I have no regrets for coming back to Ghana after some 12 years abroad, studying to acquire a few advanced degrees and working unthinkable hours to boost the bottom line of supermarkets and factories. I have no regrets for doing odd jobs in very cold temperatures while my degrees rotted away in dirty drawers in my bedroom. I have no regrets that I have visited more countries in Europe than Africa.
It was my choice to leave Ghana after my postgraduate studies for advanced learning in popular universities that placed well in world university rankings. Today, I realise I didn’t need foreign degrees to practice my trade in Ghana, not any more than I require local degrees to understand and digest local problems. The glocal context (global plus local) is intelligible to anybody who has interest to know what happens in any jurisdiction, whether you wear the turban in Pakistan or the Kente in Ghana.
Better systems, better rewards
I am unashamed to confess that advanced university learning was not the motivation for leaving Ghana; University of Ghana had prepared me quite well for any role in my occupational calling. I fancied a better life abroad where opportunities abound for any simpleton to buy himself some dignity with the currency of hard work.
I envied life in an advanced economy where I could save to buy a good car without contracting a loan at a higher interest. Good education tagged along beautifully because the universities were better resourced and it was also easier to work and pay your fees and save. I needed to go to school because my visa required that I did.
When I was leaving Ghana in 2003, I had read that Yale University was worth more than the GDP of Sierra Leone. I thought universities in Sierra Leone wouldn’t offer much to the average Sierra Leonean student–in terms of scholarship and professional preparation. I also knew that University of Ghana, where I had taken two degrees in English language and Communication Studies, was a bit like any Sierra Leonean university where lack of financing and poorly stocked libraries made learning difficult.
At the School of Communication Studies of University of Ghana, learning was fun because we had very good lecturers, but the department’s only printer needed to be beaten or threatened before it printed out our assignments. Immediate past spokesman of the Ghana Police Service, Supt. Cephas Arthur, had a very ingenious way of tickling the armpit of the printer to touch its softest side before it printed our work.
No sweetness here
Now a student of a well-resourced university in London, I was delighted to find printers that didn’t need beating or tickling to print my work. Besides, I could afford my own printer and a new laptop after working part-time for a month. It was refreshing that I could also buy a car and other room effects while paying to study for a good degree. I could even afford to build a house in Ghana and sponsor my friend’s wedding.
Instead of returning home after my studies in England, I moved up to North America, ostensibly for ‘higher-advanced’ studies. Here too, education was a distant objective; the immediate motivation was to discover Canada and enjoy the quality life citizenship offered skilled immigrants. To get a job, I needed to be a career student, willy-nilly.
After six years in the cold, I decided to return to my country. What were my immediate motivations for coming back as a diaspora returnee? I will be brutally honest and unapologetic about the truth: Very few diaspora returnees are as well-intentioned and patriotic as our brothers and sisters who stayed home to develop this country. While we do not have to apologise for not staying back, we should be quick to fess up that we return home not entirely consumed with the idea of developing our country.
The whining anointing
Indeed that is why we whine. We all whined when we came back. Most ironically, those who whine the most are usually those who were not up to anything exceptionally great in their foreign homes. My experience is that many diaspora returnees are quite exhausted. Credit cards have been maxed out. The few who come with huge foreign capital want to be treated specially and favored above the ‘Ahaspora’ (locals who never travelled out) because they are used to a better system where drains were covered.
Frankly, what expertise and unusual nation-changing skills do diaspora returnees bring? We enjoy it when our work colleagues identify us with the West and bring us coffee in the hot afternoons because we are assumed to be still adjusting to the local system. We try to speak to impress and compare things needlessly because we are not used to paying bribes. We whine away arrogantly, like no Ahomka business.
Unlike me, some diaspora returnees were doing very fine in progressive careers in their foreign countries before they were begged, coaxed and enticed to come back home to help. Often, they forget that the first president of Ghana was also a returnee who was lured in by the UGCC democracy doyens. All returnees must realise that Ghana will be fine without their contribution, money and expertise. Foreign remittances to our families are huge, but local remittances sustained poor families before we travelled.
Making the difference
Mr. K. B. Asante, a former diplomat and Nkrumah associate, puts it more poignantly:
“Yes, Ghanaians in the diaspora can do a lot to move the country forward, but they should not return under special conditions which would make those toiling away now with limited understanding and wages unhappy. We do not want or need above all else Ghanaians with special talents and experience from outside. The experience is here and we should tap it. The experts at home are not that incompetent. ”
Diaspora returnees usually return to the diaspora, and they never return. They never wanted to come in the first place, so they give themselves reasons to go back to where institutions work. I expected my family to congratulate me for being able to bear with dumsor. I had come from a country where the lights never went off.
I am used to the system now. I know when not to join the chorus of the whining brigade. I have found a home in a house that doesn’t look great. I have two options: Get out of the house if it’s too dirty or help paint it yellow. I choose the latter.