Ghana and her Diaspora: Who Needs the other More?
Much of the reluctance to initiate robust policy overtures to attract improved diaspora participation in nation building can be traced to what appears to be an emotionally influenced impression of how Ghanaians in the diaspora should behave or view their motherland. The view that the Ghanaian diaspora owes an inherent obligation to help with developing Ghana without any inducement from the government is surprisingly widely shared among the higher echelons of power.
To be fair, it is true that such an inherent obligation exists within the Ghanaian diaspora. As United States President Barrack Obama said during his presidential visit to Africa, the primary responsibility of developing Africa rests on Africans, and not just those living on the continent. In the case of Ghana, as high as 80% of her nationals living overseas hopes to relocate home at some point to contribute to nation building according to a recent DNT survey.
Thus, the inherent and obligation parts are correctly perceived by those individuals in the higher echelons of power. But without inducement and motivational factors, procrastination on the part of the Ghanaian diaspora cannot be ruled out when it comes to returning home. For example, while 41.79% of Ghanaians abroad base their return home upon their own readiness, 50.75% base their return upon an action by the government. This means 50.75% of the 80% out of the estimated 2.5million Ghanaians in the diaspora would consider returning home if the government extended some overtures to them. And six out of every ten returning home would start a new business to employ the teeming unemployed youth.
Of course, in the absence of such policy overtures, the Ghanaian overseas is happy to sit back and merely remit money home to friends and relatives in bits and pieces even if collectively those formal and informal remittances amount to $5.7 billion annually. After all he faces little pressure where he lives. The lights are constantly on; the streets have no potholes; the tap water flows; there is law and order; and several factors make for a generally good standard of living.
In the meantime, while the Ghanaian overseas waits to be ready to return home to start that new business, the unemployed at home continues to also wait for the day when that elusive job comes calling. Consequently, the government in Ghana is compelled to tap into the already empty national coffers to come up with funding for social programs including basically free everything.
Besides the financial muscle that Ghanaians abroad wield, perhaps the most underrated of their resources are some qualitative ones such as new ideas. Ghanaians abroad are not smarter than their friends and relatives at home; what they bring to the table is exposure to new and different ways of doing things that Ghana could use. Fortunately, the government does not have to spend any considerable resources to facilitate a robust leveraging of those ideas. There just has to be increased open-mindedness to realize that the Ghanaian abroad is not the enemy – he never was, and never will be.
The three issues about which Ghanaians abroad are passionate according to our survey are voting rights, undiluted citizenship for those who might have acquired another citizenship, and an institutional representation with the adequate resources and operational scope to cater for their needs when they return to make their contribution to nation building.
Those who wonder why Ghana should make these concessions when other members of the diaspora have returned to contribute without those concessions need to also wonder why the nation makes similar concessions to other non-Ghanaian investors whose sole mission is to make money out of Ghana with no intrinsic aspect of their engagement with the country. Simply put, if Ghana can roll out the red carpet to other nationals who come here to invest, she can do same for her sons and daughters who went to live elsewhere and are now returning to invest the same money but with added intrinsic investment objective.
These are the reason why the editorial board of DNT is of the opinion that Ghana needs her diaspora more than the other way around, and it is well past time for the government to pursue policy overtures designed to attract her diaspora.