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Should the Diaspora be given a greater role ...

Sat, 24 Mar 2007 Source: Jeffrey, Peter

... in the development of their homeland?
The case of Ghanaian Diaspora community.

The debate about the Ghana’s sustenance of her current “economic growth” rages on among the Diaspora constituency as the country faces severe energy crisis. The country’s main source of energy generation, the Aksombo Dam has virtually dried up. The Country’s oil bill is escalating and there is fear that in time the whole economy would grind to a halt. This scenario may have a dramatic impact on the country’s poverty reduction strategies. The impact on the poor would be hard, and this is causing a great worry among the Ghanaian Diaspora community.

In the early 1980s, often refer to as the “lost decade” in the literature; Ghana went through a severe economic crisis. Ghana was the only country in sub-Saharan Africa that lost over a 3rd of her skilled labour. The period also witnessed a large expulsion of large Ghanaian migrants from neighbouring countries. Almost all the skilled migrants among the evacuees find their way to the West, leaving the unskilled, the old and the young to go home. This added to the economic woes of the country. The 1980s thus became a watershed in Ghana’s existence as nation state.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s Ghana adopted the World Bank/IMF structural policies in its totality which led to the liberalisation of her economy. The successful implementation of the Bretton Woods led Structural Adjustment Programmes was sold round the world by its proponents as “Ghana’s Economic Miracle” and “Africa’s Success story”.

This so called “Success Story” encouraged Ghana’s Diaspora community and their dependants, estimated to be over 5 million spread across all the continents, to reconnect with their homeland. The Diaspora engagement with the motherland manifested through remittances and through group participation. However, Ghana’s Diaspora engagement with their homeland took on social, economic and political factors. In their studies on the Eritrean and Bosnian refugee’s engagement with the reconstruction of their home countries, Al-Ali et al identify the political, economic and the social factors. Al-Ali et al’s (1999) “national consciousness” theory underpins the Ghanaian Diasporas high level engagement with the homeland. During the “Miracle Years”, the Ghanaian government under Jerry John Rawlings set 2020 as the year that Ghana should become a middle income country, which became known as the “Vision 2020” project. This vision became the battle cry of the entire Ghanaian community, at home and in Diaspora.

Although Ghana is doing far better than most of her neighbours, however the pace of economic development is not fast enough, plus the energy crisis, which some believe has been badly handle by the government. Thus, the jittery by some in the Diaspora community.

The communiqué from the CPP monthly forum in London (which this writer was unable to attend), participants agreed that the energy crisis facing the country has got to a stage where if urgent action is not taken, the country would slip into permanent decline, with all the progress made thus far coming to nought. One delegate, Nana Serwaa, sum up the frustrations of the Ghanaian Diasporas when she asked, “Why did they not act sooner?” Nana Serwaa’s anger at the slow pace of the Ghanaian government in addressing issues that are vital to the country’s development shows how much the Diaspora are in touch with events in their homeland.

The CPP stated that “the country needs to know what the current NPP government plan to do when oil prices hits $100 per barrel”.

The Diasporas role in Ghana’s economic growth cannot be underestimated. The contributions of the Diasporas to Ghana’s development extend beyond economic gains. Their contributions encompass social welfare, education, health promotion, cultural enrichment and the country’s current political stability. The Diasporas possesses various forms of capital investment, intellectual (professional, technical, entrepreneurial skills and expertise), social skills and political capital (in the areas of lobbying and advocacy) which the government is not taping into. The Ghanaian Diaspora have tremendous business potential, thus it is incumbent on the government to put party affiliations and petty disagreements aside and encourage her nationals to contribute towards development home.

A case in point is the Doctors and Dentists Association in the UK, the Ghanaian Nurses and Pharmacists Associations, the Ex-Police Service Association, The Ghanaian Lawyers Association and the Ghanaian University Lecturers Association. These professionals possess a wealth of knowledge that if properly tapped can make an immense contribution towards the country’s growth. Some economists and commentators have questioned the government’s management abilities in regards to tapping into the skills of these highly qualified professionals. They are willing to provide skills and/or expertise lacking in the nation’s higher institutions.

At their inaugural ball and dinner last year the doctors and dentists pledge to work with their colleagues in Ghanaian medical schools without physical relocation in areas of research and teaching. The same pledge was made by the lawyers, the pharmacists and the lecturers. What has the government done about this rich knowledge transfer? This was the notion behind Nana Serwaa’s anger at the CPP forum in London and the various participants that attended the NPP international meeting with President Kufuor in London.

The Ghanaian Diaspora Community, the most important constituency outside Ghana have contributed tremendously to the country’s present economic development. Poverty is still a major issue facing the motherland and this worries the Diaspora as was evident in the CPP monthly London forum and the NPP international conference held in London.

Thus any hint of instability in the homeland directly affects the Diasporas. Their remittances have overtaken Gold and cocoa and are now the largest inflow. In 2005 the Diasporas remitted $4billion home, a fact that has been acknowledge by the governor of Bank of Ghana and the Finance Minister. Only 50% of remittances go through the official/formal channels, thus underscores the reliance of the figure. Unofficial estimation of remittances to Ghana is in the region of $5 to $6 billion, second only to Nigeria in the entire region. Most have set up businesses and other joint projects with companies from their host countries.

Although the NPP government can be credited with stability in macroeconomic fundamentals, economic growth, low inflation and control on fiscal deficits. The fight against corruption is also progressing well, though albeit slowly. However their timing of intervention before something degenerates into crisis is questionable.

The 2000 “Home Coming” Summit which was meant to bring all the Diaspora expertise together to enhance development of the country turned to disagreements among different groups.

It was recently that the Ghanaian government accepted the actual contributions of the Diaspora towards the development of the motherland. If the government wants to build the Diaspora remittances into their 5 yearly development plans, then this is the time to engage with the community. Not debating with this important constituency is no more an option.

The various professional associations are the first point of engagement. The 4 Ghanaian medical schools can benefit greatly from the Ghanaian Doctors and Dentists Association of UK, EU and North America. Last year the UK doctors and dentists association pledge to contribute towards the running and teaching/research of the medicals schools in Ghana. The Nurses and the Pharmacists followed suit. The University lecturers and the Ex Ghana Police Officers Associations also pledge their time, money and knowledge to help the quality of education and policing in Ghana. What came out of these pledges? The onus is on the Ghanaian government to engage with these professionals.

Due to the role of international division of labour the government cannot stop these highly skilled professionals from leaving. This is a fact that is a now accepted by the authorities in Accra. The only way to stem this brain drain tide is job creation and this is where the Diaspora must be encourage and supported, both by policies and financial help to set up businesses, skills transfer and knowledge sharing.

Then there is the issue of the uses of inflows from the Diaspora. This writer was among those who have argued that apart from infrastructure, money from these remittances should be earmarked for social development. The Railway industry and Telecommunications is one area that the government can easily tape into the rich knowledge and technical know how of the Ghanaian Diaspora. Hiring foreign consultants is the not the way forward. This writer attended conferences where he met with highly qualified Ghanaian consultants and engineers who were all willing to forego their fees to contribute towards the country’s development. It’s about time the government recognise the wealth of the sons and daughters. No one can and will develop Ghana for us. We have the experts born Ghanaians. Please Ghana government for the sake of the future generation use the abundant skills at your disposal. These are the sons and daughters of the motherland. They know the issues we have and are willing to help find solutions to our problems. They were educated with the money from our cocoa farms and our mines. They are ready to repay the debt they own mother Ghana. Use their skills.

Hen Ara hen asasi ni. The Land belongs to all of us.

Peter N. Jeffrey London.

email: peter.jeffrey@yahoo.com

Columnist: Jeffrey, Peter

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