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Opinions of Thursday, 11 September 2014

Columnist: Atta Sakyi, Kwesi

Agony, Alienation, Dilemma, Damnation, and Trials of Ghanaian Diasporeans

By Kwesi Atta Sakyi 9th September 2014

Many home-based Ghanaians who have not had the benefit to travel overseas have wild illusions about life outside their own country, as some erroneously assume that life is a bed of roses out there, with the streets of New York, London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Johannesburg, Madrid, Rome, Sydney, Tel Aviv, among others, paved with gold. Hardly can they conceive the idea that life outside is rough, harsh and tough, despite the sheen and glimmer.

What with inclement weather patterns, bouts with the tax-man, rigid work regimen, austere lifestyle of having your itinerary jam-packed with workloads and deadlines, hints of racism, struggle to regularise your resident status, headaches with mortgage and loan servicing, among a whole raft of problems, which often involve money, time and effort. Home-based Ghanaians have their own expectations of been-tos and returnees, and they judge them by their own metrics.

A returnee or been-to should be seen to be living up to his billing in terms of his dressing, the class of car he drives (a Mercedes, Volvo, Jaguar, Lincoln, BMW, Lexus, Porsche), and the type of palatial mansion he puts up. The house should be of monstrous proportions, an eye-catcher, and cynosure of all eyes. He must be seen to be partying and splashing money around. He must have a magic wand for solving all financial problems referred to him by close relatives.

If it happens to be a festive season like Christmas, he is expected to throw lavish parties, with unending wining and dining, whilst the latest music is playing and the young girls and boys in resplendent clothing do their latest jigs, amidst giggling, and to and froing. Foreign drinks must flow like water. The air should be saturated with the scent of goat, chicken, lamb and beef roasting as khebab or braii for the guests.

He must provide free booze and delicacies to whoever calls at the party, and visitors who call must not be seen off without some parting of gifts of money, a veritable Santa Claus. The returnee is expected to go to his church and make a heavy donation. Other pastors of nondescript denominations may send him invitations to chair their harvest offerings or a flurry of envelopes may be received by him to make donations towards annual harvests of churches he has never heard of. His abode will be a centre of partying if he allows it. His nieces and nephews will suddenly accelerate their engagement and wedding plans as long as they have him around.

The returnee will be prevailed upon to go visit his uncles and aunties in other towns to greet them, which often cannot be done unscathed, as huge sums of money have to exchange hands. His alma mater will prevail upon him as alumnus to donate books, stationery, sports kits, computers, school furniture, among others, or take the responsibility to construct some new block or make handsome donations to the PTA for their projects. Representatives of some political parties will be knocking on his door to become their MP flagbearer or patron, or the kingmakers in the town will suddenly discover he has connections to the royal stool, and they will cry for him to accept to mount the stool of the ancestors.

Agony is when having lived abroad for long, and you take a stroll round and find the gutters uncleaned and smelling with abominable miasma, or ECG cuts electricity intermittently, or water dries up in the taps, or fuel is nowhere to be found. Agony also assails you when you find that you want to clear your car from the ports or customs and you are given a merry-go-round for days on end, with bribes being extracted at every turn, or you go to passport office to get a new passport. The worst sometimes occurs when you go to the bank and they tell you there is no money, or that they will take some days to clear your cheque.

The returnee who does plan to stay for good will be prevailed upon to go back where he came from, because nothing works well in Ghana (Ogyakrom). One is told the educational system does not function properly so one should keep one’s children abroad till they complete school there. When then will one come back home when the children have dug in and are used to western ways? The news media churns out negative news always of Ebola, Cholera, Typhoid, Dumsor, political instability, among others. Our media is not very reliable these days as they cook up a lot of stories for the sake of selling their papers and creating sensationalism. Then political jingoism in Ghana jars on one’s nerves, and puts you off balance, because instead of solving real problems, politicians are busy name-calling and finger-pointing on TV, radio, ad nauseam.

Before MoneyGram and Western Union came on board, many a Ghanaian Disporean was fleeced by his friends and relatives who received monies from relatives abroad but did not put those monies to their intended purposes, leading to heart breaks and great disappointments. The Diasporean arrives home without a pension, without national insurance, and sometimes he is treated to some sour looks. When abroad, he cannot vote nor sometimes enjoy full citizenship rights of his host country. Yet he is revered abroad for his skills.

It is even worse for his home country Ghana, which disenfranchises him by denying him the right to vote while in the Diaspora. When is a Ghanaian half-Ghanaian or non-Ghanaian? When will a Ghanaian returnee be entitled to stand for elections immediately he arrives home? When will we have a Minister for Diaspora Affairs? Remember, remittances from Diasporeans constitute a major source of foreign exchange earnings for Ghana.

Worse still, with all your qualifications, exposure, and skills, you are declared irrelevant in your own country, yet we need people with ideas to help build our country. If you do not have contacts, you will never get a job, yet we are being wooed to come home.

Those at home think your ideas are foreign and far-fetched, and also perhaps, you are attenuated from the realities on the ground, forgetting that in this day and age of ICT, sometimes, Diasporeans are better informed than those at home. Those at home will take your money if you donate it, but they will not care to give you a job. Why do we Ghanaians deny ourselves of our own expertise? This is why some Ghanaians feel shy to come home. Of course, some have married and have settled down in foreign climes where they have sowed their wild oats, and planted their tap roots. After all is said and done, remember the Sankofa ancestral symbol of returning home to roost.