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Opinions of Thursday, 31 January 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: When home is not that sweet

I was very shocked the first time I heard that Ama Sumani was “staring death in the face”. I thought that must be pretty traumatic. Just picture it. You know you are about to die and you also know there could be a way out but, for some reason, there is very little you can do to get onto that escape route. That’s what it means to be staring dead in the face. And that is the story of Ama Sumani.

In case you didn’t know, Ama is a “terminally ill” Ghanaian woman who was deported from the United Kingdom because her visa had expired. At the time of her deportation she was receiving vital treatment in a hospital in Wales. She was kicked out despite pleas for her to be allowed to stay on humanitarian grounds. In her application to the UK authorities to be allowed to stay, she had stated that she either couldn’t get the quality of treatment she needed in Ghana or (if she got it) she couldn’t afford it. Yet the Brits kicked her out. Now, I know a lot of people who wouldn’t even treat a dog in the manner Ama was treated. I’ve heard of people who have flown their Rottweiler’s and Dobermans to the UK and Canada – just for medical attention. I’ve also heard of people who’ve decided not to travel down here with their pets because they were not so sure the animals will receive the best of veterinary care in Ghana.

I believe strongly that the British Immigration director who defended Ama Sumani’s deportation to the House of Commons is one of those who’d think twice before bringing their pet cats down to Ghana if the animal wasn’t feeling so well. Yet she had no qualms about having Ama Sumani removed.

There are thousands of illegal Ghanaian immigrants in the UK – not to mention the millions of other nationals – without valid documents who live and work in that country. They are apparently unknown to the authorities and so they choose to use Ama Sumani as a scapegoat. I don’t know the point they want to make. But it seems to be a very strong point indeed and we should pay heed. Possibly, they are telling all those Ghanaian ‘illegals’ to watch out and that the earlier they scurry into whatever holes they appeared from the better. If they kicked out a hapless, dying woman I don’t think they will have mercy on any of the able-bodied men and women who hustle on the streets of London and Cardiff. Just watch your back, my friends. They might be coming for you soon.

And when they do, surely, no excuse will suffice. You can tell them that you don’t have any drinking water in your hometown and that where you come from men, women and children bath together in a dirty stream. And it is from this same stream that you fetch water to drink and cook. They won’t listen to you.

You may tell them tales about how the universities in your country are choked with more than 500 students in one room, being mis-educated by a tired, underpaid lecturer who uses the same lecture notes he used in 1968 and that in the university hostels there are at least 12 adult students sharing a room. This will also not suffice. They will kick you out.

If and when they kick you out, just take consolation in the fact that they did it to even Ama Sumani; cry a little and come join in the hustle back home. After all, there is no place like home...

Or is there?

Apparently, there are some places better than home.

Ask Ama Sumani.

At home, she seems to say (and it’s true) that the quality of health care will only speed your trek to the grave. But over there in the UK, at least there is hope – even when your kidneys fail completely your life can be prolonged a little longer. Not here. Go to Korle Bu, the most important health centre in the country, and you see people dying of diseases that should not even take the lives of guinea pigs. That’s why Ama didn’t want to come home. And that makes me sad indeed.

Why should I and my compatriots feel more confident that in a foreign land, we’d receive better medical treatment than we would at home? Why should the British tax payer foot the medical bills of someone like Ama Sumani? Think about it. There is something wrong somewhere.

Whiles I join many others to condemn the British immigration authorities for treating a dying woman in such an inhumane manner, I stop to ask myself: can you blame them? We kicked them out of this country 50 years ago. We said we would take charge of our own affairs. So half a century later, they expect us to be able to take care of our sick and dying. If a Brit came to Ghana and fell seriously ill, all he’d have to do is to call the High Commission and every effort will be made to fly him back home for treatment. But if a Ghanaian (especially a government official) falls seriously ill, he’d go to great lengths to be have himself airlifted abroad for treatment. Sometimes, they go and die and a lot of money is also spent to have their bodies flown back for burial.

I believe that with Ama Sumani’s deportation, the Brits are telling us something – even though they chose such cruel and inhumane manner to convey their message. Let those who have ears listen and let those who ought to act do what is expected of them.

The message is quite a simple one: it’s about time we started taking care of our own. We told Queen Elisabeth 50 years ago that we can take care of ourselves. Obviously, we’ve not been doing a good job of it and they’ve been helping us limp along all this while. Now, with Ama Sumani, I believe, they are reminding us that we’ve failed woefully.

Contributing to the discussion on why Ama was deported, a British MP asked: “Isn’t the debate really about the quality of treatment and medical services available in her own country?”

That’s the question we should all be asking ourselves. In other words, it’s not their fault that Ama is afraid she’d only die at home. We should blame ourselves that Ama Sumani (and many other Ghanaians like her) suffer so much because somehow we have failed to build the healthcare infrastructure we need to provide even the most basic care for ourselves. I believe that if the president fell seriously ill today (God forbid!), he won’t be treated at Korle Bu or Komfo Anokye. He’d go to Johannesburg, London or Berlin. And that is the problem.

Ama Sumani is going to die. I hope she doesn’t leave us soon and I invite anyone who can to contribute to her upkeep. Let’s prolong her life for us long as we can. Her life and her imminent death should remind us that home is not as sweet as it’s made out to be unless we can get most (if not all) that we need to be able to live in comfort and dignity even as we hope for the best in the future.