The Ghanaian Spirit And Remittances: Govt Must Payback

Fri, 14 Mar 2003 Source: Ohemeng, Peter

It was a delighted to hear from the President of Republic of Ghana, His Excellency, J.A Kufuor that remittances from Ghanaians living abroad reached USD1.3 billion last year. Before I begin my sermon, let me first sign a little friendly warning. The figure is huge BUT this must not be taken to mean or buttress the usually wrong impression among sections of Ghanaians at home that the cash is here and they have even exceeded the dollars sent in by gold and equals cocoa revenue. It is not about the dollars but it is all about the love for ones' country and people. It all bothers on hard work, hospitality, sympathy and the in some cases self-impo! sed obligation to share limited resources with loved-ones left back home. This philanthropic service to the nation must neither be taken for granted nor be misconstrued to mean abroad is money and abundance. The toil and suffering of citizens abroad must be recognized and rewarded by the government, family members and all other beneficiaries.

It is now over 9 years since I left the shores of mother Ghana and I have been a witness to the unpredictable conditions many of our burgers or overseas residents have to bear to keep themselves and things going. The most difficult phase in the quest to seek and graze on greener pastures for many is how to overcome the difficult question of permission to stay (for those of us in Norway - the oppholds- og arbeidstillatelse) in our respective safe havens. What is most impressive is the fact that many compatriots defy all the odds and uncertainties, in some cases a hide-and-seek gamble with immigration authorities to squeeze and remit their families, friends and, in some cases, their communities. This is the true Ghanaian spirit - ability to survive and do well even under! extreme unfavourable conditions. As to what some of us do for a living and for servicing our welfare commitments to loved-ones back home, I leave that for another day. Folks, give yourselves pat on the shoulders, for it has been and continue to be a real struggle.

His Excellency, President J.A Kufuor, is reported to have said recently in London that, last year the Bank of Ghana identified US$1.3 billion as remittances from Ghanaians overseas into the banking system in Ghana. This figure showed an increment from $400 million two years ago. Significantly, the president said in addition that the $1.3 billion almost equal the proceeds from cocoa and was slightly above the $1 billion a year from gold. Again, the president was reported to have declared '...so you are a very very major force in the economy of Ghana and hoped for even more dollars in the years to come'. Aha, his Excellency, President JAK was also reported to have complimented Ghanaians overseas for the "building boom".

Thank you Mr. President for the appreciation. But, don't these citizens of our country deserve much better? I mean more than mere words of thanks? The NPP government in particular owes even much more thanks to these citizens abroad. The immense contribution made by this group of citizens when the nation desperately needed a change of leadership must not be forgotten. For some of us, time is running fast and our heads could not soar to the level the President might have wished for when in London. Living conditions continue to be unbearable for the ordinary Ghanaian, corruption and self-aggrandizement seem entrenched in the system, continuity rather than reforms seems to be the order of government business, those of us abroad continue to be voiceless on crucial national issues, due mainly to the lack of right to vote. Ghanaians are too blessed and good to suffer this way.

I think the potential of the Ghanaian spirit in our citizens abroad is worth more than the remittances, in fact, it is immeasurable. I was not quite glad upon hearing that the remittances have doubled since JAK assumed the presidency. But, agreeably, this is something any leadership will cherish. I see a goldfield that can and should be exploited thoroughly. In addition to the dollars, many Ghanaians living abroad are highly focused on and committed to the well being of the country and its people. This has been expressed in articles on Interne! t forums, newspapers, and heated debates both on the web and face-to-face. I am sure the leadership is aware of our Internet activities. I have been and will continue to be an active member of some of these forums. The heated debates and controversies many at times lead many of us to question why people would choose to be part of such forums. I have researched into this question. The answer I normally get is that, Ghanaians never say 'f?ck you' to their motherland (in Ghanaian terminology - never point to their village with the left hand), no matter how long they stay abroad or outside, their love for their nation and peoples' well-being never diminish. This is the true Ghanaian spirit. As a friend simply put ! it, many of us still use our fishing net sponge, know wh at I mean? Ghana or as mostly referred to, home, still remains a dream final destination for many of us.

I, like many others, think it is naive and irresponsible for any government to ignore the efforts of such hardworking and caring children of the country. It is not and should not only be about cash, the potential is worth more than that. There are a lot Ghanaian authorities and people can do to gain even more from this category of citizens. What the government and people of Ghana might not know is that the uncertainties and difficult conditions over here make many of us even more patriotic towards our roots and native Ghana. I had the opportunity to attend this year's 46th birthday party of Ghana, organized by the Ghanaian Union in Oslo. I could see that our nation is blessed with sons and daughters who are committed and trustworthy. The mood was chilling and a visible display of love for the country. It was a delight to see that even the Ghanaian children growing up over here could sing the National Anthem. What the young ones could not do was to honour the legendly Dr. Ephraim Amu by singing his famous "yen ara yen asaase ni". I could see that there was almost zero participation by these children when the crowd was singing the song. The famous independence speech by Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, first pre! sident of independent Ghana was read by a young and lovely girl, named Nana Serwah. It was very touching and my mind went into pensive, scanning all what has happened since that famous speech and the ensuing self-governance that followed. Certain events sounded pathetic and unfortunate in my mind. However, my delight and consolation was that though lots of political mistakes have been committed, Ghana continues to be a pace-setter and a role model in Africa. The Ghanaian spirit to move ahead and progress keeps burning and shinning.

It is not and should not be difficult for the NPP government to know the wishes and expectations of the nation's citizens living overseas. This abounds on the Ghanaian websites and Internet discussion forums. Their pool of opinions on issues affecting our country should be enough to tell any government what these citizens want for their country. The oversea residents have shown concerns on almost every aspect of our national life - voting rights for all, corruption and thievery, dual citizenship, lack of employment opportunities, free and fair electioneering tradition, lack of infrastructure, armed robbery, poverty and suffering, brain drain, falling educational standards, poor conditions at our universities, self-a! ggrandizement by our leaders, chieftaincy disputes, freedom of the press, 37 Military Hospital bats, girl-child right to equal educational opportunities, Hipc, fmr. President Rawlings, Kofi Wayo, the IMF/WB, the terrifying Dagbon massacre, kalabule, name them. This is a clear indication that their concerns and opinions bother on almost everything that makes or would make our nation great. As for the manpower and investment potentials of our citizens abroad, I don't have the time and space and will leave that for now.

What should Kufour-Aliu administration do to pay something back for the magnificent contribution towards the nation's development by residents overseas? My answer shouldn't be repetitive and I will therefore ask this government to listen to the voices on the www.wilderness. The issues of dual citizenship and voting rights for Ghanaians abroad should be given the needed and speedy priority. These issues, which affect them particularly, when solved would make the beneficiaries even more patriotic and increase their sense of commitment to th! e blessed people and the nation of Ghana. Government should clamp down on corruption and self-aggrandizement. The President, his ministers, MPs and others exercising public authority must not portray themselves to be living in a different world from the mass of the people. The news about the Speaker of our august Parliament's Mercedes Benz car worth over US$ 90, 000.00 has been worrying to many of us. This has been of great concern to many of us living abroad because of the feeling that it is sheer carelessness for someone to think this way, looking at it from the fact that the nation is baptized hipc - at the brink of bankruptcy. The government must do everything possible to rationalize the huge administrative cost that has bedeviled our progress for many years.

It is the expectation of diasporans, for once, to see a nation where the people (particularly the leadership) are serious about what they can do for their country and not how much they can amass for themselves and families. Kufuor, Rawlings, Clinton, Bush, Mugabe, Mandela, Bondevik, name them shall all pass away but their good works and love (if any) for their countries shall forever remain. It is a Ghanaian saying that good name is better than riches. Let us live up to this Ghanaian wise-saying. Let us help to sustain and keep alive the Ghanaian spirit to be among the best and to care for one another.

Peter Ohemeng
Oslo, Norway.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of Ghanaweb.
Columnist: Ohemeng, Peter