By ABDUL SATAAR
It is more than just another weekend when the future of your career is in discussion in the German city of Bonn. Your life pans out before you in a movie scroll, and in the moment, you see your past reflecting itself into the future. It might not necessarily be a negative thing. For the would-be Ghanaian returnees who took part in a recent get-together organized by Germany’s Centre for International Migration and Development (CIM), the decision to return home had very little to do with the sting of racism or the ache and strenuous existence that is life in be-on-time Germany. Instead, it was a burning desire to contribute to the development of their country. To work hand-in-hand with ‘locals’ and collectively enjoy conveniences they experienced abroad on native soil.
In his debut album Manifestations, M.anifest reflected the thoughts of many an immigrant’s mentality with his choice of words on Swing Low: “If I die when I go to America, make sure to bring my bones back to Africa; made in Ghana, be laid in Ghana…” Featuring a rich baritone-voice, the track is slow and quiet at first, then amps into a theme of legends and heroes. The flow of his words, the sounds of fingers slapping off the rim of the drum, and the booming trumpet are synonymous with the first few days abroad: the streets, the lights, the bus schedule, and all those things that tugged at your heart whenever you imagined life abroad.
But then things do start to change. The leaves take on golden colors. They wilt. They die. And the wind becomes so cold it feels as if the Boltons in Game of Thrones are flaying your skin. For the most part, it is hardly the cold weather or the tinge of racism that makes you want to return home. It is rather the case of a salmon coming of age; there is a burning urge to retrace your journey back home. This burning urge seems to me to be a black man’s guiding compass. If it wasn’t borne out of a need to recreate the links to your ancestors sundered by the Middle Passage, it was the need to further your career, ala M.anifest, ala Reggie Rockstone, ala Ashesi and the many expatriates who have returned home after stints in the diaspora.
Yet coming home is not an entirely straightforward decision to make. Following newsreels from the outside turns Ghana into the inside of a sweatshirt; the gore of sweat and dirt make for an unwelcome sight. Between the harsh realities of the employment sector and the health system that has improved but still has tremendous room for growth, one is left with enough doubts to rethink the decision.
Borga – The Struggle to Belong
I remember my first months in Germany. Unlike King Sark, I was not there to study psychology. Without a scholarship or fat bank account, the only way to maintain myself was to secure employment in the back-region of Saulheim; about an hour’s ride from the city of Mainz. By train and by foot, through snowdrifts and huddled in a thick winter jacket, I would go, only to arrange packets at a logistics company. It turned out to be the normal jobs for guys like me: immigrants needing to work in order to have the time to study.
After the first day at work managing three container trucks, I came home dreaming of Akoma APC. I ached from the scalp of my head to the soles of my feet. Sometimes, I would miss my bus stop while sleeping to relieve the stress; other times, I felt so tired and worn out. Sleep played hide and seek with my life. This became the motif for many other international students who needed to prove their finances at the Alien’s Office every six months in order renew their stay permits. It is because of these painful struggles that many plan on returning home; a fact the Ghanaian economy will benefit very much from should the government adopt an active policy toward supporting returnees and Ghanaians in the Diaspora.
German Support for Ghanaian Returnees
The German government is already supporting professionals with its CIM initiatives and recently brought together Ghanaians from across Germany to the CJD Bonn guesthouse for an information session on its programs and efforts. Introductions done and background information gleaned, discussions soon veered to topics of home; the good and the politics, and in some circles, what the Noguchi Memorial Institute represented in medical research in Ghana. We sampled cases of sexual harassment and the ban on public sector recruitment (read, ghost names). “Why did the goat cross the road,” somebody never asked; “to avoid the court case,” nobody said. Football followed God, religion and spirituality, and for others, it was one man, one beer.
For the most part, it is hardly the cold weather or the tinge of racism that makes you want to return home. It is rather the case of a salmon coming of age; there is a burning urge to retrace your journey back home.
Through its offices at the employment agency and GIZ, the German government uses its Migration for Development programme to help graduates and professionals from the developing world return home. While there is job placement assistance, the soon-to-be returnee is encouraged to seek out employment in their native country and then put forth an application for a salary top under CIM’s ‘Returning Experts Programme’. Salaries are cushioned in specific sectors and cases where the remuneration isn’t commensurate with the applicant’s qualification. For those who manage to acquire this aid, they also qualify to access up to €10,000 in funding for workplace equipment if they work in agriculture, governance, sustainable development or vocational training. This arrangement augments the efforts of the two countries in sectors deemed critical to Ghana’s development, areas where the two nations are working together to alleviate poverty and improve livelihoods.
In Agriculture, the two countries hope to improve capacity among Ghanaian farmers and raise productivity above subsistence level. On the sustainability front, the focus is on increasing access to financial services among small and medium enterprises. For this reason, the majority of scholarship offers from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is limited to these key areas of the economy. In 2015 alone, up to 402 Ghanaian scholars were awarded stipends to study in Germany. This makes the returning expat a very viable medium of knowledge exchange and national development.
Returnee & Diaspora Roles in Building Ghana
An immigrant plans on returning home the moment he lands on foreign soil. It is why over 700,000 Ghanaians in the diaspora sent almost US $2 billion in the last year. A concept paper published by the Ghana Embassy in Berlin touched on the fact that remittances surpass official direct assistance on the continent. With most of it carried out outside the realm of official bookkeeping, it is likely the levels exceed the quoted values by three to four times.
What that means is this: regardless of what means it utilises, the ever thirsty Ghana government is actually missing out on a bigger chunk of a fortune by not engaging the diaspora more strategically. People will continue to send cash through relatives and non-legal means just as a silent fart evades one’s tightly squeezed buttocks. On the other hand, allowing for the fact that many in the diaspora contemplate returning home, the government has the chance to bank on the most important resource: the human resource. We have amazing people in Ghana devising creative and entrepreneurial means of solving everyday problems. The art scene is going through a renaissance through the works of indie professionals, and social media is spreading information on a never-seen-before scale. It is on this that the developing world will survive.
Export-led growth and trade rely heavily on the dynamics of markets completely out of the hands of the local economy. Men and women invested in the communities they live in provide foundations that are firmer.
They represent markets that have deeper pockets because production and consumption and investment complement each other, and they operate on levels further and beyond the scope of any economic indicator. Add returnees; graduates and professionals returning from abroad and you have an exciting mix of perspectives and networks and many other ways of preparing a sobolo cocktail. What makes remitted finances important is the fact that the monies reach those who are mostly in need. What makes the returnee a worthy tool for development is his capacity to work with the local entrepreneur and adapt his expertise to their combined goals and aspirations for the country.
Now Here Cool
You cannot spell celebration without EL, nor can you build a nation without participation from outside the public sector. While reliant on the foundations set by a central government, the onus of development grows only by the actions and convictions of its citizens. When I was younger, I used to try evading the trotro fare by pretending to be asleep. In Germany, when the old lady hops onto the bus, she goes straight to validate her ticket or buy a new one from the driver before feeling comfortable at the seat designated for old people. There certainly is a motivation: if you are caught, the 2.70€ ticket blossoms gorgeously into a 60€ fine. It is not an inherent disease among us to want to do things the wrong way.
Ghanaians are not born undisciplined. The culture of not caring that seems to be a part of us suddenly evaporates when we cross boundaries. That alone is evidence of our ability to effect change if the environment is right. By the same principles that curtail those attitudes abroad can we create order in our systems. Ghanaians in the diaspora return to Ghana not to teach and to direct, but to learn from the gifted residents and help build our country. A nation worthy of praise and of its past. One we can refer to and say: Yes, now here cool.
Abdul Sataar is a Ghanaian living in Germany and the author of the self-published novella, Finding Anansi. He blogs about Ghana and football.