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Opinions of Wednesday, 8 February 2006

Columnist: Bannerman, Nii Lantey Okunka

Joining Hands To Build Ghana


On a cold dreary winter morning, I sat in my office with my head cocked to the left. As usual, Ghana was heavy on my mind and as I stared at the uncompleted building directly across from my view, I could not help but liken the uncompleted building to my beloved Ghana. A work in progress I murmured to myself. I think, most of us agree and invariably accept that that we have to build Ghana ourselves. How we are going to do it is a whole different ballgame. Whatever the daunting challenges, we must start some where. To build Ghana means that majority of us must find creative ways to overcome wedge issues that divide us. Factually, some of us may have to help the building effort from foreign lands. Thank God for technology and our ability to contribute materially. Obviously, partisanship, ideology, tribe, social status, economic resources, class, and gender are some of the issues that divide us. Notice that, I did not mention geographical location in the examples that I gave. Why do you think I left out geography out of my list? Well, I, never in my wildest dreams envisaged that location could be a dividing factor for people born and nurtured on the same soil. As it stands, geographical location seems to be a serious wedge issue for Ghanaians at home and those tossing precariously in the diaspora.

As I observed the debate over the diasporan vote, I could not help but notice the subtle yet critical differences that exist between some Ghanaians at home and those that toil in the diaspora. I am reminded by Wereko Brobbey?s effusion on the vote tussle, when he callously averred that, extending the vote to the diasporans is a favor from the first class citizens who reside in mother Ghana. I don?t think it is a stretch to infer from Wereko Brobbey mindless drivel, that, those of our kith and Kin that live in Ghana have more rights than those that travel to make a living outside. The diasporan is crabbily crackling all over the place to help mother Ghana and what we get is a back hand slap when it comes to rights? Whether this is right or wrong will be determined by our constipated courts sooner or later.

Sadly, we have at least two classes of Ghanaians. One endowed with more rights than the other, not withstanding the absence of any constitutional provision to support this fabrication. The stay at home Ghanaian, gains this advantage because of geographical location particularly. I personally think it is a difficult pill to swallow, if my biological sister or brother, resident in Ghana, has to extend rights to me as a favor. Damn it, did we all not come from the same womb? Let me be very clear, this write up is not about the diasporan vote. At the right time, I will strike callously at the naysayers! For now, this is about two Ghanaians, one at home, and the other overseas, working together seamlessly to build Ghana. Here we go!

I am sure some of you know countless stories about Ghanaians who tried to return home with the noblest of goals. They wanted to help build Ghana, some even for free, only to fail miserably. Often, they are either not listened to or the business that they instituted caught fire and burnt ashen to the ground. When this happens, as it often does, the would be business instigator jets back to the host country to start all over again. Diasporans slave stridently for the host country but cannot give back to their own nation huh? No rational being expects all businesses to be successful. However, the failure rate and subsequent frustration that envelop these efforts by diasporans ought to be a cause for concern. The practice of turning deaf ears to what diasporans have to say or contribute must also be fully examined. Equally important and requiring study is the attitude of the stay at home Ghanaian. Their desire to obfuscate the efforts of well meaning Ghanaians in the midst of such want is unbelievable. I do not read too much into the envy allegation by some diasporans but some do. I don?t want to cloy this issue but the horror stories show a staggering mount. Are we going to recklessly nurse the status quo or make it possible for well meaning Ghanaians to help their motherland?

I will never forget how my effort to organize a workshop on management for free at a Ghanaian institution fell through the cracks. This was after everything seems to have been worked out till I landed in Ghana to face a steady diet of the ?go-come-go-come? syndrome! To this day, I can?t help but to cuss anytime the idea crosses my mind. In the end, the people of Ghana are the real losers. We can?t and must not allow this culture to continue. It is a huge blow to our national development effort. I know we like loans at high interest rates but by dickens, can you tap into this vast array of skills that abound in the diaspora at no cost? So what even we have to pay for it? If our leaders had any sense at all, they will make it a point to squeeze all they can out of any diasporan who has something to offer. What happened to the skills bank idea that the NPP talked about? The stay at home Ghanaians that make it difficult for diasporans to help must be called on the carpet. If they have legitimate reasons let them make it known. Often times, if the point person in Ghana does not stand to gain from the project or endeavor directly (what is in it for me syndrome), they adopt lack luster attitude towards the effort and spell its doom eventually, knowing very well the time constraints that confront the diasporan. It is time we surface the real reasons why collaboration fails and dialogue about how best to join hands and move our country forward. Enough of the menacing snarls that continue to mark our nation building effort.

Let me be very clear, I am not holding brief for diasporans. I am well aware of the diasporan attitude that makes us a turn off in Ghana. Some diasporans try to apply skills and methods that do not fit the framework in Ghana. Others try to look, talk and spit down on those that continue to keep their hands in the dike for mother Ghana. The eternal tug between the stay at home Ghanaian and the been-to must be unfurled and singed. The arrogance and swagger that guide the sashay with which the diasporan comes to town has not played well in the past and continues to stymie all efforts aimed at knowledge, resource and skill transfers.

Why is the diasporan more often than not in a know-it-all mood? Can we pin this attitude on the colonial notion that anything from outside is better than what we have locally? Self-hate again huh? I am certain that there is enough blame to go around. The important point is that we have to deliberately seek out these differences between the diasporan and stay at home Ghanaian and make it our obsession to eradicate them. We need outlets to address these conflicts constructively. We cannot ignore these spats anymore. No! The unfortunate but raw truth is that despite remarkable achievements by some diasporans, some still need an inordinate dose of teaming skills. Often the lack of tolerance and concomitant derision of conditions in Ghana does not sit well with those who continue to hold the fort and understand the local politics that may make the key difference. I personally think a workshop on Change Management must be a requirement for all local officer/executives and returnees who are involved in joint projects. Some form of orientation must be in place for all who want to help

Why it is that Ghanaians at home cannot work seamlessly with those overseas to fix our country or vice versa? The Jews come to mind here. Call them what you want, but you cannot deny their sense of collective purpose. The Jews are not a monolithic group. They have their differences but when it comes to the nation of Israel, you will never find them divided. Are there any lessons we can learn from them? If the Jews had a holocaust, we had slavery. If the Jews were brutalized, we had colonialism. So if you want to make the case that adversity is the glue that binds them, I will not hesitate to tell you that we have enough adversity to amalgamate us too.

If you add the collective searing of our psyche by these ghoulish military dictators in the past, we can paint a picasso of national calamity that ought to rope us together. To be frank, we have a lot more in common than we care to admit. Our commonality far exceeds that which divides us. Of course there are those, especially the well-fed elite, who thrive on divisive tactics like hardcore ideology, partisanship, tribalism and other unproductive orchestrations. Please let us at all cost eschew the latter and make no room for them. The task of building a nation does not rest with a political party or mercantile elite group. It is a national task that calls for all to engage. The ruling party and opposition, among other priorities, must carry out the unenviable task of bringing the nation together to push for development. The politics of enmity must be replaced by the politics of maturity. The interest of the people must be the overriding concern. Inclusiveness must be the watch word for those who have the privilege to govern. If you look at the conflicts that continue to pester countries like Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone, you?ll quickly discover that the lack of inclusiveness contributed immensely to the pyrrhic upheavals that brought these countries to the brink of doom. Can we afford such in Ghana?

To the diasporan, I say beware of cultural shock in your own country. So far the concept of cultural shock has been used to describe those that experience the reality of other cultures that vary from what they are intimately used to. I am sure it will come as a surprise to you if I tell you that there certain kind of diasporans, if not all, who will experience cultural shock in their own country of birth. This applies particularly to those who do not visit frequently. The idea that one will experience cultural shock in his or her country of birth, Ghana, might sound nutty on the face of it but it is as real as can be imagined. Once you leave Ghana, things don?t standstill. So many changes occur in your absence that calls for a relearning of the topography, just like foreigners will. It may not take you that long but there is homework to be done. It helps if diasporans switch into a listen and learn mood as opposed to a condemn and assume to know mode.

The other side of the coin is that, once you make your home outside Ghana, you, with glacier speed, begin to acquire the ways of the host country. No matter how you cocoon yourself in the guest country, you will still experience a level of change. For example, you can refuse to mingle with the people of America but the fact that you get relatively excellent and quick service at the store most of the time will rub off on you. Experiencing clean stores also rubs off on you. So when you go back to Ghana and experience our filthy market places, soiled by feces and the stench of aging garbage, you are bound to comment negatively. Is this not where the trouble starts? Managing expectations at this juncture is the challenge that confronts the diasporan. Let me add that, this form of host country acculturation is either through voluntary acquisition or environmentally imposed. There is not much you and I can do about it. Our challenge is to be on guard and at all times manage our expectation to reflect local reality.

Now, if you take the above phenomenon and extrapolate it to the frozen relationship that Ghanaians overseas experience with their stay at home kith and kin, you can begin to understand the source of tension that exists between us. The perspectives and expectations, however unreal, are not the same from both ends. At this juncture in our nation?s life, we cannot afford the luxury of excluding anyone from the process of crafting our development. There is so much work to be done and we need all hands on deck. The trials and tribulations that we face are totally surmountable. We all have something to offer. The challenge lies in flawless coordination of all efforts tailored to a shared vision.

I think a small office under the ministry of manpower development ought to do the trick here. The office should be charged with coordinating all efforts from overseas aimed at helping to build Ghana. So for example, if I want to teach a management class at a Ghanaian institution, I can call the office, give them my resume, subject myself to vetting and then have the office arrange for me to make my presentation on a date certain. In this case, all parties ensure that they are getting something real. This also helps the government place efforts where they are needed the most. This small office must have working phones, fax machines, and well trained customer service personnel who will not work to frustrate diasporans but instead make all the necessary local arrangements to help with the skills and knowledge transfer that Ghana needs. Indeed, the reverse can occur if stay at home Ghanaians want to come up here and teach us a thing or two about issues dear and near to our hearts. Now, if you are one who believes the government will screw it up, maybe we need to consider a private NGO to handle this endeavor. In this case, diasporans are encouraged to commit resources to setting up an office in Ghana that will coordinate their efforts to transfer knowledge, skills and resources. This office may spawn a unit that follows up with these to make sure that the impact or effect is felt. Whatever happens, we must have a coordinating office on the ground that will enable us side step the schadenfreudes and get the job done. Maybe this will provide a glorious opportunity to show our brothers and sisters at home that we mean business.

So far, I?ve focused my spotlight on Ghanaians. What about non-Ghanaians who want to help? Here, we have to be very careful. You see, some Ghanaians normally put up with the roadblocks and shenanigans that our folks invoke at home because they love their country and don?t intend to give up. Can the same be said of a foreigner? Should we really put a well-intentioned foreigner through this pernicious windmill? Who really are we hurting if we do that? Take the classic case of ?Anane the bonker? for example. Here you have a minister of health putting his interest above that of the country by ?dedrossing? a young African America woman who wanted to help Ghanaians. In the end, the people of Ghana were denied her services and in return we got bad press and a black eye for the paltering of Ogyam Anane. Never mind the cash transfers that left our shores! Most foreigner do not understand how things work outside their own countries. Coupled with the latter, is a disdain for undue delays and incompetence. The least we can do is make it amiable for well-wishers to help. There is so much goodwill out there but it will not be extended if we continue our grinch-like attitude towards the generousity of others. Must we bite our own nose to spite our face?

We should take steps to punish severely public officials who put their interest above that of the people. It is rather pathetic that in looking at what Anane did, for example, no one focused on the social cost, among others, of his self-serving action. The cost to Ghana was tremendous and the least he could have done was to apologize profusely. However, with the president stanched behind him, he is free to bonk recklessly on our behalf again. Why about the services of the young woman that was denied our folks?

There are lots of non-Ghanaians out there who want to help. We must make it possible for them to help. The government must do away with draconian regulations that get in the way. Make it possible for non-Ghanaians to obtain visa and requisite papers on the ground. While we try to make it possible for non-Ghanaians to help, we should make every possible effort to weed out the crooks and nation wreckers who team up with the local misfits and malcontent to ruin our nation. Yes we need help but it should not be at the expense of our gullible and unsuspecting populace, who for some reason seem to show affinity for most things foreign. Ghana needs friends but not bad and self centered ones. We must come together to lift this country up!

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.