Friday, 8 June 2012

leading from a distance: are we obliged

There's been a bit of talk among people as to the role of the Ghanaian diaspora ("expatriate community" as I prefer). I have suggested in a few twitter conversations that Ghana establishes a seat in parliament to represent Ghanaians outside of Ghana. After all, remittances account for a significant share of GDP and I'm a strong believer in no taxation without representation. Also take into consideration the amount of fundraising in arguably stronger currencies and larger quantities that the major parties do outside of Ghana.

Given that this conversation is already taking place, I was highly interested to hear that the Me Firi Ghana enterprise were to host a debate as to the Future of Ghana and what Ghanaians in the UK can do to help Ghana. If you want to follow what was said, the twitter hashtag was #MefiriGhanaDebate

I wasn't there in person so I only know what was tweeted, but there will be a video coming up I believe which I will obviously share the moment I see it. I'm going to address the different questions in a series of posts. This is numero uno.

The debate begun by asking if we have an obligation to Ghana even though we are here. Short answer: Yes. Long answer: We need to ask how we intend to help? Are we also looking at our country as backward, the way western governments and NGOs do? Are there provisions in place to allow us to help, with full liberty? Are we in the diaspora recognised by the government in a way that supports our efforts?

Firstly, we need to think about how we want to help. Trying to develop Ghana's bus transportation system, because we have experience of TfL is not really going to encroach on Ghana's values and ways of life. This type of change would have evolved in the country - we are simply helping by speeding up the process. But, telling a man who has been a farmer his whole life, whose heart beats with the earth, whose ancestors have done the same for millenniums that he must now farm in these given months and use land identified by Greenpeace or WFP and use fertilisers so that his produce will be big enough (in size not volume) for the European market makes things a little. more. hazy. We need to ensure that fulfilling our obligation to Ghana doesn't mean turning up with that "I can say it cos I'm black" attitude where we don't think about what we are saying, the ontology of what we are saying or the implications. Too often I've see black people return with Western eyes with little patience for the evolution of a culture because they feel that they have been "enlightened" to Obroni status but should be welcomed simply because their skin is still dark. We must ensure that we consider what is good for the Ghanaian people first and we must understand the people, the values, the cultures and customs and work within that framework not disregard it as backward or old-fashioned.

Another thing that I think needs to be addressed is that we mustn't confuse duties with rights. Deciding that you have a duty to someone, does not equate to having the right to execute your duty or them having the duty to allow you to execute that right. (Are you still with me?) We may have an obligation to Ghana - in that we should care about the country and make ourselves available to help develop it if needed - but that isn't to say that we will be welcomed with open arms. We should prepare ourselves for rejection. I often hear people talk about their obligation to Ghana as if once they have decided they do have an obligation, they can just get up and start making things happen in the country and we should recognise that that isn't the case. Socially and legally there are restrictions to us leading from a distance, or even leading within the country. Ghana's laws do not reflect its history of migration and the circumstances of departure which means people might want to return because they never wanted to leave in the first place but returning and helping is not easy. You might see a gap in the market for something that Ghana needs, you might be the smartest person in your field of work that will greatly help Ghana, but its laws will restrict you in some ways unless you rescind you British status. This is an unfair condition, that surprisingly gets sidelined when football is concerned. That aside, the question is two fold: do we have an obligation to Ghana/does Ghana have an obligation to us? We might want to help, but does the country want our help, more importantly, does the government want our help?

I've thrown a few things around there. Correct me if I'm wrong, question me if I'm confusing. It's a great conversation that is spreading. 

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