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20.07.2009 Feature Article

The Reverse Exodus:The Ghanaians in the Diaspora Head Home.

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Is the bad economy in our host Countries a blessing in disguise?

As their fate becomes increasingly uncertain, a growing number of Ghanaian immigrants in the diaspora are packing up and heading to Kotoka.

But, are our leaders, culture of entitlement and the folks we left behind going to make the transition a smooth and pleasant one? Or are we going to come back to our host countries when their economy is improved?

As our host countries are shaken by the threat of natural disasters , Al Qaeda and economic tsunami ; Wall Street's collapsed, housing foreclosures, credit crisis, job insecurities and others we should not only search for a new purpose but the urgent need to look for ways to contribute to and make a difference before we check out from this troubled planet. This is the time, especially, when the future in our host countries is not assured and we're not too frail to do things .Indeed, personally I think this is the time to give the second half of my life a new meaning by moving to Ghana.

In fact, the original goal of every immigrant –regardless of race or nationality----- is to find financial success in the host country and one day settle in the country of his/her birth. But as time goes by only few actually returned home because it's hard to go back there unprepared.

In the busyness of the modern life, many of us have lost the rhythm between our everyday activities and purpose in life. We are more or less too busy working two or more jobs to make the two ends meet and consequently forgot what matters the most.

We all know how fast time flies: college was a blur, marriage, kids and mortgages seem to appear over night and one job leads into the next, before you know it we are planning for retirement and wondering :In spite of all the hassles, what did we get here? The twists and turns in life suddenly seem bewildering and make us loose our bearings.

However, in recent years as the economy of our host countries entered recession, and with the discovering of oil in Ghana coupled with the potential to become a very prosperous nation in ten years, the dream of settling home for good is not so elusive after all—for some it's in fact, the only realistic option.

But, after years or even decades of spending the better part of our lives abroad, home can be strangely unfamiliar territory –which requires very careful mind- training and readjustments. The constant power cuts, water shortages, frequent minor infections and infractions, poor infrastructure and, inefficiencies in the market place can affect human productivity and one's long- term goals in Ghana.

But, we should not let them to over cloud our going-home plans. To some people the idea of change makes their hearts go bum-bum .The idea of going home alone can make some Ghanaian immigrants' hearts beat harder because they are comfortable in their host countries .The fear of unknown or fear of failure can be the main determining factor. But for how long?

Change should not be new to us because the world is changing faster than it ever has. So we must prepare to change careers, locations and focus.

Yes, you should be apprehensive, given the fact that our leaders and policy makers haven't made any provisions to make our return home smooth and enjoyable. Yes, there is no room for the Ghanaian returnees to make “mistakes” because the folks back home will literally eat us alive and force us to run back to our host countries and die with sadness and anger.

Yes, I know you're tempted to ask,”Why back to Ghana. Why the sense of urgency to move to Ghana now?” Well, whilst our decisions to depart Ghana were based solely on economic circumstances, our return would not be solely based on economic reasons. At least, for most Ghanaian “expats”, going back to Ghana is due to largely in part to emotional, social and cultural reasons. Some want to spend their old age with their peers, old school mates, family members and people they grew up with in the villages, towns and cities of Ghana. They also want their children to understand the Ghanaian culture and above all our host countries could be lonely place—to say the least. Also the spirit of patriotism plays a vital role in the decision- making process.

For one thing, some of us think we're lucky to go abroad and make life for ourselves. However, I think we have to go back when the time is right to reverse the “brain drain syndrome, “we helped to perpetuate.

No doubt, our experiences in abroad will hyped our expectations in Ghana. But, we have to lower our expectations and joke, and laugh about experiences in Ghana which don't make, either economic or social sense--- because a lot will. It is through that we will be able to enjoy Ghana more. Certainly, we can't go home to settle- down if we complain and hate everything about Ghana. Obviously, adjustment to Ghanaian “culture of entitlement”, irresponsibility, unaccountability, low value customer service and lack of respect for time will not be easy for returnees. They might not be what they have hoped for, especially those with children. Things are not going to be an easy ride. However, it all depends on our own goals in life and perception.

The fact of the matter is that whilst your retirement may be expected when you are sixty- something or depending on how many years you have invested your life in your host country, you don't have to wait for that milestone to fulfill your desire to move home and contribute to national development. You know what makes you “.happy”, when you go home. Don't you?

That reminds me of a story I read. You may have heard it several times, but I would like to share it with you, anyway. The story is about two sales men, who traveled to a foreign remote country to sell shoes. The first salesman immediately called home and said” get me the next flight home. No one wears shoes here”. The second gentleman called home and said”, I don't have enough shoes to sell, send me the entire inventory. No one wears shoes here!”

Equally, how do you read the following? :”Opportunityisnowhere” It can also be read: Opportunity is no where or Opportunity is now here”.

The substance of the story is that it all depends on your perception. You could read that perplexing question in so many ways. You could either give the positive or negative facts as you response. Any of the fore mentioned answers could be your perspective on the same situation. For success involves more than just a career and finances .The next promotion and the next financial home –run will be meaningless if your mission in life is so blur and cloudy. For life is too short to spend the better part of it on foreign land, which offers no future but uncertainties.

I don't remember the author of this statement, but it returns to me once in a while. It says,” Yesterday is history, Tomorrow is a mystery, and Today is a gift that is why we call it the Present”

Yes, life in Ghana has its drawbacks for a returnee. There is no privacy because your maid or driver can eavesdrop on your phone conversations 24/7.And, people bang over to your house unannounced asking for handouts and”loans”. But, all that will stop when they know you're one of them and ready to settle home.

If nothing at all, moving to Ghana will give us the sense of belonging that will replace the sense of feeling like “foreigners”. It's a fact, we always feel like foreigners no matter how long we live in our host countries. We feel this constant need to prove ourselves, be it personally or professionally. In the U.S, a common gesture like throwing my arms around my male friends—to express a sign of physical affection—will prompt glances and elicit blank stares or rolling eyes ,because that will be considered taboo with homosexual connotation. On the other hand, such gesture in Ghana will be greeted with pride and warmth. I also like the “informal” aspect of the Ghanaian life. We don't have to make appointments to meet people we know in Ghana, at least not our family members. We just walk in.

But, once we move abroad we have adapted the new lifestyle of our host countries. I have lived to my next door neighbors for ten years and I can't even tell you what the inside of their houses look like. I don't even remember their names and they don't remember mine because I hardly see them; let alone to have conversation with them. We are always on the run; trying to make a living.

In the states you only get your 'confidence' from work, because there aren't many other forms of interactions. So if you have no job your basic independence or freedom is restricted. Therefore, losing a job is always devastating and even harder in a single- income household. So a job is more than a source of paycheck

Sometimes, we fall behind our contemporaries back home, when it comes to things like owing a home or starting a family. For better or worse we can never have the quality of life our friends are living in Ghana.

Yes, with the global economy that we live in, if things are bad in the U.S, then they aren't going to be much better in Ghana either. But, trying to build a life in the U.S after this economic shake- up can be very unpredictable journey filled with unanswered questions.

Reasons to Move back to Ghana:
The job crisis is global, across countries. But, as it becomes intense in our host countries protectionism advocates, particularly in the labor markets in the western countries have already began making noise about this as they try to preserve jobs for their own nationals. That is also a strong prescription for xenophobia, nationalism, intolerance and animosity.

The short-term Effects of the Reverse Exodus on Ghana:

1) In the short run the impact of the reverse exodus—both economically and socially—would be devastating. First the chunk of the remittances the Ghanaian emigrants used to bring home will be reduced when they start to come home in record numbers.

2) There will be naturally a considerable negative impact on Ghana as remittances will stop and the number of unemployment will increase simultaneously. Socially, adjusting to the returnees will be a problem because they would be quickly perceived as liabilities, as opposed to assets. As a result that will affect them as well as the local residents.

3) The decline in capital flow can also hurt the cedi exchange rate, making the cedi weaker and asset markets particularly the real estate market.

4) To ease the unemployment pain the government would probably have to provide jobs for the returnees which could invite problems. Some of the returnees who have prior experiences and skills, should be helped to find employment in the public sector but, any special effort directed at them will also cause social heartburn because some people will be jealous of them.

5)Another problem is that Ghanaians tend to work hard when they go out of their country to seek their fortunes ;But at home they seem to lack the same discipline and work ethic .Ghanaians are ready to do any thing or any job.( I mean any job) once they cross the nation's borders or leave Kotoka. But, at home there is a kind of self-created social unemployment.

To ease the unemployment pain those returnees with skills (especially ICT skills and entrepreneurial spirit) should be given government backed loans. The ICT sector offers employment potential and there is hope in education too. The demand for ICT related services and educational learning tools are likely going to be much more than we expect.

The Long –Term Effect:
In the long term the returnees will create jobs and build the economy with their experiences and skills they acquired abroad. They will be the engines of development and ideas.

What to do there:
Moving to Ghana you have to know what you're going to do there. Your chance to make it handsomely increases when you decide to provide a service or produce a product with local raw material. If you're able to do that then you're not going to start from the scratch. And, with the oil boom on the horizon, there will be money in the system to pay for your services and products, provided they meet the consumers' taste and solve their emerging problems. The expats with vision, little education backed by a drive to succeed will make it.

To survive in Ghana and be recession –proof and hedging risks we must diversify. This can mean any number of things: From learning new marketable skills that are applicable in Ghana to providing services or products that make life better for consumers in Ghana, and abroad; if exporting.

Whilst happiness is a subjective experience, true happiness in Ghana will come if you can add a real value to the world in some important way, because what really matters is making a difference and affecting the lives of so many people.

We must create value—a product or service that enhance people's lives. So find something you love to do that you are passionate about and make it valuable to more people---bingo!

Don't make migration a painful trend. We do that every day. Moving to Ghana to make a new life is not different than an American moving from New York to California, or our friends moving from the village of Tweapease to Tema to find jobs. To make the transition as smooth as possible we have to network with other returnees across Ghana and possibly form a social club, organization or a Pressure Group so that we could meet to exchange ideas and share stories and experiences.

There are two ways to innovate while you are in Ghana: You can make something substantially better at the same price, or you can make something cheaper at the same value. In other words, look for something that people are familiar with and try to see if you can save the cost and provide the same value at a lot cheaper price. Mindful of the fact that Ghanaians are price-sensitive

Well, If and when you embark on your journey don't worry about what others at home and abroad will think of you and your decision because your success in Ghana will base upon what you're than what you know. Our responses to the circumstances in our lives are shaped by who and what we think we are .And; Successful people have experienced more failures and adversities than mediocrities.

First place doesn't go to the talented man or woman but the individual who believe he can succeed.

On my recent trip to my home town in Ghana I learned a valuable lesson about hope; attitude and how using inner resources to strengthen our resolve can make us rise above adversity. Ironically, my biggest sense of pride came when I saw children growing up suffocated by poverty and surrounded by filths. I'm referring to the ones that the average Ghanaian immigrant kids in the diaspora only see on television but can not relate to them, (assuming they watch CNN, instead of MTV)They are the same children who come to my annual children's party .

On every 24th December I always bribe them with food and music. I throw a party for them as a pro bono community service. I do that to encourage them to stay in school, stay away from trouble and get good grades. The party always brings out the most amount of glittering of kids. And I always watch them obsessively as they enjoy themselves. But, this time something happened which changed my perception about life remarkably.

As I watched them I realized that in spite of their desperate conditions they were very close to each other even as they played on muddy streets, playing with toys they have made out of bamboo trees and discarded milk cans and children games. Their creative potential is so vibrant and envious that I began to ask: “What if they were born in a developed country?” I also saw their faces alight with happiness and full of hope, as they received their plate of rice with two pieces of chicken and a cup of Kool -Aid drink .Above all, they were very eager to present to me their academic reports before they took to the dance floor to show me their latest dancing prowess .They danced with unrestrained joy until the night took over and their dancing shoes were powdered with dust.. It was and still is astounding to me that a human spirit constantly beaten down can remain unbroken and strong with hope, pride and the feeling of optimism.

It's very difficult to convey the impact of the experiences and the lessons I learned from those kids to anyone who has never experienced poverty---I mean super- poverty and its trimmings...

Nevertheless, I 'm still surprised at their ability to detach themselves from their plights----lack of basic social amenities that every child longs for. They do not take vacations to any interesting places or get on rides at amusement parks. They don't have any book, either no one reads them a bed -time story. And, they walk miles each day to go to school.

In some ways they mirror my childhood. They don't have expensive toys or sneakers or bikes, but they're not ready to give up. They are not either looking for anyone to blame their misfortunes on. Their immeasurable hope with aspirations and unyielding faith are fueled by the burning desire to be “somebody”, one day. They're undeterred by the dream of possibilities.

Charles Darwin was right, “It's not the strongest of the species that survive, nor most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change”.

The same thing can be said about Ghana .A nation that has been torn by coup d'états, corruptions, tribalism, embezzlements, selfishness, and plagued by manner of social ailments for over three decades. But, it still manages to remain more or less united, to keep an ethnic- cleansing tendencies at bay. It's strong and still holding on to hope against hope and ready to reclaim its place in history.

I'm humbled by and indebted to my “Ghanainness” again like a rediscovered favorite shirt or an old- friendship because I'm so emotionally invested in Ghana now than ever.

I say this with a deep sense of gratitude and humility .One of the greatest benefits of being able to travel outside Ghana makes me appreciate her more. It's true that sometimes we need another view of the world, a more exhilarating environment, in order to find our greatest inspiration, aspiration and appreciation.

There is one lesson I have learned over the years as a social commentator and a citizen of a great nation, which stands above all others that I hope to convey in this piece .It's simply this: What other people think of you is not important as what you think of yourself. Yes, you can still succeed even if people don't believe in you and your ideas or dreams. But, you can't accomplish anything monumental if you don't believe in yourself and dreams.

Business legend has it that there are three types of people: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who have no idea what is happening. So what type of person are you?

It takes people with resilience to take the plunge so go for it and make your self proud again. Give your second half of your life a new meaning and be part of the new beginning which is unfolding back home because when things start to fall apart in your host country you will no longer be at ease.

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi.
*The author is a social commentator and the founder of Adu-Gyamfi Youth Empowerment, Educational and Apprenticeship Foundation for the Youth of Asuom.

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi
Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi, © 2009

The author has 206 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: KwakuAduGyamfi

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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