A few weeks ago in one of our usual commentaries on books in this column, I mentioned to readers that in the near-future I would narrate how these literary write-ups have helped me secure what might stand out as the single-most significant achievement in my life. I stated that as humble as this platform might seem, it has helped personify the statement Neil Armstrong made when he first stepped on the moon: “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”. This platform secured for me a quantum jump – a remarkable achievement considering the depths from which I am coming.
Well, the future is here. I got an admission to further my studies (Post-graduate) in Communication and Journalism at the The University of New Mexico in faraway Albuquerque in the United States of America. After a decade and two years of pursuing a Bachelor’s degree I considered Graduate school; and like my mentor Kwame Nkrumah, I considered the United States of America. So, I applied to the university and got a full scholarship with Graduate Assistantship.
What I know for sure is that the great deal of community work I did – and the platform I got here in this enviable newspaper to share with the world stories that provide hope and uplift humanity – played a critical role in me achieving this feat, considering how low my cumulative grade point average was. So, I thank the Editor profoundly for accepting to publish my works each and every week; and also the numerous readers who kept giving me a pat on the back with their competent readership. Gratitude, they say, is not an occasional incident but a continuous attitude. I forever thank you all. I hope to give profound details of this endeavour in the not- too-distant future.
A few days after I travelled out of Africa, I was inundated with congratulatory messages and overwhelming prayers. But top among the messages shared was a call by many of the well-wishers that I “do not come back to Ghana”. It kept me laughing all the time because of the levity I attached with it – but on second thoughts why would a Ghanaian not wish another Ghanaian abroad to come back to the land? The answer, I believe, was provided by my senior and scholar, Dr. Andani Kholinar. Below is his interesting account.
Dr. Andani Kholinar
Over the past two weeks, a couple of friends currently in the US have asked me (seriously and jokingly) whether they should come home or not, and my answer has been decidedly “NO”.
I was hurting inside as I made these honest recommendations, but I thought it best to tell young friends I care deeply about the truth: Ghana is not conducive for living life compared to the US – especially for a young man or woman. If you are there right now, you should stay if you can (hopefully legally). Come home when you are retired and want warm weather and a nice village retirement!
I was hurting when I gave my friends that advice, because I decided to come home against the vehement recommendations of my good friends. In fact, on the day I was leaving my friend who drove me to the airport did not want me to leave. In hindsight, I should have listened to her. After a year in Ghana, today being my exact one-year anniversary of returning to Ghana, I somehow think I should have listened to my friends.
I am hurting because I was given this same advice by Ghanaian Parliamentarians who visited Texas A&M a year before my departure – and I deemed them not patriotic enough. Our colleagues joke on this platform about whether Ghanaians are really applying for the student visa to escape Ghana, or has it has become a cliché “to come back and give to their community” – but I was (still am) one of those who are the true believers. I have always believed that one ought to bring back what he gains from outside to his home.
My first time in the US was as an exchange student in 2006. Many of my colleagues went back immediately after returning; and of those who returned many, did not go back to their high school as they were morally obligated to do by the programme codes. I went back to GHANASCO and slotted back in with my juniors. I did that because I truly believed I should honour my promise to the programme organisers who I promised I’d come back to Ghana to share my experience with my school. And that I did – and now I have as some of my best friends from high school in that junior class I rejoined.
When I was going for my PhD, I got a lot of support from people – including Hon. Inusah Fuseini, Hon. Haruna Iddrisu and the United States embassy; and all through this, I always told them that I would come back to serve. During my time in the US, whenever we met as students and immigrants from Ghana I had always stressed that I’d go back to Ghana – to the annoyance of many. So, everyone knew I would go home after graduation because the concept of giving back to my community has always trumped any personal desire! And I did come back immediately after graduation. But I cannot in good conscience tell friends to do what I did.
The promise I made Hon. Fuseini and Hon. Iddrisu in particular obliged me to serve my people in the region upon returning. My attempts to do that upon returning was my first inkling of the foolhardiness of my decision. I will narrate the story of this some day.
The simple fact of the matter is that Ghana does not reward patriotism. When I say Ghana, I mean the people we put in institutions of national importance – from politics to education – do not care about your passion for Ghana when they are looking to put people in sensitive and critical places. They only consider nepotism. So, if you come back, your skills will not be a factor as to where you end up in trying to serve the nation.
If you are one of the lucky ones despite the horrendous job market in Ghana, like I am, your remuneration is so meagre relative to your competence level that you are better-off in the US. Currently, I have colleagues earning 8-15 times in the US what I earn in Ghana even though we both finished with the same degree (some with Masters, even) from the same institutions. And we have political leaders who seem unconcerned with this state of play regarding talent-pull among young people that this situation engenders.
They can increase their own salaries willy-nilly, but tell you they have no money to increase yours. The private sector for the vast majority of Ghanaian youth pays even more paltry salaries. For most young people going the entrepreneurial route, the volatility of the exchange rate (given we are an import-dependent economy) and lax and corrupt business environment makes it a near-impossible option for many.
So yes, I hurt when I make these recommendations to friends to focus on building their lives in the US and forget about coming to Ghana right now, but I still do it anyway. I do it because honour demands I tell my friends the truth. America offers infinitely better life prospects for young people than Ghana. And we don’t seem to be headed in any meaningfully different or better direction.
NB: The Writer is a Youth-Activist and a Student of Knowledge.