Pedestrians in Osu, Accra, Ghana.

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.

 

8 COMMENTS

  1. Here’s a humbling, yet exhilarating essay by Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin about his return to Ghana from many years living abroad. This essay strikes a chord for the many who return looking for something to do or for the few who return waiting to be celebrated as kings and queens.

    Kwesi’s light-hearted approach to a difficult discussion for many “diasporans” and “ahasoprans” (locals) makes this essay the more compelling to use as a conversation starter as either side seeks to understand the unique experiences of living in Ghana or living abroad and how each might contribute meaningfully towards Ghana’s future.

    But the more I write, I spoil the joy of reading an essay full of special moments. Enjoy!

  2. I didn’t particularly see the unique contribution of Kwesi’s essay to the raging debate. The title of the essay (desperate click bait) and the content of the essay are walking in opposite directions. Lol. What is really his point? That the degrees and the experiences he acquired abroad were not very useful and that he doesn’t expect to be treated differently and that he’s going to paint his humbling house in yellow color to hide away the dirt? Maybe someone can help me here.

  3. Kwame Asikye Yeboah, since this is my Nile and I am the Pharaoh swimming in it, let me attempt leading you on a path to some enlightenment from Kwesi Tawiah-Benjamin’s essay. First it’s a piece of literary work, which means that it is a nondramatic textual work with the following illustration: a man returns to Ghana after twelve years of seeking greener pastures abroad (in countries much coveted by average Ghanaians/Africans). When he returns he whines about the inadequacies of his own home constantly wishing that Ghana were the USA. But since it cannot be the USA, he has a choice: stay or leave. The man realizes that if he wishes to stay his whining leads nowhere and that it is better he settles, straps on, and does the dirty work of (re-)building his own home. If he doesn’t like the color, he sure must paint it how he likes, yellow.

    In a nutshell, here is a story of a returnee who has managed to disband the wagon of whining about how Ghana could be the USA and is not, or how Ghana could be Britain and is not, or how he has so much expertise to lead Ghana but no one cares, and has decided rather to become a part of the landscape, a part of that slow running river, no matter how sluggishly it moves, to wherever it leads. The coarse of the river is defined by those actively participating in it, beating daily on the banks of rocks that obstruct its free movement towards the mighty ocean of national self-realization and assertiveness. This is a piece of literature and you are free to see it how you feel. Even, you are free to see nothing in it.

    Hence your criticism is valid, and takes nothing away from the piece or your comment. Will this alternative interpretation from the Pharaoh work for you sir?

  4. Ghana could nevertheless do with the experience and talents of our diasporans, though K. B. Asante is right that diasporans shouldn’t expect privileges. Asante’s boss Nkrumah himself acquired a lot of his knowledge and talents from closely observing Roosevelt’s practically socialist America, and what the British metropolis did in the forties to cater for citizens in education and medicine for all citizens. African states should actively tap into knowledge and expertise acquired by its citizens living abroad.

  5. Kwame Asikye Yeboah, maybe I can throw a bit of light on trying to understand how you feel…. I think sometimes our brains are accustomed to dramatisation and “roller-costering” by such stories climaxing with some juju or someone stealing someone’s property and some serious land dispute emerging, etc. This could be the reason why when someone just chronicles an experience like this without drama and places them in a vacuum for us to digest on our own, it becomes difficult for us…. what do you thing?

  6. Narmer Amenuti I appreciate the pro bono elucidation. Btw, this really is breda Kwasi’s Nile and you did a pretty decent swimming although you really didn’t land at my beach.

    I think I understood the essay alright but if Kwasi was going to draw a ‘dramatic’ conclusion, then he better matched it up with some deeper, anecdotal accounts of his experience as a practical alternative to ‘whining’, instead of stating the very obvious in theory only, which few returnees would actually disagree with, hence my saying that he added not much to the ongoing debate.

    If Kwasi sets out to drown the legitimate voices of those calling for a fundamental change in the very basic systems–such as the recent madness over national service registration, the disorganized diasporan summit etc–then he’d have succeeded in my view by providing a more grounded alternative to whining, don’t you think? Tune in to the radios and you’ll hear locals whining constantly too. Should we shut them up and encourage them to get used to the basic failings of the institutions and the ruling class? The tow levy?

    I’ll use specific examples to make my point.

    Blacks in America are often the biggest whiners among all other racial groups but they often achieve the most in civil rights for all minority groups.

    When Nkrumah landed in Ghana among the UGCC fat cats, I bet he whined about the slow pace of the national liberation movement and eventually channeled his disaffection into concrete strategies that accelerated the tempo of change in the country–making history in the process. Nkrumah applied his superior organizational skills acquired abroad, tapped into his networks in the African American civil rights leaders, leveraged his superior knowledge of the psychology the white man–all in the service of the liberation effort and it paid off.

    If Nkrumah read Kwasi’s well meaning essay upon his return, I believe he’d brush it off immediately for its resemblance to the UGCC freedom motto–self governance in shortest possible time.

    I think Kwasi is trying to appear ‘ordinary’ and blend in through self-deprecating by minimizing the unique opportunities he’s most lucky to have acquired abroad through his travels. But if he were to step into the shoes, minds and circumstances of the proper ‘ordinary’ Ghanaian, he’d realize immediately that his self-deprecating is quite an insult in luxury. It’s easy to belittle the importance of material wealth if you’re rich and not rotting away in poverty, isn’t it? Indeed, Kwasi’s style may well be the new ‘cool’ steeped in attention-seeking–the opposite of what he reels against.

    “hey oppressed subjects, I was born a royal and wealthy with lots of rare opportunities in front of me, but here I am walking barefoot among you ordinary folks. I tell you what, I’m not gonna leverage my privilege to advocate for change to your material existence since we’re all in it together. Actually, I’m going to paint my house yellow to make it easier for me to live amongst you and not run away to my royal base.”

  7. I see I landed on the other bank. But this works. This too, Kwame Asikye Yeboah, is a valid criticism of the literary work. Well done. See, you had it in you but you wanted to cause trouble k3k3. LOL.

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