One of the biggest concerns of the diaspora is what it’s like to transition to Ghana. Will the move be easy or will they face challenges? Is the idea of moving to or doing business in Ghana even realistic? They hope they’re not being sold a fantasy. The last day of speakers and panel discussions at the Ghana Diaspora Celebration and Homecoming Summit was well suited for those expressing these very concerns.
Two-panel discussions on 5th July featured both new and seasoned individuals when it comes to investing in, moving to and doing business in Ghana. The ‘Year of Return’ has put a serious spotlight on Ghana having made the call for people to travel for a visit or to invest their skills and talents. The first-panel discussion, The Next Frontier, Ghana’s Young Professionals and Diaspora Development, was a discussion of the role that young professionals have in developing Ghana. It was moderated by Jake Bediako, the Youth Ambassador in the Diaspora Affairs Office. It was a panel that could have gone for hours because the Q&A session had such a high level of engagement from the audience. It featured a mixture of returnees and those still living in the diaspora. Aisha Addo, Founder of Power to Girls and DriverHer App, Jude Kwae Osei, External Relations, World Health Organization, Freda Obeng-Amposo, CEO Kaeme, Lakeshia Ford, CEO Ford Communications and Mac Sarbah, a Graduate Student from Harvard University were all on the panel.
In their conversations, they touched on their many concerns while also celebrating their successes and gave their opinions on what can be done to make things improve for the youth in Ghana. Addo, who is Ghanaian and currently lives in Canada, spoke on the issue of ageism as well as sexism, saying that because of Ghanaian culture stressing the importance of respecting elders, often when a young person (or young woman) has a great idea they are invalidated because of their age. Many young people applauded her for saying that because they shared her sentiment.
Lakeshia Ford, was the only person on the panel with no family ties to Ghana, she is Jamaican-American, but she now calls Ghana home. “I first came to Ghana in 2008 on a study abroad experience, NYU in Ghana,” she started, “When I came to Ghana I absolutely fell in love with it, it was similar to my culture, Jamaica…there were so many similarities and at that time…my experiences here… pivoted who I was so much that when I went back [to America], Ghana essentially stuck with me and I always said I would come back.” She explained that she saw the gap in stereotypes of what’s often told about Africa and compared that to what she saw firsthand. She saw the positives of Africa. “That invigorated me to essentially start telling stories, accurate stories.” Her company, Ford Communications has worked with many companies in Ghana including MeQasa and the United Nations Information Centre West Africa. She uses her company to be part of telling the positive stories of Africa.
Mac Sarbah, spoke candidly about his personal experience and why he wanted to return to Ghana. “For me when I was at the University of Ghana…I won the Green Card Lottery and left for the United States, I remember my family members coming before I actually boarded the plane…my father hugging and telling me to work hard to make sure that you contribute to the development of your country. Be that to your family, or to the society as a whole.”
What he said reveals what many families hope of their relatives when they go abroad. Contributions usually are in the form of remittances to family. As noted by President Akufo-Addo in his Keynote address on the first day of the conference, remittances from the diaspora reached $3 Billion USD in 2018. “I think I’ve always had that attachment to the country even though I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world and I’ve been to so many places,” Sarbah said, “Whenever I was at a place I would think, how can I apply what I see in this country, in my own country? So that over the long haul we can lift this country up from quagmire of underdevelopment.” It’s this type of thinking and vision that the president wants of the youth when coming home to Ghana in order for change to happen.
Obeng-Amposo said she moved back to Ghana after living in many countries because she felt like “I’m a Ghanaian but I don’t know much about Ghana…I felt like the only thing I knew was Accra and that’s about it. After my time in France, I wanted to do something different.” She said she was offered a job with the United Nations and it was a dream job that even her family was proud of. But she knew she couldn’t take it. Two weeks before starting the job in New York she changed her mind and decided to come to Ghana.
The final panel, on Year of Return, featured a group of diverse individuals who have lived in Ghana at least 15-20 years. These are the seasoned people from the diaspora and global family who have planted roots in Ghana. Akwasi Agyeman, CEO of Ghana Tourism Authority was on this panel to discuss exactly what the “Year of Return” is all about along with why it’s important. He explained that it’s to mark the 400 years since the first ship of enslaved Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia and that the call for our global African family to come to Ghana was made.
Others on that panel included the moderator Gail Nikoi, President of the Africa American Association of Ghana, Christa Sanders, Director, Webster University, Mona Boyd, CEO Landtours, Rabbi K. Nathanyah, Executive Secretary, PANAFEST Foundation, and Maisie Howell, CEO Promosource.
Howell addressed a comment about the division within the black community [African, Caribbean, African-American], “We have to get to the point that we realize that there is strength in diversity the labels already exist…we all have strengths…..in order for us to build Africa.” She said we need to, “Get the young people to focus more on what they have to contribute rather than where I am from…This is how we’re going to move forward.” This points back to the youth, which brings the conversation full-circle.
One of the biggest challenges faced by the diaspora when moving to Ghana is adjusting to some significant changes and relinquishing some of the comforts they had abroad. Nathanyah said that people should come to Ghana with a plan that is grounded in reality. “You have to study the situation and study the terrain…do some investigation, don’t come and try to blame others for your failures.” He said something that is relevant to anyone considering a move to Ghana, “We need to have patience with ourselves and have confidence and find a way to develop new strategies.”
It was a great way to end the 3 days of speakers and panels at the summit and made way for the Presidential Gala the following night which closed the events.
Written by Ivy Prosper