Citizens or Spectators? Civic Engagement and Informality of Citizenship in Ghana

  • Kofi Takyi Asante University of Ghana
Keywords: citizenship, attached-detachment, participation, ethnicity, Ghana

Abstract

In his inauguration speech on 7th January 2017, President Nana Akufo-Addo challenged Ghanaians to be ‘ citizens not spectators.’ This call resonates with conceptions of citizenship that prioritise the state as the most salient arena of engagement. But social and political-economy factors shape how and where social belonging and civic participation get enacted. This paper offers some reflections on patterns of social belonging and civic engagement using data from the nationally representative Afrobarometer survey, which I supplement with qualitative materials from newspaper sources and in-depth interviews. The findings indicate that Ghanaians have a strong sense of social belonging and national attachment, but also shy away from formal engagement
with the state. This phenomenon of attached-detachment is manifested in enthusiastic participation in highly circumscribed aspects of national political life, like voting, while recoiling from more institutionally structured aspects of civic life. Proximity – physically or socially defined – is important for this enactment of citizenship. There is high engagement with state officials that are nearby, but rarely with those at arm’s-length. The paper elaborates on the underlying informality of this approach to citizenship.

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