Should One Build a House in Ghana While Domiciled Elsewhere?

Fri, 14 Aug 2009 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

One is like a seedling in the soil of life: parents, the environment, religion, education, culture, and a stable physiology – this list is by no means an exhaustive one – are the societal and genetic nutrients that effectuate physical, emotional and spiritual growth, even as one makes it into adulthood. Regarding one's smorgasbord of needs, perhaps the most corporeal is that of shelter. But because it is impossible for one – a mere mortal – to be at two places at the same time, is it really meaningful for one to overwork self, simply to be able to erect an edifice in Ghana, even if it is obvious that one will spend no meaningful amount of time in that property? So the poignant question then is: Does it make sense to build a house in Ghana while domiciled elsewhere?

When one hears his seven-year-old son pronounce “Ghanaian” with an inflection that has no familiarity with one’s place of birth, one is alarmed by the poignancy of the possibility of such a child permanently abandoning his parents' roots. And when a father fails to teach his child his mother tongue – or the child actually displays immense apathy toward learning his father’s mother tongue – the problem of the child’s alienation from those original roots is frighteningly exacerbated. Some may even argue that all that one has to do is introduce the overseas-born child to both the overt and nuanced elements of one’s origins and that would suffice. But even if one enforced such cultural education, there are no assurances that the child will hold onto those ideals in adulthood, more so because the child is far removed from the realities of the original environment of his parents.

In fact, if one’s progeny rejects foods that are identifiable with one’s culture, then one is sure that a real battle for that child’s heart and mind is in the offing. What does one do then if one is a believer in the rights of the child to choose his own path in life, including avoiding, deliberately or otherwise, his father’s heritage, due mainly to the impracticality of that child ever spending a significant amount of time in his father’s country of origin? While some parents may become irritated by their children’s refusal to lean toward the former’s traditions, there is always the danger of pushing too hard, as these parent-child relationships could suffer ruin, and, like an echo, fizzle away until they die out. In fact, a father’s prattling about like a prying Pied Piper, simply because his progeny has refused to pledge his allegiance to the former’s roots, will only quicken the sound of the relationship’s death knell, so parental watchfulness is almost obligatory in these matters.

Now, the pro-investment faction may argue that erecting an edifice in Ghana serves a number of purposes: a place to rest one’s head; the attainment of prestige; income generation, either for self or one’s immediate relatives; and property taxes for the local economy, that is, if, indeed, homeowners pay such taxes in Ghana. Of course, the reader is free to include other ostensibly positive reasons, but the article will focus on the aforementioned merits only.

As a place to rest one’s head, a house needs to be occupied. So, in the case of the Ghanaian émigré who has settled permanently in another country, would sleeping in such a house for two weeks every three years be enough reason for pursuing such a project? Granted that one has the wherewithal for such an undertaking, is it actually sagacious to carry it out? Why not spend the money on some relatives’ children’s school fees, or pay for someone’s medical care? In a country where citizens have the proclivity, albeit a weird one, to accord the dead more honor than the living, it will surprise the average person how much good can be done if some ailing persons, who otherwise would have received no medical care, got assistance from some of these expatriates.

Is prestige a vestibule to society’s welcoming mat? One may argue that it depends on what is being bestowed upon the recipient. Simply erecting a big house in Ghana and decorating it with the most technological gadgets that wealth can procure today, will not automatically confer glory on someone – at least, not from the viewpoint of the bystander. Honor, love and respect are bestowed upon a person who displays genuine altruism by helping a poor person find shelter, a sick person pay for medical care, a township construct an important road, a smart student pay for college. If one will be remembered 50 years from now, one should prefer that it were for some good that he had done in his hometown or community, rather than the size and titivation of his edifice.

Income generation, perhaps, makes the most sense, if that is a primary reason for such a huge task. In view of the fact that some now-overseas-based Ghanaians may choose to live in retirement in Ghana, leasing their newly acquired homes in Ghana for additional income – the revenue may either be kept in an interest-bearing bank account or reinvested – may be a smart move. Conversely, if one sees an edifice as a permanent solution to one’s Ghana-based relatives’ incessant demands for financial support, then such a move might be a brilliant one as well. What could be a better escape from familial pressures than erecting a house and leasing it to another person and having the income generated given to one’s relatives monthly, in an effort to provide economic assistance to the latter?

If the Government of Ghana has no system in place for property taxation, then it is missing out on additional – and necessary – income to run the country. In most modern societies, homeowners are required to pay taxes on their edifices, a rather important source of revenue for, say, local governments in the U.S.A. The Ghanaian Government, unless it has been doing so already, must put in place a workable system of property taxation, for the reason mentioned above. No matter how much of a case one makes against home ownership in Ghana by overseas-based Ghanaians and despite the fact that it makes little sense to build a house that will, perhaps, be uninhabited for long stretches of time, people will still do whatever pleases them, so the government must take advantage of the situation to garner additional revenue via property taxation.

And now for those who regard the idea of homeownership in Ghana by expatriates as a profligate venture, perhaps a good reason for erecting houses in Ghana still would be to assist one’s relatives financially, as mentioned earlier, but that could quickly become an albatross if these relatives were to move into the house themselves, rather than allow the owner to use the house to generate income. There have been instances where a father or mother did not feel like staying in the decrepit family house anymore, so the idea that a newly built house by an émigré will be leased to bring in revenue may be rejected totally by one’s own parents. And enforcing the rule of occupancy is easier said than done, if the homeowner is unavailable for a period of 36 months at a time! If and when immediate relatives revolt against the owner's aforesaid plan, the owner is forced to not only give up the idea of the house becoming a source of revenue, he must also find another means to support these difficult relatives.

In the rare case whereby one erects an edifice and forbids relatives from both living in it and using it to generate revenue, one will quickly discover that adequate maintenance of the property might become a huge challenge later. To depend on another person, year after year, to perform maintenance on one’s property because one is away for long periods of time may be unwise, more so because the funds one may send regularly may not be expended as directed. Some may argue that no one builds a house in Ghana and locks it up, but there are actually such homes, where one will be surprised to find furniture and other possessions fully covered with dust-deflecting cloth, due to the owners' perennial absences!

Additionally, if one has progenies who refuse to make the Motherland part of their itineraries, then such a huge investment, usually carried out with the notion that it will be inherited by said progenies, may become wasteful and subsequently fall into the hands of undeserving relatives upon one’s demise. It is a fact that not all of the children raised in Europe and the Americas, no matter how persistent the efforts of parents to inculcate love for the Motherland in these progenies, will relocate to Ghana in adulthood. In fact, some may even refuse to visit the Motherland entirely, preferring instead to permanently and defiantly embrace only the foreign cultures into which they were born. Many parents have been left inconsolable because of filial disingenuousness; but every parent reading this article must realize, for all intents and purposes, that progenies are not robots expected to behave in predictable ways, or stooges and epigones forced to tow a particular line of reasoning.

There is the rather exotic story of a Ghanaian guy who, after spending all of his earnings on an edifice in Ghana even while domiciled elsewhere for over thirty years, returned to Ghana for good, only to pass away at Kotoka International Airport, shortly after his airplane had landed! Even as news of his death spread quickly, several theories began to effuse: that he was, perhaps, killed by infernal salvos of the undetectable kind; others argued that he simply died of a heart attack! Irrespective of personal preferences regarding the issue under discussion, it remains an undeniable fact that many of this Web site's patrons – overseas-based Ghanaians, especially – already own houses in Ghana, so their opinions on the expediency of such a task will be quite judicious. Even as expatriate Ghanaians find themselves on the front lines of the to-build-or-not-to-build-a-house war, one only hopes that this debate will be temperate, insightful and devoid of personal attacks.

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.