The Zongo Person and Ghanaian Citizenship Comrade Abass Fuseini Sbaabe

President Akufo Addo greets the National Chief Imam

There is no doubt that the Zongos in the country were part and parcel of the formative stages of the country we call Ghana today. The inhabitants of Zongos are mainly made up of the descendants of immigrants from the West African Subregion. This article is not focused on telling the history of Zongo people but to prove their Ghanaian citizenship. The current Voter Registration Exercise saw several Zongo people being declared aliens by agents of NPP at various registration centres across the country. This is what prompted me to alert my fellow brothers and sisters to understand issues relating to their citizenship.

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Sometimes, Zongo people have difficulties defending their citizenship because members of the Registration Review Committees are ignorant of the complex law on citizenship in Ghana. People who declare that they were Fulanis or Zabramahs were not asked further questions because to some committee members, Fulanis and Zabramah people are not Ghanaians. At some of the registration centers in Fanteakwa North, some Akans were challenged based on citizenship and a lot of lessons were learnt when they fumbled and tumbled several times in their attempt to prove their Ghanaian citizenship. This tells you the quagmire in which all of us, including the so-called indigenous citizens of the land have in proving their citizenship.

Many Hausas and other West Africans were recruited under the Royal West African Forces Front (RWAFF) to protect the interest of colonial masters in the Gold Coast. We cannot ignore the role of Gloval Hausas who settled in Accra Central and made it a business hub. Think of Makola, Adabraka, Cowlane, Zongo Lane Nima, Shukura, Taifa, Madina and many other places in Accra that were developed by the descendants of these Hausas and early immigrant from West Africa.

Some of the immigrants entered as slave raiders and later decided to remain in the country even before the Bond of 1844 was signed. Some of these people of Zabramah origin have been completely assimilated in the Krobo areas and their great grandchildren cannot even tell where they hail from in Niger. Others entered from Francophone countries because of the highhandedness of the French colonialists. Their entry into the Gold Coast was facilitated by the British Colonialists who found them as cheap source of labour.

„In 1916 and 1917, more than 12,000 people left Cote d‟Ivoire for Ghana. Large numbers of Togolese also left for Ghana, and in 1910, as many as 14,000 Togolese migrated from the Misahohe district alone into Ghana. It was also estimated during the First World War that obligatory cultivation of cash crops in Burkina Faso was responsible for 100,000 Mossi leaving for Ghana, and in 1930, again, 160, 000 labourers from Burkina Faso left for Ghana“ – Adjei Adjepong, University of Cape Coast.

They were ready to do the minial jobs that the indigenous Ghanaians were unwilling to do. They were mainly used in constructing rail lines, they offered labour at mining sites and were mainly in charge of Cocoa cultivation in Ghana. Together with these immigrants, the indigenes organized communal labour too construct virgin roads in Ghana and to carry cocoa from the hinterlands to railway stations.

Zongo Chiefs in Ghana

The people of Zongo can be compared to the whites and Asians in South Africa. The difference is that the whites entered South Africa and colonized them but the Zongo people came to humbly serve. The unfortunate thing is that the colonialists and their descendants were recognized as citizens of South African but the immigrants who didn’t have native lands and do not belong to any indigenous Ghanaian tribes but were part of building, developing and struggling for independence for Ghana, were never recognized as Ghanaians.

The British colonialists relaxed immigration laws and allowed free movement of people from the West African Subregion and after independence, the open-door policy of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah made the immigrants feel like true Ghanaians. Nobody thought of any working permits, though the laws were there. The laws were like the capital punishmnet laws in our statutes, but which have not been implemented for ages, even though thousands of Ghanaians are on the death roll.

Out of the blues, came the Aliens Compliance Order (ACO) enacted by the government of Prof. K. A Busia. The law asked people who had stayed in Ghana for Centuries but who were not natives of any land in Ghana, to acquire residence permits within two weeks or be expelled back to their countries of origin. They had only 14 days to leave the country and they could not take more than ¢200.00 cedis on them! So, in a rush to sell their properties, supply exceeded demand because thousands of houses and lands were sold at knockdown prices.

Zongo Chiefs

Those born in Ghana were considered Ghanaians by the laws operating at that time so even if your father or mother was 90 years old, you were supposed to send them back to their countries of origin and then you could come back and settle in Ghana!

What many Ghanaians, especially the NPP people do not know is that, at independence, all those who were born under British Colonial Empire were considered as nationals of the British Empire. There was no Ghana but there was Gold Coast. Gold Coast was part of the British Empire and so those who were born in Gold Coast became Citizens of Gold Coast. When Ghana gained its Independence on 6th March 1957, ALL the Gold Coasters became Citizens of Ghana. In fact, British who were born in Ghana were considered Ghanaians by birth and they were given the option to remain citizens of Ghana or hand over their Gold Coast/Ghana passports and take up the citizenship of UK. After the enactment of the Independence Constitution of Ghana, we had other Constitutions and each Constitution amended how Ghanaian citizenship could be acquired. None of the Constitutions or decrees successfully nullified the citizenship of those who were born in Gold Coast and became Ghanaians by birth. Some of the amendments did not allow children born in Ghana of alien parents to become automatic Ghanaians after the enactment of those Constitutions and Decrees. It is important to repeat that those who were born in Ghana of alien parents became automatic Ghanaians and did not need to derive their citizenship from their parents. They became Ghanaians because they were born in Ghana, according to the LAWS operating at that time. No law in Ghana could be backdated to nullify the citizenship of the children of aliens born in Ghana and who through the operations of the law, became citizens of Ghana.

This is where the inhabitants of Zongos who were born in Ghana of alien parents acquired their Ghanaian citizenship from – they are Ghanaians by birth. Once they acquired Ghanaians citizenship, their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren derived their citizenship from these Gold Coasters who became Ghanaians by birth.

So, if you are a Zongo person who was born in Gold Coast before Independence, you became a Ghanaian by birth.

I will cite attempts by the National Liberation Council (NLC) to deprive the citizenship of some British nationals born in Ghana by enacting one law to have a backdated effect on the previous laws that gave Some Brits citizenship of Ghana and what the decision of the court was.

Summary of Facts: Plaintiffs, British had acquired Ghanaian citizenship in 1968 Under NLCD 191 that conferred automatic citizenship unto anybody born in Ghana, irrespective of the nationality of their parents.

The National Liberation Council by a decree NLCD 333 had revoked all citizenship acquired under NLCD 191. Plaintiffs enquired as to whether they could engage in transport business of which aliens were restricted from. They were told that they were not Ghanaians. Plaintiffs brought an ACTION for a declaration that they had Ghanaian nationality. The NLC amended NLCD 191 with another Decree (Amendment) Decree, 1968 (N.L.C.D. 333). The amended Decree (NLCD 333) was meant to have a backdated effect on NLCD 191, hence all persons who had acquired citizenship by application had it revoked.

The courts held that it was impossible for N.L.C.D. 191 that conferred Ghanaian citizenship on children born in Ghana of alien parents to have been amended by N.L.C.D. 333 unless N.L.C.D. 191 was in existence before N.L.C.D. 333. No one can substitute one thing for a thing which has never existed.

The plaintiffs therefore acquired citizenship under N.L.C.D. 191 and N.L.C.D. 333 did not specifically divest those who had so acquired citizenship of their rights.

By the Constitution of 1969, articles 5 and 6, the plaintiffs remained Ghanaian citizens because they were born in Ghana and the new definition of citizen in the Ghana Nationality Act, 1971 (Act 361), is void and of no effect in so far as it seeks to restrict citizenship within narrower limits than those prescribed in the Constitution. The plaintiffs were declared citizens of Ghana by the law court.

We need one more evidence of the above to convince every single Zongo person who was born in Ghana before independence or whose parents or grandparents were born in Ghana before independence that they are Ghanaians. Example of such people include His Eminence the Chief Imam of Ghana, Sheik Imam Shaributu, who is of Hausa extraction but born in Ghana more than a century ago and Samira Bawumia, the wife of the Vice President of Ghana, who is of Fulani extraction but whose parents were born in Ghana before Independence. Whilst the Chief Imam derives Ghanaian citizenship by birth (born under the British Colonial Empire), Samira Bawumia, derives her citizenship from her father, who is a Ghanaian by birth.

A Ghanaian passport issued to my biological father on 26th day of April 1971, contains an interesting note that every Zongo person must take note of. There are some notes on the last page of the passport that talks about Dual Nationality at the time.

„Persons born abroad of Ghana Parents or BORN IN GHANA OF FOREIGN PARENTS, women married to aliens and naturalized persons may possess a foreign nationality in addition to Ghana citizenship….“ (emphasis mine).

The above example and many other cited here show where the people of Zongo derive their Ghanaian citizenship from.


What does the 1992 Constitution say about who a Ghanaian is?

“Article 6(1) Every person who, on the coming into force of this constitution, is a citizen of Ghana by “LAW” shall continue to be a citizen of Ghana“ (Emphasis mine)

This is the meaty part of the discussion. THOSE WHO ARE CITIZENS BY LAW SHALL CONTINUE TO BE CITIZENS OF GHANA! I have already established why people of Zongo of alien origins became citizens of Ghana by law and the 1992 Constitution came to reinforce rather than to nullify the citizenship of those who became Ghanaians by law. Take note that the 1992 Constitution didn’t say one must hail from any CITY/TOWN OR A VILLAGE in Ghana to become a Ghanaian and it did not say one must speak an IDIGENOUS Ghanaian language to become a Ghanaian. So where from the claims that because a Zongo person does not hail from a particular town in Ghana apart from Zongo or doesn’t belong to a given indigenous tribe like AKyem, Asante or Ga, it doesn’t make him or her a Ghanaian? Our tribal lineages and hometowns do not make a person a Ghanaian. It is the LAW that does.

According to Lawyer Elikplim Agbemava, Managing Partner of Fidelity Law Group, „Most persons belonging to the indigenous ethnic groupings in Ghana and who are born in Ghana presume that they are Ghanaian citizens because they belong to indigenous tribes of Ghana apart from being born in Ghana.

The Fulani and Hausa people who reside in Ghana have long regarded themselves as Ghanaians mostly because most of them were born in Ghana. A Hausa or Fulani though not an indigene should be able to legally claim Ghanaian citizenship if that person can prove that he or she was born in Ghana. Citizenship by birth should mean just that! The additional requirement of proving your grandparent is or was a Ghanaian is a misnomer and a surplus requirement. Our Citizenship laws are not based on principles of indigenousness. With the current state of our Citizenship laws an Akan, Ewe, Mossi, Dagomba or Ga can easily find him or herself in the predicament of the Hausa and the Fulani“.

It is my prayer that Zongo people who are constantly harassed in Ghana based on their nationality will find this piece a useful reference material.

I am a Zongo person and a proud Ghanaian.

Comrade Abass Fuseini Sbaabe is former DCE, Fanteakwa District

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