act of 1957.

The Citizenship Act of 1957 establishes three main determinants of Ghanaian citizenship.  These are (a) citizenship by birth, (b) citizenship by descent and (c) citizenship by registration. 

The first and perhaps the most basic determinant is the Ghanaian citizenship by birth.  Under the provision of this law any person who was born in Ghana before or after the 6th of March, 1957 and one of whose parents or grandparents was also born in Ghana is a citizen of Ghana. The law further provided that such a person must also at birth be a British subject or a British protected person.  Clearly, the first determinant of Ghanaian citizenship by birth is the place of one’s birth and that of one’s parents.

It is significant to note that no where in this law was it stated or provided that to be a citizen of Ghana one has only to come from the known indigenous tribes of the country.  In any event, to use ethnic or tribal background as the litmus test of citizenship will not only be offensive to civilized accommodation but in the case of Ghana, impracticable. 

This is so because many of Ghana's borderline indigenous tribes have tribal cousins in the neighbouring countries of Togo, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.  It would therefore be simply difficult to differentiate for instance an Ewe born in Togo from the one born in Ghana if the yardstick is language or ethnic background. It is therefore the path of wisdom and native logic for the founding fathers of Ghana to decide on the place of birth as the determinant of Ghanaian citizenship.

Thus on the basis of the 1957 Citizenship Act, the first generation of Ghanaians were determined.  This generation include not only Gas, Ewes, Asante, Grunshies etc but also Hausas, Yorubas, Sierra Leonians and even West Indians whose parents and themselves were born in the Gold Coast.

The lesson that comes out clearly from Ghana's Citizenship Act which cannot be over-emphasized is the primacy of one's birth place and the importance of birth certificates.

Thus to establish one's citizenship the first recourse is the birth certificate wich indicates birth place.      

Thus if the issuing of birth certificates has not been taken very seriously in the past, it is incumbent on us as a nation to spare time and effort to regulate the issue of birth certificates to every person born in Ghana and secondly ensure that the issue of birth certificate is made effective, efficient and corrupt-free.  The same concern should also be extended to the documentation and registration of births and deaths in the country.

The second determinant of Ghanaian citizenship relates to those persons of Ghanaian ancestry who were not born in Ghana.  This is an odd situation because it meant a Ga person or Dagomba, who was not born in Ghana cannot claim to be Ghanaian by birth.  This goes to emphasize the uniqueness of the place of birth in the Ghanaian citizenship law. However, to accommodate such persons, the 1957 Act provides for such persons to claim Ghanaian citizenship on the basis of descent.  That is, for example an Ashanti man born outside can invoke descent as the basis of his Ghanaian citizenship, if his parents were born in Ghana. Later amendments of the law provided for persons born outside Ghana to claim citizenship by birth if they show that their parents or grandparents were from Ghana.

The third determinant of Ghanaian citizenship is that acquired by application and registration.  The first of such requirements relates to those non-Ghanaians who have married Ghanaians.  Thus a non-Ghanaian, African or non-African who marries a Ghanaian can apply by virtue of the marriage to be registered as a Ghanaian.  Under the 1957 Act, the provision of acquiring a Ghanaian citizenship by marriage was limited to only spouses of Ghanaian husbands.  This provision was later amplified to include the non-Ghanaian spouses of Ghanaian women to remove the apparent discrimination against Ghanaian women in the original provision.

It is pertinent to add that for the information of non-Ghanaian who have married Ghanaian, the acquisition of Ghanaian citizenship under this provision is not automatic. 

The non-Ghanaian has to formally apply to be registered as a Ghanaian.

A sub-sector of the third determinant is Ghanaian citizenship acquired by naturalization. 


This provision I believe was made to accommodate a large number of persons who have lived in Ghana and identified with Ghana for many years.  The point to note here, that under the law, no matter how long a person has lived in Ghana, if he was not born in Ghana and none of his parents was born in Ghana, he cannot be a Ghanaian automatically.  To become a Ghanaian citizen, such a person has to regularize his status by applying and registering.  It is interesting to comment that many non-Africans who have lived in Ghana for years are very much aware of this provision and have availed themselves of the facility.  It is the non-Ghanaian Africans who appear to be ignorant of the need to regularize their status.  It is perhaps time for our African brothers who have lived in Ghana for years and have identified with Ghanaian aspirations and wish to be Ghanaian citizens to avail themselves of this provision to avoid unnecessary embarrassment for instance during voters registration exercise.

Now, one may wonder, why we have spent so much time on the 1957 Citizenship Act which in fact has been repealed.  The answer is simple.  The Ghana Nationality and Citizenship Act of 1957 is the mother of all the laws on Ghanaian Citizenship that have been enacted since Independence namely the citizenship laws of 1961, 1967 and 1971. The constitutions that were promulgated in 1969, 1979, 1992 and 2000 under the chapters on citizenship confirmed the status quo by stating that, "every persons who on coming into force of this constitution is a citizen of Ghana by law shall continue to be a citizen of Ghana". The point of initial reference on these constitutions is the Citizenship Act of 1957.


Thus since 1957 the basic parameters of the Ghanaian citizenship law have not been tampered with in anyway. 

The amendments and additions that have been added since then were designed to amplify and remove loose ends in the 1957 Citizenship Act.  For instance, a new provision which was added in subsequent Ghana Citizenship Law relate to children of not more than seven years of age found in Ghana and whose parents are not known.  The law provides that such children shall be presumed to be Ghanaian citizens. 

Another addition refers to non-Ghanaians up to the age of sixteen years who have been adopted by Ghanaians.  These adopted children are permitted to claim citizenship of Ghana by virtue of the adoption. 

All these additions have been made to remove hardship in the existing law of citizenship thus giving the Ghanaian citizenship law a human face.

The Ghanaian citizenship law although a human document, the principle that informs it, is justice, fairness and humanity.  It is therefore most unfortunate to read and sometime hear some Ghanaians describe other Ghanaians whose tribes are not indigenous to Ghana as aliens. This is particularly so when such persons do not have indigenous Ghanaian names such as Kofi, Kwame or Adjeikai.  This was the sad story of the reported case of the eighteen year old woman who probably carried the name Fati and was refused access to registration simply because she answered the registration official that she was an Hausa. It is true that the Hausas live predominantly in Nigeria.  But it is also very true that the Hausas have been in Ghana for centuries.  Many of these Hausas who have made their homes in Ghana can trace their ancestors in Ghana back to many generations.  Available historical records show that the Hausas and the Wangaras in particular arrived in Ghana and lived with the local people long before the advent of the white man.  The Hausas have lived so long in Ghana and to the extent that they have developed a distinct Hausa language that is peculiarly Ghanaian.  This Hausa language of Ghana is not easily comprehensive to the Hausas of Nigeria.


The other day one of the local FM Radios was host to one of the ace under 17 Ghanaian footballers.  In the interview one of the listeners wondered that the ace footballer spoke excellent Twi and asked what was his tribe.  He answered that he was an Hausa. 

 This ace footballer is a Ghanaian born and made in Ghana but by the definition of our reported registration official, he is not a Ghanaian because Hausas are not from Ghana.  This is clearly an affront to the constitution.

The crass misconception of the citizenship law and of "who is a Ghanaian" manifested by the alleged Registration Official is very common and is a source of anguish and anger to many non-indigenous Ghanaian victims.  In the colonial days, the subject civics is one of the compulsory subject thought at the elementary schools. Perhaps it is a high time the authorities reintroduce the subject civics as a compulsory subject in the schools to enable the young generations to learn in depth about its people and the constitution of Ghana.

As I have already indicated in the opening paragraph of this paper, I am writing from the point of view of a layman.  I am very much aware that the subject of citizenship is the sphere of law that is very involved and has many ramifications and implications.  I do not pretend that this paper is definitive or even detailed enough. 


My only justification in writing this paper is that the subject is topical and if this contribution will lead or evoke further discussion and wide education of the public on "Who is a Ghanaian" my effort would have been amply rewarded. 

                PS:  This paper was written in November 1995 but I believe it is relevant today as it was in 1995 when Voters registration exercise was in progress.

_The writer was the former Deputy Governor of Bank of Ghana and a Member of the Constituent Assembly of 1969_


Tuesday, August 5, 2008