28.09.2023 Feature Article

“We Are Going…”

We Are Going
28.09.2023 LISTEN

I don’t remember specifically what the dream was. But what I do remember is waking up to this realisation: I don’t know kung fu.

Back from Libya
“Show them!” That was my cousin, Paa Kwesi. Tall and lanky Paa Kwesi, back from his father’s home nation of Libya. Paa Kwesi said his fatherland had taught him kung fu, and that he would teach me. “Stand here. Be still.” He would instruct me, guiding me to his mentally marked position, and then very solemnly take a position of his own. “Breathe in, breathe out”, he would instruct himself. So peaceful—there he was, so peaceful as he breathed. One could not help but be at peace too. But out of nowhere Paa Kwesi would begin to blurt out a chain of nonsense, disturbing the peace. After the nonsense followed his leg. A quick kick in the air directed at my face, but not so much at it. “Marcia, stand still!” [‘Marcia’, that’s my nonsensical birth name, by the way].

“Stand still!”
Stand still? How does one stand still with a kick directed straight at their face?

“I won’t hit you!” He’d promise for the umpteenth time, frustrated at my reflexes, for he had a crowd to please… Neighbour kids who had come to witness Paa Kwesi who had just returned from his fatherland of Libya—Paa Kwesi who was clad in his majestic martial art gear—demonstrate in real-life, a discipline we had all only so far witnessed in Chinese movies—“karate”. “Is it kung fu or karate?” I remember asking him once during training for he had been using the words interchangeably. Irritable, he responded, “It’s the same thing!”

After issuing a number of air punches and kicks, some of which—despite the constant reassurances of ‘I won’t hit you’—in fact landed on my face, he would tell his audience, “As you can see, I have taught Marcia karate, and I can teach you too.” His audience, they would look me dead in the eye… Convinced by the shape of my eyes—‘Well, she kind of looks Chinese’—they would very happily subscribe to joining me as Paa Kwesi’s disciples. Disciples in the majestic, deadly ‘Libyan’ art of kung fu—kung fu which was the same as karate.

“Marcia Knows Kung fu”
Oh, the confidence! The confidence that one gets after going through a series of kung fu trainings—trainings which mainly comprised standing still and receiving air kicks and punches… Air kicks and punches which sometimes landed on one’s face. Oh, the confidence that comes with knowing karate. Woe betide you whose relative had not travelled to the great nation of Libya to learn the great ancient art of karate and returned to teach you. Woe betide you if you so much as blinked at me the wrong way… Ha! Be you a child or adult—except the Chinese and Libyans, of course—I would solemnly invite you to ‘meet me outside’… Whereupon I would issue a series of hard air kicks and punches—many of which were sure to land on your face!

“Show them!”
Having lived this long, all I can say is we thank God for my unassuming disposition. We thank God that this bravado was only in thought—masked by my quiet disposition.

Because on that fateful day as I stood before my assigned opponent with the assignment to—as my instructor, Paa Kwesi said—"show him” (and consequently them, the audience) the kung fu I had been taught, the realisation dawned on me that I MIGHT not know kung fu. Later in life, it dawned on me further still that I DID NOT know kung fu... And even further that kung fu and karate were different things altogether; and even more, that the great nation of Libya had no business with either of these two arts...

Indeed, my brothers and sisters, join me in giving thanks to the Almighty God for my quiet disposition. For the truth is, had thought been constantly met with action, I most certainly would not have lived this long.

The Truth
It is true that global remittances contribute immensely to the economies of nations worldwide—most especially developing countries such as ours. In fact, remittances have steadily found their place as the most important source of external finance, and one of the main drivers of economic growth for these countries. Pre-covid era—in the year 2019, to be precise—remittances to developing countries reached a record high of $548 billion, making its contribution to the GDPs of such nations higher than that of other external income sources like foreign direct investments (whose contribution was around $534 billion). And this gap between remittances and FDIs have been projected to widen even further in favour of the former.

In the year 2020 (at the height of the pandemic), remittances to developing countries were expected to record a 7% decrease at least (i.e., a decrease to $508 billion), and even further by 7.5% (i.e., to $470 billion) in the year 2021 due to the harsh economic conditions enabled in these host countries by this same pandemic—one that had resulted in among others, weak oil prices, the depreciation of currencies of these host countries, and the decrease in employment levels. But alas, it turned out that in the battle of needs—in the battle of neediness—developing countries such as ours will always far outpace these developed nations. So then, remittances it was.

Migrants of these developed nations had no option but to still send money—as scant as they were—back home to their needier relatives in these developing countries. So then in the year 2020, remittances to developing countries which were expected to reduce from $548 billion to $508 billion, exceeded expectations and reduced only by 1.7% (i.e., to $540 billion). It was the same for the year 2021 where there was a projected decrease to some $470 billion. In actuality, by the end of the year 2021, remittances to these developing countries had instead grown by a shocking 7.3% (i.e., to an impressive $589 billion!)—thus, exceeding even the impressive 2019 pre-covid figure. Again, in the battle of neediness, citizens of these developing countries had far-exceeded their relative immigrants of the developed world. So, remittances it was—the burden being on the latter to provide for the former.

It is also true that sub-Saharan Africa remains one of the principal beneficiaries of these remittances. In the year 2021, as global remittances increased by a shocking 7.3%, those to Africa increased by an even more shocking 14.1% (i.e., from $42 billion in 2020 to $49 billion in 2021). Ghana’s share of sub-Saharan Africa’s remittances that year was about 4.5%, placing the country second after Nigeria in the list of leading remittance-receiving nations in the region. The following year (2022) remittances to these African countries reached an impressive $53 billion—a trend which, the World Bank notes, was very largely driven by the huge figures recorded in countries such as ours, Ghana—a country which had recorded a 12% growth in remittances that year.

And it is not like Ghana is out here denying these figures—nor the immense pride she feels in those numbers. “Four billion, five hundred dollars ($4.5 bn)—that’s the total sum of money received by Ghana as remittances, for the year 2022 alone! This colossal figure is suggestive of the budding financial relationship existing between Ghana and its Diaspora.” The GIPC, for one, noted in the January 2023 edition of their ‘Invest Ghana’ newsletter. The exclamation mark after the declaration of the $4.5 billion figure is palpable—very suggestive of the government’s excitement with these Diasporicinflows.

When it comes to the contribution of these remittances to nations’ own economies, we find our country recording an average of around 5% as share of remittances to its GDP. In the year 2022 for instance, the figure was around 6.1%. Between the years 2007 to 2018 (pre-pandemic era) Ghana’s remittances increased from $117.6 million to about $3.8 billion (and this 2018 figure represented 7.4% of the country’s GDP). It is true that this pales in comparison with fellow African countries like The Gambia where contribution of remittances to GDP in the year 2022 stood at a whopping 28%, or Senegal and Zimbabwe where the percentages hover around 10%. It pales also in comparison with Ghana’s own figures some years prior—for instance, in 2015 when the share of remittances to its GDP was a staggering 20.3%. But this inclusion is in itself still telling, and we shall get into that in a bit.

[In fact, let’s get into it now before we forget. What this trend shows is that in weak economies, remittance inflows become quite the big fish in the small pond. That is to say that the weaker a nation’s economy is, the more important external sources like remittances become to the nation’s income pool.]

The Conclusion
And what all these figures mean—for those of us who are not particular fans of reading numbers—is that remittances have proven themselves key contributors to economies around the world, specifically developing economies, particularly African economies, and very expectedly, our own country’s economy.

And this conclusion right here, is that which has led many of these economies, key amongst them developing countries, particularly African nations such as ours, to increasingly ask for more. More remittances.

And a call for more remittances, it most definitely is a call for more migration—overtly or covertly. And I hope our governments are not too hypocritical to accept this fact.

We Repeat, Migration is Inevitable
There is no need for this hypocrisy because as we have established in past articles—pieces like ‘So Brain Drain’s Brain Gain?’ and ‘From Green to Green’—that migration is a fact of life. No country has the power to, in absolute terms, prevent its citizenry from desiring and undertaking the act of migration; nor the capability to create an ecosystem so favourable that its citizenries will have no such desire for this voluntary exeunt. I mean, a country like the Netherlands, so economically stable and peaceful that it is famously known for its incredible low crime figures and woefully underpopulated prisons—so much so that the country has to rent out some of its prisons to neighbouring Norway and Belgium, convert others to hotels, housing units, etc… Such a country still finds itself with an emigrating populace. In the year 2022, 179,310 citizens emigrated from the Netherlands to other countries. Granted, the rate of immigration to the country is larger than the emigration therefrom. Yet, it is incredible, isn’t it? That for such a highly functioning society, citizens still find the need to emigrate.

The Netherlands brings to mind countries like Switzerland—the nation which makes the millionaire and billionaire statuses feels almost like a matter of birthright. Switzerland has the highest millionaire rate—the country has about 16.4% of its adult population being millionaires. It also has an impressive 40 of the world’s over 2,600 billionaires. Yet, this country, ranked as part of the world’s most stable economies, still finds itself with a migrating populace. An estimated more than one in ten Swiss people emigrate to other countries annually.

If these nations cannot stop the outflow of their citizenries, how can a floundering country like Ghana? Indeed, it would be woefully boastful of us to expect to curb emigration.

But that does not mean that we do not have reason to be concerned.

It is just not the same
We have every reason to be concerned because, as we noted in the article ‘So Brain Drain’s Brain Gain?’ and hinted at in ‘The Matter of the Spectacular Spectators’, the human act of migration tends to have a different motive and implication in underperforming economies. The emigration trends of such economies, we find, tend to be caused by push factors—push factors such as harsh economic conditions and lack of future prospects. Many citizens are exiting our continent, our country because they simply see no viable future for themselves and their families within these borders. There are many still crossing (or attempting to cross) the deserts of the Sahara through to the Mediterranean with hopes of reaching promised greener pastures of the West. Many die while at it—some find themselves trapped, enslaved. And those who attempt to do so through legal routes often find themselves in demeaning long queues, rejections, and overall ‘atiitii’ of the emigration process meted out by embassies of these developed nations. Yet for many, these journeys into the unknown, these degrading processes, are still better alternatives to the harsh realities presented them in their own home nations.

There are many married men and women who venture into the developed world, causing further entanglements to themselves by entering into feigned marriages with natives of these countries with hopes of naturalising—with the blessings of their real spouses, by the way. Many continue to leave the sitting white-collar jobs of their home nations for the standing blue-collar jobs of the West—gruesome, leg and heart-wrenching jobs of the West. For many, this journey to the West turns out worse than they ever bargained for. Indeed, a lot of these people find themselves disillusioned. Yet, even in this disillusionment, one finds these same Ghanaians and Africans extending invitations to the rest of their nuclear (and sometimes external families, those that are ‘lucky’)—as though to say that ‘the disillusionment of the West is still better than the mess that is my home nation.’

Indeed, for the many Ghanaians (and Africans, for that matter) migration is a reaction—it is something one does when one is frustrated with their home nation and is ‘lucky’ enough to be presented with the opportunity of an exeunt—be it through family invitations, the scorching illegal routes of the Sahara, under the guise of marriage, or of furthering one’s education, or sometimes even under the pretext of a sports team. Hey, a footballer’s gotta shoot their shot, no? Indeed, the citizens of developing economies such as ours, emigration is oftentimes a brutal, insincere act.

That is why it becomes very interesting when this same abandoned home country turns around to pat itself on the back for incomes received from these same people, many of whose exeunt was a resentful abandonment.

We won’t go so far as to liken this nudging towards emigration to the sale of our human resource capital between the 15thand 19th centuries—things are admittedly not as dire. But we really cannot help but see this same trend of the jettisoning of our human resource capital at play here. Valuable human resource capital, of which if the right soils were afforded, would be right here in this country of ours, successfully undertaking the art of gainful living and consequently impacting their nation, continent, race, and world at large… These human resources, for the infertile soil presented them, are often forced into an exodus. As I said, we won’t go so far as to liken this to the Transatlantic mess of those centuries, but the similarities are palpable.

Human Sacrifice
This failure at utilising our human resource capital is reminiscent of yet another failure of ours—the underutilisation of our natural resource capital. Our natural resources infamously leave our national borders unrefined, aiming for refinement in the West and the rest of the developed world, and return to us at prices higher than they left. Indeed, our human resources also constantly leave our borders, unexplored, underexplored, underutilised, underappreciated, developed-world bound. But humans not being same as things, these people, having brains of their own, choose to return or not return as they please. Many choose the latter.

Even more tragically, the many who actually choose to return to directly impact their home nation of Ghana find themselves surrounded by a system—a governance system—intent on festering in mediocrity, in corruption, in underperformance, in an overall short-term governance approach. These returning Diaspora find themselves back to a system that actively seeks to resist any proactive change they have to offer—a system unwilling to lend itself to long-term developmental approaches. They come back to find their home nation still no better than it was when they left it, and are left with no option but to return back to their host nations—the developed world.

So, this pat on the backs that we’ve been giving ourselves for the incomes earned from this Diaspora… It’s problematic, is it not? It’s even quite comedic when you think about it. This patting on the back, it tends to feel like a further nudging, a further campaign for more citizens to exit the nation—because, after all, doesn’t increased migration result in increased remittances?

Bad Parenting
There are two opposing schools of thought on this whole migration issue, especially as it pertains to the African continent. There are those who call it a ‘brain drain’—an act that results in the short and long-term, the loss of human resource capital and the consequent national development that would have proceeded from them. There are those who say it just might be a ‘brain gain’ instead—that these human resources tend to undergo refinements and worldliness characteristic of travel, one that can be lent to their home nations, while all the while sending home remittances, resulting in economic growth for their home nation.

None of these two schools of thought are absolutely incorrect. Their only faults exist in their tendencies to group the phenomenon of migration in these two differing straitjackets. Both provide sound arguments. Yet, we must remember that these resulting effects (be it brain gain or brain drain) are subject to the realities of a particular nation in question. And in the case of short-term-thinking nations like Ghana and many other African countries, migration tends to be the former—brain drain. Gains reaped from them tend to be short-term—for the system is still structured to resist any long-term developmental gains, be they from within our borders or without.

Long-term possible benefits of emigration, ones such as knowledge and technology-transfer and the effective utilisation thereof to secure national growth—a national growth that will cause the reality where the Ghanaian no longer abandons their country due to harsh and unfavourable economic climate… Such real and lasting changes are often refused by short-term thinking nations such as ours. For us, migration and the championing thereof often tend to feel like our governments throwing in the towel… After seeing how badly or mediocre they are performing in the nation building process, these governments, like a failing parent, throws in the towel, sending off their child to another—hoping that this child will find their best selves in this exeunt, and perhaps return home to offer short-term reliefs in the form of money for sustenance.

It Really is Just not the Same
I mean, we were kids in a brainwashed African nation, and Paa Kwesi had 3C curly hair—that, on its own, was success. Paa Kwesi, a child born of two nationalities—that alone was success. But growing up and realising the facts that led to his existence, we realise how childish we were in this thinking.

You see, Paa Kwesi’s mother had been one of the many who had joined the mass exodus to Libya enroute to the Sahara and the Mediterranean, with hopes of reaching the West in search of greener pastures. Having failed at this attempt, an immediate return was deemed ‘too shameful’. So, like many, she remained in Libya, met Paa Kwesi’s father, and soon bagged herself a foreign-looking son. That was enough consolation for her brainwashed home nation of Ghana—a nation where all things foreign are deemed better. So, with her pre-pubescent son, she returned home under the latent title ‘borga-adjacent’, feigning the success expected of the Diaspora.

On the day that her son—only child—Paa Kwesi died there was no pretence to give. On the day her son died from a disease, manageable (if one is blessed with financial means), there was no consolation to give. On the day her son died, all she could do was dance—not under pretence, but under the influence of alcohol. Paa Kwesi who had come to me just a few months prior with an earnest request, “Marcia, I have developed this project to help underprivileged children with disabilities…” Paa Kwesi, had directed and shot a television programme intent on highlighting the plights of the nation’s unfortunate, and hopefully, gathering funds to help these children. He needed help with the subtitles. Like his mother, Paa Kwesi had dreams of a better world for himself and the world around him. Ah! only if the West had allowed them entrance… “Shame on the West for denying his mother entry to partake in their success”. That right there, is what they call ‘displaced anger’. Because it really isn’t the fault nor duty of a country to ‘raise’ the nationals of others, is it?

‘Remittances, you say?
Shame on all those failing governments of the world for making orphans of their citizenries—so much so that their best bets at a good life are often found with other nations. But remittances can help with national growth, you say?

Perhaps this country of ours can learn from my experience. Because as the waft of Paa Kwesi’s kicks passed by my face, it did look like I was doing karate, but it did not quite feel like it—in fact, it WASN’T it. These money that come in the form of remittances, adding to our national pool, they look like economic growth, but they aren’t quite it, in the grand scheme of things. They are nothing but mere pretences for short-term minded countries.

But if our country must insist that there is much to gain from these inflows and consequently in our exeunt, then in the immortal words of the great Osibisa, “We are going…”

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[Published in the Business & Financial Times (B&FT) - 28th September, 2023]