Before the colonial plunderers set their covetous eyes on Africa, there were “states” and “borders”. Of course, they did not fit exactly to the European concept of dominions with exact physical expanse of land containing millions of people controlled by one central authority.
In their attempt to amass and assert ownership of land for the purposes of exclusivity of resource exploitation, the British and the French adopted some arbitrary methods.
In fixing the border between Nigeria and Cameroun, a British colonial officer had this to say: “We just took a blue pencil and a ruler and put it down at Old Calabar, and drew that blue line to Yola. Later when I sat down with the Emir of Adamawa surrounded by his tribe to deliberate matters, I felt that it was a good idea I did not tell him that I drew a blue line that gave away part of his territory.”
In 1906, the British Prime Minister at the time, Lord Salisbury, confirmed the crudeness of drawing African borders when he said: “We have been engaged in drawing upon maps where no white man’s foot ever trod. We gave away mountain ranges, rivers and lakes with no idea of the sources of those landmarks.”
With such arbitrariness, the eastern border of Ghana with Togo is said to have some bizarre features. A house in Ghana has its kitchen and bathroom in Togo territory; the cemetery of a Ghanaian community is in Togo and several Ghanaian cocoa and coffee farms are in Togo; the ancestral fetish house of a Togolese village is in Ghana. There are inter- and cross-marriages among the people. The social and economic relationships date back in history.
Another typical example of a special relationship can be demonstrated by names. A man had three wives, two in Ghana and one in Togo. Like Gas, the children by all the three wives are given clan names. Depending on the order of birth, they would be called Adjei, Adjetey, Anyetey, Arko, Anyorkor, Anyeley, etc. If the man was called Lartey, then there would be three sets of Adjei Lartey, Adjetey Lartey, etc. across the border and these would be reflected in official documents. Names such as Johnston, Amorin and Senaya; or Amavi, Ayayee, Olympio and Grunitzky cannot, on the surface of it, tell whether one is Togolese or Ghanaian.
There is also this phenomenon of temporary human migration arising from conflicts and economic opportunities. There is hardly any family within some 20 kilometres either way of the border that does not have such special relationship in Togo or Ghana. At one time, a person might regard himself a full-blooded Ghanaian, having settled in Ghana before 1957. At another time, he is Togolese because he was born in Togo. Such people may regard themselves as dual citizens. What is the position of the law with regard to such people voting to elect a President in Togo and Ghana? One may ask the same of people who live in close proximity of Kusal (Bawku) and Kofi Badukrom.
The New Patriotic Party (NPP) has demanded a new electoral register because of cunning similarities on Ghana’s and Togo’s electoral registers. Luckily for the NPP case, these similarities have been authenticated by technology. While the case is before the Electoral Commission, the question one must ask is: Apart from complete replacement, is there no other method of cleansing a register? Legal and constitutional brains affirm that the 1992 Ghana Constitution and the relevant CIs provide for such a situation which can be effectively and soberly handled without the current hype.
It has to be stated that the compilation of a fresh electoral register is the most expensive aspect of electoral reform. People who are in a position to know are claiming that a new register for Ghana at today’s prices will cost the nation no less than GH¢ 1,000m. If you ask me, this is like throwing away your old wardrobe for a new one at a time you cannot afford the daily chop money.
Besides, compiling a new register in Ghana is a stressful process of long queues, long hours of embarrassment at the biometric machine, unproductive man-hours and vexatious challenges for proof of age. Why would we need to endure it every three years without the guarantee of one “photoshopped” from heaven?
Since the NPP case is buttressed with specific cases of names and faces — and presumably of addresses — it should be easy investigating them with a view of expunging them from the register if they deserve to be.
As for registration of minors, without the deployment of MRI technology, we will still continue to take the parent’s word for age.
Whatever is decided for the way forward, it is important that we do not lose sight of the fact that the issues involved may touch on our national laws and if not discussed sensitively, might provoke ethnic animosities.