Connecting Ghanaians to Ghana
How long does it take for cultural and emotional bonds to fray once a person severs geographical ties between themselves and their motherland?
This question should be of particular relevance to a country where over three million of its citizens live outside of its borders.
The Statesman spoke with Ghanaian expatriates to find out how connected Ghanaians abroad are to their homeland once they have established a home elsewhere.
48 year-old Joseph Owusu Ansah has resided in Germany for the last 20 years, and for every one of those years, has returned to Ghana to vacation. When asked why, his reply is immediate. "It's a sweet country,” he says with a smile.
Yet, if Ghana is so sweet why are 15 percent of its citizens residing outside of the country, and the other 85 percent seeking to join them? “Economic hardship,” is 64 year-old New Yorker, Yaw Banahene's response.
[Banahene] was working with the Young Farmer's League, "but when the company closed there were no other jobs and I decided to live overseas.”
That was 36 years ago, and as many Ghanaians know, unemployment is still an issue today.
What makes this country “sweet” are the friends and family often left behind. Those bonds are what ensures that 20 percent of Ghana's Gross Domestic Product is contributed by those abroad.
Ansah admits, “I've been paying for my nephew's schooling since he was in kindergarten, and now he is in University.”
When Ansah sends money home to his nephew, he does not consider the fact that he is helping Ghana's national GDP, but that he is helping his family. Familial ties are strong in Ghanaian culture and this practice is proving to be of great benefit to the nation.
A give and take relationship is established where family left behind are given economic support and in return they represent a much appreciated link to their homeland. Most Ghanaians get their news from friends and family.
Banahene remembers a recently deceased friend, Kwaku Bonsu, who would mail him local newspapers every month when he first relocated to the United States. “Later, I heard of an African bi-weekly newspaper. It was Nigerian, but still had news from Ghana.”
Others, like 33 year-old Darren Kofi Agyeman, who has lived in London, England for six years, get their dose of Ghanaian news just by picking up the phone. “I've got my mother, brothers and sisters and loads of people that let me know what's going on here. I just have to ask them.”
Communication systems like the telephone, television and Internet ensure that if Ghanaians want to be involved with issues at home, then access is readily available to them.
29 year-old Essex resident, Christina Ansu-Damoah has only been living abroad for four years and has every intention of returning once she has completed her education and found financial stability. According to her, television networks like OBE have proved invaluable to many European residents seeking news from Africa. “But they need to make the news more current. Sometimes when I hear about something it is about a week late.”
For immediate news Ansu-Damoah turns to ghanaweb.com, an internet database containing news from major Ghanaian news media.
“I go about three times a week,” she admits.
Ansu-Damoah and in fact all of the Ghanaians interviewed were very proud of the fact that they remained connected with Ghana even after their departure. Ansu-Damoah, Ansah, and even Banahene all have plans to return home one day and live.
“Home sweet home”, says Banahene, “I never planned to stay there permanently. I knew I couldn't live overseas until I die. I went there to get something to come back home and live on”.
Banahene has built a house in Ghana and is in the process of establishing a wood processing business in Kumasi.
“Most of my friends are still Ghanaian, and none of us have even made an effort to learn to cook English food. I still buy my yams”, says Ansu-Damoah.
With all of the boasting it seemed only fair to put their nationalism to the test.
The Statesman asked Ansah to name some local Ghanaian artistes. Without hesitation, he began to list them. “Oh there's Ofori Amponsah, that other one… VIP, and Batman is good too. They all do well”, and for those he could not list, he was able to convincingly sing a few verses.
Ansu-Damoah was asked what major issues she felt were facing Ghanaians today. “Armed robberies, our money for instance, we need to get it working properly. Corruption is still around. In Ghana, you can't get a good job unless you know somebody. We need to better help our new graduates get jobs, there are so many things”, she says.
When asked to name three players from Ghana's infamous 2006 Fifa World Cup lineup, Agyeman had some difficulty but proved successful. “ Essien… Appiah… oh and I can't think of a third… sorry… oh yes, Samuel something or whatever.”
The Statesman saved the toughest question for Banahene. After having spent more than half his life in America, which team did he cheer for in the Ghana vs USA game last summer? His answer was immediate. “I supported Ghana of course!”
Having spoken with these four, it is clear through their statements that despite having left the country, their heart remains here. As a result, Ghanaians actively seek out ways to remain involved in the politics and issues at home. The country has come to rely heavily on the contributions from those abroad, so the question now is, how can Ghana make it easy for them?
Ansah argues. “we pay too much at customs when we're sending stuff home to our families. They need to do something about that.”
When it comes to remaining up to date on topics of interest Bonsu suggests, “we need to start our own newspapers abroad, like the Nigerians have. We always get news from the Nigerians”.
The OBE should also strive to deliver news that is current and relevant. Lately, Ghana has been making noticeable strides towards strengthening our communications industry into the strongest one in West Africa.
This endeavor should be embraced by local news media. By simply making newspapers, radio stations, and state television accesible online, Ghanaians in the Diaspora will be able to access current news in a timely fashion.