Before United States President John F. Kennedy could think of the phrase “ask not ‘what your country an do for you’; ask ‘what you can do for your country’”, our own Ephraime Amu had put a similar patriotic call into what has become our national song. Most of us sang this song in school from a purely recital standpoint, completely oblivious of the true meaning. It wasn’t until an aid to President Kufuor recited it line by line for me this past week that the song took on a whole new meaning. YEN ARA YASASE NI This is our own land EYE ABOODEN DE MA YEN It is very dear to us MOGA NA NANANO WHIE GU It was blood that our ancestors spilled NYA DE TO HO MA YEN To obtain it for us ADURU MENEWO SO SO Now it is time for you and I SE YEBEYE BI ATOASO To build on it NIMDEETOASO NKONTONKRANE (But) arrogance, lies, NE APESEMENKOMENYA And Selfishness ADI YENMAN MU DEM Has injured our nation AMA YASAASE MU DO ATOM SE And dropped the level of love in our nation OMAN YI SE EBEYE YIE O Whether our nation shall prosper OMAN YI SE ERENNYE YIE O Whether our nation shall regress EYESE NNA AHOSE OMANFO BRA NA EKYERE Our national character will determine This song formed the theme of President Kufuor’s State of the Nation address this month. I know no one believes in the virtues that the song espouses more than the president. He is not being political when he preached those virtues. Our nation would be the better for it if we all heeded this call. But we need cooperation – a lot of it.
We have reached a point in our nation’s history where the choices we make from here on probably have more significance than ever before. During our formation years, we could lodge the excuse that the series of coup d’etat and misrule all constituted a learning process. Now, as the first country south of the Sahara to achieve independence, we have been given a new lease on life, and it did not come with the scars of civil wars that permanently damages some African countries. It is time for us to show the way again.
We cannot afford to sweat the small stuff. If we all are interested in building our nation, then partisan politics must be constructive, not destructive. With this being the first real shot at true democracy, the little things we do today in the area of obstructionism, for example, could set some unintended monumental precedence for the generations that follow us.
One area that needs a critical focus is national reconciliation. Unfortunately, most people apply that concept to relations between the political parties and activities of previous administrations. While those areas are important and obviously needs some attention, the area where national reconciliation needs most to occur is relations between Ghanaians abroad and Ghanaians at home. A complete misunderstanding between the two groups of Ghanaians currently is seriously shortchanging our collective quest for national development. It is like “men are from Mars, and women are from Venus” all over again.
When our president calls for Ghanaians from all over the world to come in and contribute, and some of us heed that call only to encounter situations such as having to wait in someone’s office for two hours to see him despite having made an appointment, it is hard not to lose your cool. And as soon as you ask ‘why’, the first reaction is “you people from America, you think you know too much.
On the other hand, there are those of us who go back home and act so condescendingly that folks at home have no choice but to reject us. We may live in The Bronx where we have to practically brace our doors to keep burglars out, and where the cops take an hour to answer our 911 calls, but we go back home and pretend as though we are secure abroad, but threatened at home.
Now while this author is by no means comparing the two societies, a little humility as well as perspective could go a long way to fostering understanding. But we need to go further than that. The National Reconciliation Commission must look into opening up a dialogue for the two groups to better understand one another.
We know the college graduate from Accra or Kumasi acts a little differently when he or she returns to his or her hometown. Sometimes he or she cannot help it. There is, however, a limit to how vehemently one can denounce cultures and traditions that one grew up with, and most likely would have embraced had one not traveled out.
On the other hand, the hometown folks could be a little more accommodating knowing that their son or daughter has definitely, and obviously changed into a different person. The responsibility of fostering a spirit of co-existence rests with both the college graduate and the hometown folks.
The benefits can be overwhelming for both camps. Ghanaians abroad will benefit from helping to develop a place where we had called home all along even if they lived elsewhere. Over in the ‘white man’s land’, no matter how successful we become, we never feel at home as we do when we return home. It is a natural phenomenon. As a result, it can get very frustrating when we are made to feel like outsiders in our own home, which we helped build financially ($1.4 billion in remittances in 2002)
For folks at home, the benefits are equally significant. It can best be described as settling for little drops of water as against opting for a waterfall. For example, manufacturers in the developed world are constantly up against overly competitive markets and high production costs. Most of them will welcome the opportunity to operate a subsidiary in an environment where competition is nearly non-existent, and labor is dirt cheap. Ghanaians abroad can unleash a flood of foreign investments if they get cooperation from and at home.
But to foreign investors, operating in Africa is like operating in a jungle where the language is different. Before they even consider such a move, they need someone they know who can explain the jungle for them, and not a politician coming to ‘sell’ the good qualities of his country and conveniently leaving out the bad ones. We all know trust plays a huge role in business.
Additionally, Ghanaians abroad probably understand, more than their counterparts at home, that no one leaves his country to come to yours only to ‘help’. Yeah, they help alright – themselves. And if one does not understand that, one can be swindled miserable into a very bad deal that all of us end up paying a price for. And we all know this happens a lot.
“Yen ara yasase ni” is not only a slogan. It is a phrase that means more to us Ghanaians abroad now than ever before. We cannot afford to leave it for others to develop it for us while we sit in the comforts of our homes here and remit money home every now and then. For those of us who have been trying, we must be persistent in our efforts. For those at home, there has to be the understanding that we will not give up, and that they can save us all a lot of unnecessary delays in development by embracing us, our faults and all.
Because ‘Yen nso yasasi ni’. - It is our land also.