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Opinions of Thursday, 9 July 2009

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

“Boggers” Don’t Count, And I Can Prove It!

Don’t Believe The Hype: “Boggers” Don’t Count, And I Can Prove It!

WORDS HAVE consequences. And, Dr. Kennedy learned that in a hard way, when he tried to inject a little politics into the Ghanaian immigrants’ socioeconomic issue. And you would not believe the number of hits on the Ghanaian websites his comment generated. Some of you reading this are probably some of the people who saturated the blogosphere with your comments.

There are always politically charged debates about Ghanaian immigrants’ (Boggers’) remittances. The debates on the role and significance of these remittances in the Ghana’s economy reached their peak—thanks to Dr. Kennedy’s comment made last year on a radio station in Ghana. He allegedly said “Ghanaians in the diaspora contributed about $ 4 to 6 billion into the economy as against the $500 million in the NDC era”

He did bring up a controversial topic which has sparked-spirited and downright-hearted discussions about Ghanaian immigrants in the diaspora and their role in the political process in Ghana. It also exposed the broken promises of every Ghanaian government. For over a decade, every political party has made a promise it could not keep about the Ghanaian immigrants: Their frustrations, aspirations and how to ease their return journey home. Although Dr. Kennedy’s comment was not an eyebrow-raising statement, it generated a lot of discussions. Why is that?

By now Nana Akuffo Addo’s former campaign communication director, Dr. Arthur Kennedy’s comment about Boggers’ remittances is no longer news. And, the issue is not whether the figure he cited was an exaggeration or underestimation. Nevertheless, it was evidently known that his comment was designed to showcase the role Ghanaian immigrants play in the home-front’s economy. His comment was to a larger extent designed to win political points at home and abroad. But it back fired. Big time!

What’s even distressing about the remittances’ debate is that the beneficiaries of these remittances do not see our role in their lives, let alone in the national economy.

No less disheartening is the media’s muted reaction to, and even condoning of, the government’s conduct of neglecting its own population living abroad.

Anyway, when I learned of his comment my first question was: So If Ghanaian immigrants play such an important role in the Ghanaian economy why didn’t the Ghanaian government after government do any thing to lure them home?

Well, his comment drew ire from both NPP foes and friends. It also lit up the blogosphere on the Ghanaian websites. With that I would like to conduct my own unscientific survey to gauge your reaction to the comment.

Quick, before I get into it, can I see by a show of hands, how many Ghanaian immigrants in the diaspora do you know who think that the NPP party or any Ghana government has the interest of the Ghanaian immigrants at heart? How many of us do think any politician is going to make it easier for us to re-claim our citizenships or move to Ghana ?

The Ghanaian immigrants’ remittances and their role in the economy have become a lightning rod, which some people use to take away from the real issue about Ghanaian immigrants’ plights when they go home.

The fact of the matter is the plights of Ghanaian immigrants are only talked about during election season to fool us to finance their election campaigns. In other words, we are the ATM machines, funding political campaigns, and home- front’s financial needs. So Mr. Kennedy was doing what every politician does in election season----to trumpet Ghanaian immigrants’ importance so as to maximize their financial contributions----simple as that. So let’s cut him some slack.

Maybe (just maybe) his comment was a little inflated and full of posturing and posing, but there was some truth to it. But, please don’t write to me about this one. Folks, it’s not about being an NPP or NDC sympathizer. I’m a die-hard AGG (anything good for Ghana) party member. Yes, you can belong to either party and think that way. I have a lot of irons in the fire, just like everyone else and I want to bring them out in my writings. So please don’t write me and complain about me bashing your party. Yes, I know sometimes it’s easier for you political junkies to tow the parties’ lines because you’re a registered NPP or NDC or CPP member, than to ask whether the party’s line makes sense or not.

This is about the Ghanaian immigrants in the diaspora and how government after government in Ghana has taken their needs, aspirations and dreams for granted. So please don’t twist it around and use it to launch your own personal political campaign on this forum.

Ironically, every political party in Ghana is made up of members many of whom have spent several years abroad. In other words the parties are filled with ex-boggers who supposed to know better ,but they do not care once they get onboard on the gravy- train .The ride becomes so comfortable that it’s easier to forget all the talk and dream about their fellow immigrants .

The fact is any serious government in Ghana should pay particular attention to this segment of the population if it wants to make a difference.

Does the government know the actual number of Ghanaians living abroad and their skills? If not then why not? Every mediocre military leader not only knows how many weapons in his arsenal ,but the number of soldiers under his command ,before he embarks on any military adventure .So if our government and policy makers don’t care to know this vital information then it’s fair to say that Ghanaian immigrants are not part of the national equation. .

If nothing at all the following reasons should help to explain to the government the need to tap the Ghanaian immigrants:

1) They bring knowledge, skills and experience to Ghana which they add immensely to our human resources...

2)The outflow of talented Ghanaians in the diaspora, who were once considered “ the brain drain” are also going to be the driving force behind the country’s growth and worth creation.

3) It’s estimated that Ghanaians in the diaspora, with about 1-2 million members around the globe are perhaps investing more in Ghana than any group.

4) They are philanthropists, investment capital ventures and their charitable donations are keeping the country healthy.

5) They represent a significant part of potential human and financial capital for Ghana.

6) The homeownerships, economic activities and entrepreneurial skills are relatively higher among the immigrants than the entire population.

Enough! Now let’s get on with what the present government is doing to address the “concerns” or the needs of the Ghanaian immigrants----quotation marks are necessary because one man’s “concerns” are another man’s non- issues. It depends on how we see the total picture of the national development vis- a vis- the role of the Ghanaian immigrants.

Yes, Ghanaian immigrants in the diaspora have contributed substantial amount of dollars into the Ghana economy ----- Big deal!

Yeah, yeah, .And….? What do we get in return? For some of us, it’s easier to apply for the U.S citizenship than apply for dual citizenship of Ghana. In our own country of birth we have to struggle to get a visa to travel there. .And to top it off we are required to produce a ‘yellow card’ (immunization record) at Ghana embassy in New York in order to apply for a visa to Ghana. Without it no visa will be issued. So we end up spending $200.00 at Doctor’s office to acquire one. It is doubtful that the probability of the spread of health problems was carefully considered before setting up such health certification requirement for a visa.

Also it seems the workers at Ghana embassies around the world act as if a Ghanaian immigrant holding a “foreign” passport is a traitor, who ran away from Ghana to seek better life while his /her country was in dire strait. Even foreigners are given preferential treatment at our embassies than Ghanaians.

Has any government realized how difficult it is for “expatriates” to make their way back to Ghana? It does not pay to be a Ghanaian immigrant. Not only we are disproportionately the frontline recipients of the armed robbers’ vengeance, we are marked everywhere we go in Ghana. We pay more for taxi service, products, labor and other services than the average citizen. Almost everybody wants to milk us like fat cows.

The issue comes down to this: At the governmental level, immigrants are not part of the agenda. In other words, the strategic importance of the Ghanaian immigrants on Ghana’s economy is not recognized .The government policies; from infrastructural support to personal security and other structures are not designed to attract Ghanaian immigrants home. Even, when governments, after government drums up the need for direct foreign investments, Ghanaian immigrants in the diaspora are not part of the economic picture. The government usually, thinks in terms of big –time foreign investors. And it sets up the “free zones” to facilitate their movement, visa, land acquisition, money transfers, business registrations, etc. All that is promoted and initiated at the ministerial levels. But can Ghana make it without it migrant population?

It’s important to point out that the developed countries like US, UK, Canada and Australia have policies to attract the best of the human resources, to grow and sustain their economy.

It is debatable how many Ghanaian immigrants are out there and/or the amount of their remittances, but certainly their contributions and potentials and impact on Ghana cannot be over emphasized.

The fact is Ghanaian immigrants in the diaspora are proportionally by far the most skilled, most educated and wealthy segment of the Ghanaian society ---granted they are recognized as part of the Ghanaian population by the government, anyway. So one wonders why government after government none has aggressively tapped the brains and resources of such group of people.

In developing world like Ghana, the best hope for sustaining progress is economic development and entrepreneurship. And, Ghanaian immigrants in the diaspora are better equipped to develop these areas. They also deserve the thought and investment the government makes in sending people out for specialized education and advanced health care, when necessary. They are valuable human resources.

Well, it can be argued that we chose which country to live in when we left Ghana and so why the government should be bothered with our needs? The government should be bothered because the home-front’s policies or lack of them by the government are largely responsible for the emigration trend of Ghanaians.

And, we don’t want to cut ties with our home land--- in case you are wondering. Neither are we advocating for a special treatment, status from any quarters nor special social entitlements, but just to lure an exodus of Ghanaians to move back to Ghana. But, there should be a comprehensive and well-formulated plan (not lip service)on international , national and the district levels to harvest these resources –some of which Ghana paid little or no amount to cultivate.

To show seriousness and concern to attract the Ghanaian immigrants in the diaspora back home there should be information offices across the districts to help those who are trying to relocate to navigate their way in the Ghana’s cut-throat, no- holds- barred ,everyone –wants-your –flesh culture. . The Ghanaian immigrants have a lot of issues to deal with when they go home .They have land disputes, business registration waiting- list ,time- consuming and cumbersome process and procedures such as shipment clearance at the harbor, visa application, dual-citizenship requirement and the registration of motor vehicle’s mumbo- jumbo --- Should I go on?,

The point is that the failure of the NPP government to tackle these problems head on in 8 years, and make things a little easier has raised some questions marks about NPP’s reliability, credibility and dependability. The truth must be told. Most of us invested so much hope, aspirations and trust in NPP with the thinking that it would solve the diasporans’ problems, once and for all. We’re all feeling a little disappointed. Well, let me rephrase that. We’re very disappointed. That is why Mr. Kennedy’s comment did generate such a heated debate. We are tired of been used as a political prank to score political points.

For one thing we didn’t get the citizenship of the host country to shun or disown Ghana. We did it covertly, as necessity to help us get decent paying jobs and able to acquire good skills. We did it overtly, to be able to help our siblings, spouses and offspring to acquire education and legal status .We did it to enable us to finance home- front’s funerals and take care of the family members we left behind. We did it with the intentions to prepare mother Ghana to be able to depend on its sons and daughters in difficult times.

Ghana needs all her sons and daughters--especially, those who have acquired the skills and capital---to help her to live up to her potential, anything less than that is a joke.

The Moroccan experience: The government of Morocco recognizing the important role its citizens abroad play in the local economy, set –up a ministry for Moroccans living abroad, and stepped to improve tourism industry—just to lure them to come home. The Coming Home Tourism (CHT) also generates its own industries; like air lines, hotels, transportation and other service economy.

Does any Ghanaian government know how to (or want to) lure Ghanaian immigrants in the diaspora?

Hear this one: Ghana has created “Door-of-Return” by offering black Americans lifetime visa and relaxed citizenship “requirements” to encourage them to return to visit, invest and even retire in Ghana. Oh, Lordy, what about Ghanaians who were born in Ghana but happened to change their citizenships? What about creating events and festivities to recognize and engage the members of the Ghanaian immigrants in the diaspora?

With the world’s economy in a meltdown, the developed world had summit after summit to address the problems and find solutions. With that I was counting on our leaders and government officials to have a Diasporan Summit, in Ghana with representatives of Ghanaians in the diaspora to address the socio-economic problems Ghana is facing .But what do I know? I’m just an ordinary Ghanaian immigrant itching to play my little role!

This reminds me of an old guy I used to work with in my early days here. He had a simple philosophy on how to judge a government. He said,” If I see more Ghanaian immigrants moving back home that is an indication of a good government and better standard of living”. In essence what he was trying to say was that if any government wants to make a real difference it should first do something to attract its self-imposed economic exiles.

Sadly, the political parties’ stalwarts of every stripe don’t see the importance of tapping the resources of the Ghanaian immigrants. But, a few years from now, when things get settled we will look in the rear-view mirror and realize that we missed a golden opportunity to make use of our human capital. Then everyone, including the government will kick themselves for not bringing the Ghanaian immigrants home sooner.

The Ghanaian immigrants are very optimistic, determined and willing to help build the country they love so much. All they need is social or business facilitation to allow them to play their role in the nation building. Setting up Diasporan Resources Assistance (DIRA) centers across the nation’s regional centers will be a step in the right direction.

Ghana’s Natural Resources: The former president of United states, George Bush (jnr), once said on his trip to Africa:” Africa’s most valuable resource is not its oils; it’s not its diamond. It’s the talent and creativity of its people “. The true worth of Ghana is its people, both home and abroad. The countless entrepreneurs , businessmen and women, traders, talented and skilled individuals who are ready to transform Ghana .They’re the hidden natural resources that may present greater opportunities than oil or minerals in the long run.

The brain -drain can be a blessing in disguise if the government learns to harness the resources potential of its expatriate community. Does the Ministry of Diaspora Affair ring a bell? What are we waiting for?

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi NJ, USA

*The author is a social commentator, the founder of Adu-Gyamfi Youth Empowerment Educational and Apprenticeship Foundation for the citizens of Asuom, E/R.