The Tragedies of African Democracies – XX

Thu, 17 Nov 2011 Source: Tsikata, Prosper Yao

Why the best doesn’t mean good

The nexus between migration and remittance from aboard

As the modern economy develops, it comes increasingly to rely on immigrant labor from abroad. Without this labor supply, there would be grave economic disorientation, even disaster. Examples of this in the developing economies are being replicated in emerging economies around the globe. Yet there is a strong current of thought, or what is so described, that deeply deplores immigration, is deeply resentful of the migrants and campaigns ardently against their entry and continuing presence. There is a constant vacuum at the bottom, what may be referred to as work citizens shy away from, which it is the essential service of migration to fill. There is the need for constant refreshment of the labor force in the area of monotonous, non-prestigious toil, and this need is met by people in escape from yet more tedious and yet more ill-paid employment of the poor countries or by those with no employment at all. For them the lower pay and strenuous work that are available in the affluent lands are still far better than anything they can find home. But the reaction to foreign immigrants comes from the belief that they are taking jobs of the locals and the fact that immigrants take jobs for which no resident is available going unmentioned.

Do we have to wait until individuals abuse the immigration systems before they are financially rewarded for their wrongs? Does that not encourage other would-be immigrants to try their luck in the hope of receiving that financial package at the end of the day? What if the problems at the source countries are minimized, increasing job opportunities and empowering the youth to create their own jobs to encourage them to stay at home?

The debate is no different in wider Europe and the United States. In the United States, congressional debates on granting legal status to illegal immigrants or undocumented persons have been dragging on since the stalling of the “comprehensive immigration reform” in the 110th congress in 2007, after several weeks of intensive floor debates. The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, also called the DREAM ACT legislation, could be seen as a watered down form of the comprehensive immigration reform act of 2006. Intended to have provided a pathway to citizenship for immigrants brought to the United States by their parents illegally, the act would have provided a legal pathway to close to 2.1 million children and young adults under 35 years. But the emotions that characterized the debates in the US Congress clearly illustrate how sensitive immigration issues are even in the United States, a country that prides itself as a safe haven for immigrants.

Among the industrially advanced countries the United States has been the most socially tolerant of immigrants in the past. A large persuasive literature praises the contribution of the migrations that have occurred to the American society, the benign and affirmative nature of the melting pot. But that view applies extensively to earlier migrants. Toward current arrivals there is a strong negative attitude that is manifested in political oratory, discriminatory legislation and occasional bursts of community hostility.

Similar contentious immigration policy debates are evident in the wider European Union (EU), as well as in a number of the emerging economies, and elsewhere. When Spanish authorities granted legal immigration status to 500,000 illegal immigrants in 2005, the move sparked a row with Spain’s EU counterparts. Recent utterances by German chancellor Angela Merkel (October, 2010), denouncing multiculturalism and declaring it dead in Germany, clearly marks a departure from previous attempts by the German authorities to integrate minority groups and cultures within the German society. This shift, no doubt, has policy implications for how immigrants are perceived, received, and treated in that country. The recently initiated EU immigration law which is effective 2010 by which illegal immigrants could be jailed up to 18 months has only stoked the fire on immigration with some calling it a “hate initiative.” Incensed by the measure, Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president threatened to cut oil supplies to Europe unless the EU retracted the measure.

The foregoing developments are further compounded by racially discriminatory dispensations in countries of immigration. In Britain for instance, 50% of Britons in an opinion poll conducted by the BBC in 2006 believed Britain is a racist society. Similarly, wider Europe is also falling back into the pangs of racism and xenophobia (this does not suggest these societies were previously insulated from racism, but efforts to minimize its incidents were seen in early 2000), as there are increases in racially aggravated crimes in Russia, Spain, and elsewhere in the EU. In Spain and Italy, for instance, racism is flagrantly or unashamedly displayed in football, depicting profound social problems of racism.

Arguably, historical racism, based on biological determinism with ideologies of innate superiority of some races, is still present in countries of immigration and may have only transmogrified over time into a social construct with its effects in the workplace and all life’s facets in the principal countries of immigration, leading to discrimination, exclusion and marginalization of individuals of particular categories. Clearly, the effects of these attitudes on immigrants - Africans especially – are far-reaching.

The question, therefore, is: what job prospects are there in the countries of immigration for these highly-skilled individuals? For the Social Sciences and humanities trained graduates, it is not unusual these days to come across a Ghanaian and other Africans with two masters’ degrees or a PhD working as security guards, factory workers, cleaners and so on. For doctors, nurses, engineers and professionals in other areas of the physical sciences, the job market may be a bit favorable, being constantly inundated with request for these specialties. Demands for professionals in these areas have always outstripped supply. However, one’s area of specialization, level of training and most of all country of training may coalesce to determine success at recruitments; the African trained in the countries of immigration is undoubtedly a favored candidate over the home grown professionals from the continent. The licensing requirements may also be an impediment in the way of those who cannot pass the qualifying examinations, so many end up in the ‘care homes.’ But that still pay the bills.

The truth is that developed countries themselves have even churned out more home grown social scientists than they can absorb, so degrees in social sciences and in humanities are worth less in these countries these days, more so for immigrants and minority groups. Furthermore, it could also be argued that they owe it a duty to their own citizens first in terms of job provisions than to anyone else. So if our countries cannot cater for us that might seem like our own headaches. Governments have undoubted duty to their own people’s employment, welfare support, health care, and much else. The larger world obligation must be reconciled with the local, that is to say, national, responsibility.

In the face of all these toughening stances on immigration, with tougher policies and strategies to fend off immigrants, the IMF and World Bank, both products of the West, a system that is almost becoming anti-immigrant, posits remittance as a positive corollary of migration, as though it was trouble-free. Hypothetically, it is greatly praised and, in practical fact, is subject to many restrictions and abuses.

The contradiction is further highlighted by the fact that whiles the IMF, the World Bank and other international bodies assert the positive effects of immigration, with its potential to reduce poverty in the country of origin of immigrants through remittance, the practicalities of migration varies from country to country and from region to region. Arguably, the ease with which both the highly-skilled and unskilled individuals from the Philippines, China, India, and South Africa will enter countries of immigration is not the same as that of a Ghanaian, Nigerian or Sri Lankan for instance. The mechanisms in these countries to also harness the benefits of migration and to absorb its shocks are also different.

Characteristically, India, Mexico and the Philippines are normally cited as countries where immigration has had positive effects, particularly in the areas of health worker migration. But it must be noted that both India and the Philippines have private schools that teach nursing to US and UK standards, and have private financing and placement institutions to train and move health workers and other professionals overseas. The result is that the integration of health professionals into the health systems of their destination countries is less cumbersome, compared with the Ghanaian professional. It also allows for private financing in the sector with dynamic mechanisms to attract financial returns from those who leave. The financial returns are put into productive investments, rather than buying “pepper and salt” or invested in huge mansions back home. While human development indices in the aforementioned countries continue to grow at a good pace, Ghana’s human development indicators have been showing downward trends. While this phenomenon cannot solely be attributed to migration of the most talented, one would have expected to see improvements in her human development indicators, if indeed remittances from abroad are helping the poor in Ghana.

This situation is further aggravated by centuries of social and psychological indoctrinations to the effect that Europe and America offer a quick-fix solution to the unemployment problems for the youth in many African countries including Ghana. Families are ready to sell off their properties or spend their life-time savings to sponsor their members on this adventure so fraught with uncertainties. In the process, some have been ripped off their lifelong savings by middlemen unable to deliver on what they promised.

Returnees in most cases will also come back and paint totally different pictures of what their life experiences have been in countries of immigration. Hollywood, a conduit via which most young people have known America from a distance, may not be left out of the process of indoctrination. The vulnerable Ghanaian is therefore caught up in all this misunderstanding, making some helpless individuals take decisions likely to destabilize their lives forever.

Today, with over 70,000 graduates migrating from Africa each year into the Developed Economies, some never to return, there is no doubt that we have failed as a continent to be responsible for our most important resource – human resource. These developments on the immigration front paint very bleak pictures, sharply contrasting with IMF and World Bank hypothetical theories on migration, poverty and remittance.

At the local level, policies and strategies on issues of this nature seem to always be lagging behind in terms of solutions. It is clear that there are no clear-cut government policies on migration in general while attempts to curb brain drain of Ghanaian professionals have also been ineffectual. Even in a recent government policy document dubbed “the national youth policy,” one would have expected its formulators to have given some attention to the issue of brain drain and migration-related issues, if remittances have now become what we live for, but it has not come to the attention of the formulators of the national youth policy yet.

The anticipation that the homecoming of the highly-skilled professionals in the near future could lead to ‘brain gain’ or transfer of technical expertise is also compromised by the inability of most professionals to serve in capacities commensurate with their skill levels. Whilst some are caught up in a ‘study trap’, as they keep accumulating degrees to retain their residence status, others end up in the black economies of recipient countries. But in both cases, skills and expertise needed to transform their economies back home are wasted in performing menial tasks due to discriminatory attitudes of employers and other factors that prevent immigrants from highly skilled level jobs that may inure to their professional development. This defeats the expectation that immigrants may one day transfer skills to their places of origin.

To this end, most Ghanaians may return home with academic and professional qualifications without the complementary hands-on experiences. And, when this occurs at the sunset of their lives, this final return will only be for retirement with little or nothing to contribute in terms of know-how.

There are myriad of questions that have not been answered about the brain gain thesis. Thousands of Ghanaians make the journey to global destinations - Britain, America, wider Europe and, recently, China and India, among others – each year to acquire further education. Though some of these individuals, in the process, would remain in their countries of destinations, the realities of life in these countries sooner or later dawn on most of them that they may only be reduced to washing dishes and cleaning toilets. So most are ready to return and indeed do so, perhaps after a year, two, or three of wandering in the black economy when their studies are completed. But if a country which so much prides itself with remittances from abroad in expectation of brain gain cannot even create the enabling environment for these individuals to reintegrate, where then is the hope that those who remained and attained eminence in their chosen careers, as a few would definitely do, would one day return and find their rightful places to make the expected contributions?

I was so glad when my cousin, with a B.Sc. in Mathematics, won the British Department for International Development (DfID) scholarship to study for the Masters in Finance in a prestigious British university. His own anecdotes of life in Britain indicated to me the young man would like to return immediately after his studies. He had no intentions of living in that country beyond his studies. I said to myself how “this spirit is at variance with what I knew when I lived in that country earlier on.” While the Southern African students left a day after their examinations, the West Africans – mostly the Ghanaians and Nigerians - found non-existent ways to remain and mostly ended up in the underground economy, where the value of a chef is worth much more than an African lawyer and an MBA holder trained in Britain.

The next time I heard from my cousin, he had completed his program and had returned to Ghana for over nine months without a job, and was now looking for ways to leave the country again. “Efo Yao, I have been home for over nine months now without a job. I hope you can recommend some universities in the US for me to apply for another Master’s or a PhD. I cannot simply continue to stay here sharing my dad’s meager pension with him. Indeed, the little savings I returned with is long exhausted. I wish I had remained in the UK even as an illegal immigrant.” This is exactly what happens when you promote the dump and the corrupt over the bright and the honest, the good choose to leave.

I also remember a friend’s unspeakable job search experience in 2006. Seth left England with a M.Sc. in Mathematical Finance – but after 6 months of unemployment, he had to knockoff the Master’s degree from his resume, making his B.Sc. in Mathematics the main qualification for his job search. Even with that, he still needed someone to pull his hands along. He finally landed a teaching job in a nonprofit vocational institute that barely placed food on the table for which he was very thankful. So the question remains: what is the essence of further studies in Ghana when you do not have the necessary family connections?

I felt absolutely exasperated about their new reality. But this is also part of the migration experience. I have always known that Ghana has never been ready for such qualifications. You are simply better-off sometimes even without the necessary qualifications but with the right networks and other corrupt individuals in the right institutions than such “flamboyant” qualifications. Interestingly, this is a country that pride itself with remittances from abroad in the hopes of brain gain; a country that launched a national youth policy but with astronomical levels of out-migration among its youth, but completely silent on the issues of immigration and the place of the returnees in its scheme of things. After reading the national youth policy again and again, I felt, honestly, that critical analysis has been abandoned by those in charge of the policy direction of the youth. It is simply a total replication of the work of institutions or sectors like education, interior, employment among others. The national youth policy and its formulators do not really understand the challenges that confront the youth – employment and job creation, so the youth can stay home and participate in the economy than traversing wherever the wind blows them.

Keep tuned in…

The above-title is serialized into 30 articles covering issues of politics, corruption, education, migration, the economy (Ghanaian economy), unemployment, land tenure, dearth of policy innovation, and stories from the frontlines – Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, ECOWAS and the AU. The series are syndicated and media houses/outlets interested in enriching the national debates in Ghana for the 2012 are free to publish all the series.

By: Prosper Yao Tsikata

Email: pytsikata@yahoo.com

Blog: http://theafricanmessenger.blogspot.com

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao