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What Jacqueline Woodson did not tell you

Jacqueline Woodson Jacqueline Woodson

Wed, 11 Dec 2019 Source: Isaac Ato Mensah

Jacqueline Woodson’s glossy romance about the Year of Return published on nytimes.com on 9 December is significantly flawed.

She was narrating her impressions following a short trip to Ghana and promoting the laudable idea that “African-American dollars should be reinvested in Africa”.

She concluded that her family will travel back to America and return occasionally because that is what makes them “African” and “American”.

Well, the fact is that most of us – 75%, of Ghanaians want to emigrate as revealed by the Pew Research Center.

So what are some of what Woodson called the “push” and “pull” factors.

Tesano, where Woodson stayed in Accra which she called “the upper-middle-class area,” should be taken with caution. In ghana upper-middle-class neighbourhoods have open gutters, and rubbish burning is a daily affair in individual homes.

Woodson gave little attention to the insanitary conditions, and lack of proper toilet facilities, even within the environs of Elmina Castle and Shai Hills which she visited.

She also left out open defecation and open rubbish dumps which have left the population vulnerable to serious infectious diseases – in the Year of Return!

Even the “five-star” hotel Woodson visited warned about “mosquitoes” which cause malaria, a preventable disease.

Woodson’s own experience about her visa acquisition should have been an early warning sign: “Families are restricted to a nuclear family which is a family group consisting of a father, mother and their children.”

Does this not hint at officialdom’s restricted perspectives and stereotypes about family structure?

Is a family of three, which includes a woman, her daughter and a grandmother, recognized as a nuclear family to our immigration officials?

Woodson further wrote: “Ghana’s invitation is wrapped up in a massive marketing campaign called ‘Year of Return’…….I dragged my reluctant children, now wearied by the many teachable moments of this journey, to Nima, one of the city’s most impoverished districts.

Here in Ghana, we did not see that massive marketing campaign.

Using local musicians in a representational agency bid to highlight the year-long event while the public officials were uninspiring and lacklustre themselves makes for a poor marketing campaign.

Furthermore, asking African Americans to invest in a climate where the rule of law has broken down; where bribery, corruption and rent-seeking behaviour are the order of the day is dangerous and unfair.

For example, Emmanuel Essien, a 27-year-old government employed “fishing observer” has gone missing on the high seas since 5 July and there is no coherent response or decisive action from law enforcement or the politicians.

Typically, for tourists security, food, healthcare, accommodation and entertainment are the basics.

Our hotel rates and airfares are not competitive, nor do we offer a wide variety of food.

Our five-star hotels serve banku wrapped in plastic.

As for office and residential accommodation, we have to pay two years rent advance – against the law.

“Institutions have failed or are failing fast,” as my mentor has observed.

On health, there is no rational or efficient system for an emergency and trauma care, NONE.

Now, this is my mentor’s million-dollar question: “Where will you rather prefer to get a stroke or a heart attack- in Brooklyn, London, Cairo, Nairobi or Accra?”.

And be careful where you save your money; our bankers have been known to be dishonest; bandits.

In short, Jacqueline Woodson’s sales pitch is completely at variance with the reality in ghana.

Yes of course, we are patriots – not sycophants; and this country needs foreign direct investment.

But we cannot endorse an emotional appeal based on the politics of identity and a grossly inaccurate perspective.

We will rather focus on putting our house in order to attract genuine investors from everywhere, beyond the Year of Return.

Finally, when do the African-Americans plan to reciprocate the invitation; red carpet, and all?

We cannot wait to visit them in the US without the usual hassle, annoyances and rudeness from their embassy staff.

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Writers and Shakespeares Ghana Limited exist to be a moral and intellectual guide to the best practice of PR and integrated communications around the world, beginning with Ghana.

Columnist: Isaac Ato Mensah