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Opinions of Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Columnist: Bottah, Eric Kwasi

Fire in Toronto, Ghanaian Youth Mowed Down Mercilessly

By: Eric Kwasi Bottah, alias, Oyokoba

In the jungle world of guns, sex, booze, and drugs, death often comes, suddenly in a brazen hail of bullets in dark alleys, in forgotten and forbidden places, where only the brave can tread. The victims and killers often know each other pretty well; your very friends. They would take you down to what police calls, drug call down. Drug call down is a call to death, often tricked and taken there by one of your trusted friends, simply because you might have broken some of the codes of the drug trade, sealed and signed by blood. You die if you rat or snitch to the police. You die if you refuse to push some drug. You die if you dilute the drug. You die if you are tardy in drug payment. And you die if you bed the girlfriends of your friends behind bars. Hard to imagine such low lives have such strong codes of conduct. This is the minefield some Ghanaian youth have fallen into.

The frequency that Ghanaian kids, mostly under 20years old, have been falling and succumbing to drugs and gun violence, has reached an alarming proportion. Just over the last 12 months about seven Ghanaian kids have died in the Greater Toronto Area, all in drug related violence, and often as a result of their interaction with their Jamaican cousins. Three of these kids have died in the space of just three weeks, Caxtons Kyeremeh 19 on August 26, 2008, Daniel Boakye 18, and William "Junior" Appiah 18, in two separate incidents on September 19, 2008. Often the kids in the midst of these violence are school drop-outs, brought over from Ghana in their teens, by parents who because of the long process in getting permanent status in Canada, often spanning 5 to 10 years, had left these kids at home to their grandparents, and who after joining their parents and Canadian born siblings find out quickly that their JSS/SSS education in Ghana, are no match to the fast paced Canadian education system. So one by one they stumble and eventually drop out of school.

Most of these kids have suffered years of neglect whilst they waited to join their parents overseas. Whilst they waited in Ghana, their undocumented parents would hustle to send money home and lavish on these kids. Some of these would be deceived to think they can afford to put their education on pause until they join their parents overseas. In the interim they would lead a life of truancy. Somehow they get into their heads that they can idle through the school system until they reach "Babylon" (London, UK), Holland, Germany, Italy, Canada, and the United States. By the time they reach their parents, they are already in their mid teens and often sexually active and tried out wee, even whilst in Ghana. Grandparents and aunties would hide these truths from the natural parents, thinking if they let them in on those secrets; the parents would not come for those kids. The stupid assumption would be: "Oko'a obesesa" (he/she would change or reform as soon as he/she gets to abroad). And the kids believe that too, that they can put their education on semi-comatose until they reach abrokyire.

So what do you see; they come over, and are streamlined into the age-determinant school system abroad. Then reality and culture shock hits these kids in the face. For starters many first generation parents are themselves of very modest education. Majority are products of the old Standard 7, Middle School Leaving Certificate system. They have never heard Calculus in their life, work two or three jobs to string three minimum wages together to keep their mortgages and "projects" back home afloat. Many of the parents can hardly help their kids to catch up at school, other than decorating them and buying them computers. The newly arrived kids realize to their consternation that the school system abroad is age based. Their age says, they should be in, say, Grade 11, but their educational assessment puts them at Grade 6 level. How can you put Ti Kenenkene in Grade 11, one year shy of university entrance, when he has the competence of a Grade 6 student? Your kid is in an emotional turmoil, ashamed and deflated. They would mask out their incompetence by joining the wrong crowd, wear baggy pants below their butts, pierce their ears and braid their hair. They want to fit in, but do not have what it takes to fit in.

Then comes Jerome, from Jamaica, or the West Indies, who, whilst carrying certain emotional scars, from neglect or absence of a father figure in his life, and angry at white racism, would offer your son his friendship. This friendship would blossom and introduce the Ghanaian kid to gangster (c)rap music and the clockworks of drug peddling and how to woo and lay girls. The transformation of the Ghanaian kid is complete within six months to 1year after meeting Jerome. He quickly learns, disobeying and disrespecting your parents, is cool. The Ghanaian kid would, over a time, incorporate obscenities, such as "fuck" and "shit" in every sentence, stay up to 3:00 AM on the phone and computer; he is flying and unhinged with the use of cell phones, driving, boozing, addicted to drugs and sex. They are now empowered by the notion that their real parent is Uncle Sam who is just 911 phone call away. You lay hands on him, and he would call 911 on you. So you the parent become afraid of your own kid. They would tell you in your face that they are no more kids. How could he, when he is screwing more racially diverse girls than you could ever dream of? That is when danger creeps up on them. They realize too late that drugs and gangster lifestyle are no real friendship nor substitute for family, but like the US Army recruiting slogan, they "accelerate your life". Most of these kids die before their 20th birthdates. Their lives have been accelerated. You would be shocked to know, some of these kids do not hope to live beyond 20. That is the reason for their accelerated lives. But there is a better way.

As a community, we should wake up and not give up on our kids. Ghanaians talk politics too much, me included, and we are wont of getting, say a community centre of our own for our kids. As observed by one, TruePatriot, a Ghanaweb chat-room regular, the Ghanaian parents and pastors also bear a huge brunt of the destructive vicious cycle our kids finds themselves. TruePatriot, says, quote: "The Pastors are to be blamed somehow; think of All Nations for example, the parents are at church, Sunday (it used to be morning and evening service), Monday (leaders meeting), Wednesday (midweek service), Thursday (if they are part of a group), Fridays (all night), Saturday (home fellowship). You then ask yourself what time do they have for their partners or children? All that the pastors care about is to make money and make name for themselves and nada for the parents. In order to change the tide, the parents themselves have to change their mindsets and get education. It is only Ghanaians in diaspora who believe that education are for kids. The Somalians and Nigerian women have taken education and they are going to Humber, Seneca and George Brown while Ghanaians are still working in the factories and men driving cabs.” End quote. I think that observation is dead on accurate and you may add all Ghanaian churches.

When you watch the Asian kids, you would realize their temples are the centre of their lives. They meet there to socialize and network with each other, often under the watchful eyes of white bearded old men who they reverend very much. They play games and kind of check mate each other over excesses. Also a certain competitiveness is generated among these kids, as to whom and who is doing great and achieving awards at school. Every kid wants to be the next wonder-kid, and they take to the sciences very seriously. Not my Ghanaians. Funerals, 50th Birthday celebrations, Going Home send-off parties, Outdoorings, Holy Ghost Conventions, and other stupid excesses are what engage our minds. Ghanaians do not love each other enough to come together to own a community centre that would be a hub for themselves and their kids. They think culture is all about draping and wrapping themselves with "bed sheets" ntoma akese under cold Toronto night sky. Yes I love my culture, but culture is not only about wearing kuntukuni at lavish celebratory funerals. The kids are detached and disengaged, and since we do not have places for them to convene, they drift into the arms of the West Indians. Why do we fragment ourselves so much into so many town and ethnic associations? We are more tribalistic abroad than at home, and a look around this forum would prove that. Most forumers are foreign based Ghanaians, perpetuating this stupidity. NDC this, NPP that, what has that brought us, if I may ask? Wake up people, we are losing the future as our children perish. Let us organize ourselves and please, please, collapse all the ethnic based associations into one national associations, wherever we may find ourselves. If we are united, we can also give our children a place to come and hang around, just like the Chinese and Indians do.

Is anybody up there in Toronto, up to the challenge? If anybody is interested, email me at:, so that we may brainstorm and network to roll out something. You guys in other cities around the globe can also do your own, wherever you are. The Americans have a saying, "if you build it, they would come", and Kwame Nkrumah said, "Organization decides everything". We can spare some moments, for our kids. Barack Obama got his lift in his political life as a Community Organizer. Think!!!! Everybody can be a leader, because everybody can serve. That is the essence of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. I know the task is enormous and I know many would say, it is none of anybody's business except the parents, but I ask, what if we can complement the efforts of the parents, what if the outlawed children can be given something to get their self-worth back? I learned something many years ago. I wouldn't want my kids to watch Power Rangers, because I thought they set bad examples and gave children wrong ideas. Guess what, my kid went out to play and he was given a Power Rangers kick in the ass. Unless we can lockdown our kids for all times, chances are that they may run into this other Ghanaian kid and, kaboom, find himself in trouble just hanging around. We can at least give it a try to reach the other Ghanaian kids. If it doesn't work, you would at least know you gave it a try. One piece of advice I would give. Mothers, stop undermining the authority of your husbands by belittling them in front of your kids, and behind their backs. I have observed some men just withdraw unto themselves when that happens, especially when the kids involved are not biologically his. If you do, the bad kids would play you against each other and take it to the streets. Cheers.