Opinions Wed, 28 Nov 2007

"Been-tos" ('Burgers') Under Attack?

There is an erroneous impression that most people who live abroad and then visit home (Ghana) have money and nice stuff and thus they sometimes become targets for criminals to prey upon. Families back home also rely on them whenever there is a funeral or financial problems. It is interesting to note that when a family member dies, automatically, the first people to call for help would be the family members living abroad.

I remember when I used to live in Ghana, my friends would always check out the obituary pages with the assumption that the more children or relatives of the deceased living abroad, “the better” the funeral would be. Friends would even choose which of the funerals to attend based on the number of family members listed on the obituary who live abroad.

People living abroad may be robbed while in Ghana based on the fact that most Ghanaians assume that the “been- to” (‘burger’) has lots of hard currencies, nice clothes and electronic appliances. Obviously, when many “been-tos” (burgers) visit Ghana, they do not tell their families how they bought their tickets, clothes and gifts. Some used credit cards, popularly known in Ghanaian parlance as “san dan ho” or “buy today suffer to pay tomorrow.” The “been-tos” and tourists are always the center of attraction on a visit. Some “burgers” go and show off how rich they have become.

There is the tendency for armed robbers to trail them in search of the burger’s hard earned foreign currency and goods. I remember an incident when I was in Ghana on a research trip, summer 2007.There was a sad situation when two armed robbers riding on a motor bike went round into a vicinity looking for a lady “been-to” . After some inquires, they were able to find this lady’s residence. When these armed robbers finally made it to this lady’s bedroom, they realized that she had only a small amount of money on her. The armed robbers became upset and so they beat her up mercilessly. They demanded 70 million cedis (seven thousand Ghana cedis) which she did not have. Fortunately, she was not killed or raped. That was an isolated incident though.

It is very common for the ordinary Ghanaian to give out vital information to a total stranger without any second thought. I hope that in very near future, I would be able to go back to Ghana and help in crime prevention. The problem in Ghana today, as far as crime is concerned is that, we as Ghanaians tend to forget about ‘crime prevention’ because crime was not a very big issue only a few years ago.

As a society develops, crime and deviant acts increase. There are many reasons for these. The obvious one is the fact that a big income gap between the rich and the poor develops. In this regard, some poor people or the deviants think that the only way to move up or maintain a status is to steal. Many people are also desperate now and we know that desperate people do desperate things.

Once again, Ghana can be classified into more than five economic categories. There are “the few very, very rich, the rich, the middle class or the working class (not many), then the poor, and ‘the very, very absolute poor.’ I have not done any comprehensive study yet but from interviewing the ordinary Ghanaian on the street, there is a perception that the working class and the poor are really struggling and they form the majority. (Please do not hear me say that only the poor are criminals.) Dr M. Ibn Chambas of the ECOWAS Commission said that, “women constitute 70 percent of the world's 1.3 billion absolute poor and the highest rate of informal economic activities occurring in South Saharan Africa, with 78 percent of working population performing work on an informal basis.”

I must confess that many of the “been tos” are not better off economically and especially, socially, than the rich or the middle class Ghanaian living in Ghana. It is a matter of perception than reality. If the “been to” tells the Ghanaian living in Ghana that he or she owns a house overseas, please do not be fooled by it because he/she has to work like a ‘a dog’ to pay for a 30-year mortgage or the house would be repossessed if the person misses three payments. When the middle class or a rich Ghanaian living in Ghana on the other hand tells you that, ‘this is my house,’ 99% of the time, it is paid for. This same principle applies to a car that one drives. People who drive for an example, a $23,000.00 car abroad will hopefully pay off the loan for the car in about five years. Most Ghanaians living in Ghana do not owe anything on their cars. They usually buy their cars cash down. (?????) Go figure!

I know some few Ghanaians and expatriates who think that Ghana is not a safe place to visit because they have been robbed while visiting Ghana or they heard or they may have read that someone they know has been robbed. My advise to them is that it is our duty as “been-to’s” to explain our financial situations honestly to our families back home and to try to change the perception that the “been-to” has more financial capital than the Ghanaian living in Ghana (?) We all must also be proactive in combating crime.

I end by saying that Ghana is a great country to live in or to visit but as in every country, the ‘burger’ or the tourist must be aware that there are desperate people and deviants there also. The “been-to” (burger) is not under attack any more than on some streets in New York, Detroit, New Orleans, London, Paris or Amsterdam. Some bring difficulties on themselves by what they did not tell their families or by what they do while on a visit.

Many people back home have wrong perceptions and some “been-to’s,” especially the “burgers,” play into the hands of robbers and deviants whenever they visit. “Edzi dzi kyer3 y3 enyibir.” In this context, it means that when you spend 10 Ghana cedis (about $10) by yourself for a meal in Ghana at a restaurant; remember that most waitresses/waiters make less than that in a week or more. Remember also that, “baakofo ndzidzi” (no one eats alone). In our Motherland, we share.

We are called to be our “brothers’/sisters’ keepers” and the more we lift each other up, the less the crime rate will be. Crime Prevention on a mass scale will increase tourism and revenue. Crime, my brother, my sister, does not pay. It hurts the economy and image of Ghana.

Relax, help is on the way. Vote for determined visionaries who are honest, selfless and “patriotic.” Our votes determine the kind of leaders that we get. Vote wisely and also let ‘crime prevention’ be on your agenda as you go about your daily life. “Burger” will you please, keep a low profile, be honest with yourself and let people know that the life is not a bed of roses when you visit?. Life is hard here.

I rest my case because Ghana is one of the safest places to visit. I know because I was there three times this year. Like any other place, there are criminals in Ghana too.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Boye-Doe, Kofi