Diaspora Youth as agents of transformative change in Northern Ghana

By Cosmas Kombat Lambini-#MMN Migration Expert

  • Ghana Irregular Migration Trends and Dynamics 

Ghana is located on the Atlantic Ocean in West Africa and occupies an area of about 92,099 sq. miles.  It shares boarders to Togo (eastern side), Cote d’Ivoire (western side), and Burkina Faso (northern side). Ghana has just carried out its latest population and housing census last month. This is an exercise organised every ten years. The current estimated total population according to the United Nations World Population Dashboard ( https://www.unfpa.org/data/world-population-dashboardhttps://www.unfpa.org/data/world-population-dashboard) stands at 31.7 million with young people making for one third of the population and a growth rate of 2.0% per year. 

Although Ghana is often cited as a rising star in Africa due to its major strides toward democracy under a multi-party system and a low middle-income country status due to national and regional economic reforms. There are however rising social and economic inequalities undermining transformational change and sustainable development as well as threatening social cohesion. These inequalities are pervasive and increasing particularly between men and women and the north and the south of the country. 

Migration, specifically irregular migration out of Ghana is one of the biggest socio-economic challenges the country is faced with. Ghana has been a major migrant-producing country for several decades. About 3% of Ghana’s population have emigrated since 2014, mostly to Europe and America due to uneven development and development trajectory failing particularly the young people for perceived quality of life. 

It is well documented that an estimated 1000s of migrants from Ghana enter into Europe through illegal sea crossings of the Central, Eastern and Western Mediterranean and Atlantic Oceans. According to International Centre for Migration Policy Development (cited in EC, 2004), 50 % of migrants transiting through Agadez in Niger would be from Nigeria, 15 % from Niger, 10 % from Ghana.  Ghanaian youth risk their lives to cross the Sahara-desert and the Mediterranean and Atlantic Seas for better life opportunities in Europe. By so doing they expose themselves to this deadly and dangerous journey. 

Although recent evidence shows that the number of Ghanaian nationals in irregular situations in the EU has remained stable since 2010, with the majority found in Germany (2,090), the UK (620), and Greece (395). 

Ghana is further considered a Tier 2 country as the country does not meet the minimum threshold for the elimination of trafficking and smuggling. Migrant smuggling and trafficking in persons is a serious and growing concern for the Government of Ghana and EU governments, as Ghana is recognised as country of origin, transit, and destination of individuals for the purposes of sexual exploitation, and domestic and commercial labour.

Coupled with this irregular migration is the issue of brain drain, many skilled professionals especially from the health sector have left Ghana to Europe for greener pastures impacting negatively on the quality of life and wellbeing. The country has one of the highest emigration rates for highly skilled workers in Western Africa leading to diminished human capital.

  • Diaspora Social Media Usage as a major driver of irregular migration through misinformation

Social media is a primary source of information for many people. The use of social media has transformed how the youth share and seek travel information in Ghana. For example, the daily use of social media by Ghanaian diaspora youth such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and other forms of online engagements have negatively influenced the youth in Ghana and their perceptions on migrating to Europe. Empirical evidence from the Migration Media Network (#MMN) project alludes to some of these findings. This is especially true for young people between the ages of 15-35 years who constitute larger segment of the population.  It is very common among diaspora youth to send messages and posts to friends and families in Ghana showcasing how life in Europe is very comfortable and how one can easily get rich by just traveling to Euope. Misinformation on how easy and cheap one can easily enter into Europe through irregular routes and quick access to resident permits via marriages are very common stories on social media users from the diaspora. Prospective migrants in Ghana, on the other hand, consider this these type of information on social media as facts and based on this may decide to embark on a vicious journey to Europe though the sea or other irregular migration routes. The increasing usage of social media due to rising access to internet connectivity in Ghana and by diaspora youth have contributed immensely to irregular migration from Ghana to Europe and often cited in recent times as a key driving factor causing increasing rates of irregular migration.

  • Diaspora youth as champions of change and addressing irregular migration

The author of this blog, Cosmas Kombat Lambini comes from Ghana. Although he came to Europe through an Erasmus Mundus programme in International Rural Development (https://www.eacea.ec.europa.eu/scholarships/emjmd-catalogue_en). The author is aware of numerous youths from Northern Ghana who often risk to embark on the voyage to Europe through Agadez in Niger-deserts in Libya and Mediterranean and Atlantic Oceans to Europe. Even though Ghana is endowed with numerous natural and human resources with a lot of opportunities that most young people could tap into for national development. The Agricultural sector for example is a major contributor to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the country has vast land for sustainable agricultural development that could be harnessed by the growing youth population as a possible alternative to address irregular migration.

In 2009, the author of this blog, founded the Anoshe Group in Chereponi in Northern Ghana, a farming community where he was born and bred. The group was registered as a Ghanaian enterprise under the Registry General Department and started farming operations in 2010.  The sole vision of the group was to create business opportunities to the youth and women though agribusiness and to reduce rural-urban migration. The group started originally with 50 households and have since grown to 1000 households (1000ha) and operating in five (5) communities in Chereponi District of Ghana. The group received initial seed funding and technical support from Sabab Lou Stiftung-(sabab-lou.de) the Hohenheim University in Stuttgart. 

The Anoshe Group is financially self-sustaining and created several direct and indirect jobs for the youth in the region. The group revenues generated through sales of farm yields and empowerment of vulnerable groups demonstrate that farming as enterprise could mitigate youth migrating to Europe with the needed support offered to them to venture into agribusiness.

In conclusion, this intervention provides evidence that diaspora youth could be positive agents of transformative change based on the rich experience and networks developed in Europe. However, this is only possible with the right individual motivation and appropriate incentives to give back to communities of origin back home in Ghana. 

Contact e-mail: cosmas.lambini@bvng.org
This blog acknowledges funding from The Migrant Media Network (https://migrantmedia.network/):“Engaging Diaspora and Potential Migrants on Safe Migration and Positive Alternatives”. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author only.

Keynote Talk by Fortune Agbele – Migrant Media Network Public Presentation

The recent case of a Chinese national found dead in a lorry in England or the boat that sank near the Canary Islands, taking with it 60 irregular migrants from Africa, prove that irregular migration is a global issue. It is estimated that around 30,000 migrants died globally between 2014 and 2018, most of which in the Mediterraneani. Though the numbers of migrants arriving at the European shores are not as high as in 2015, the phenomenon is still worrying. Particularly for Africa, irregular migration is accounting for the death of many young African men and women, outside of their home countries, hence, the phenomenon is at the centre of policy interventions.

These interventions have focused largely on building entry barriers, but also built on generalised assumptions about this phenomenon. Generating sustainable responses to the problem of irregular migration requires an evidence-based approach and of critical importance, it requires knowing who the migrants are. It is crucial to go beyond just the generalised assumptions of who the migrants are, i.e. people who are desperate, destitute and are the poorest of the poorest, people who want to manipulate the asylum system. Are they all very poor people who are escaping war and hunger from their home countries? It is by knowing who they are that more sustainable and solution-driven approaches can be developed.

A recent study by the UNDP seems to have provided some answers to this question. Before looking into the figures, let me share a personal story with you. During my early days in Germany, I got to know some members of the Ghanaian community in my host city. One of them was Attah. He had immigrated to Germany through one of the irregular routes of the early 2000s and had now naturalised in Germany. Though Attah may come across as someone who comes from a very poor background as every dark-skinned person is thought to be, he wasn’t that poor. He is a native of Obuasi, one of the popular gold mining towns in Ghana. Before immigrating to Germany, Attah was engaged in small scale mining.

During one of our conversations, he told me how his journey to Germany was facilitated by a middleman, one whose service cost him about 5000 Dollars, a cost he paid from his personal savings, savings he made from mining gold. When he told me the amount of money he had to pay to get to Germany and the fact that these were the savings he had made working in Ghana, I was surprised. Surprised by the fact that he was able to save such an amount of money working in Ghana, and still felt he could not have succeeded in Ghana or as we say it in there, making it big!

In many ways, Attah’s story resonates with those of the irregular migrants captured in the UNDP Scaling Fence report. Findings from this report show the earnings of almost half (49%) of the people interviewed appeared to be competitive within the context of their countries. Meaning these people were engaged in jobs which were fairly OK and could be described as safe and regular. But, it also implies that the other half may be struggling to make ends meet. For this 50%, embarking on these journeys may be about economic survival.

Beyond the role of economic factors in either influencing or not influencing the decision to migrate, is the desire to secure a better life. At the heart of the story of migrants from Africa is a common dream to succeed in life, a dream many feels can only be achieved through travelling abroad. Growing up in Ghana, there is prestige attached to people who travel abroad that is being a ‘Borga’. A ‘Borga’ is someone who has travelled abroad, and by abroad we largely mean, North America and Europe. But where does this prestige comes from? It comes from the kind of life the Borgas live and the things they have achieved for themselves and their family. It is a life filled with successes that don’t show the hardships they face in Europe or America.

These images do not include the menial jobs that they engage in or the fact that many of them could be living without the right documentation, which denies them access to certain basic services such as health care, financial services and pensions. The images exclude narratives of working several jobs and long hours. Rather, these images create a narrative of immediate success in which migrants can send remittances back home and in a couple of years, build a home. It is the images of these ‘Borgas’ returning home during festive occasions, wearing flashy clothing with their matching accessories, driving cars, and speaking with foreign accents that motivate and inspire many to travel by all means and at all cost. Going back to the UNDP report, about 43% of respondents interviewed during the study indicated they had a relative who had migrated. And even for those who do not have a history of family migration, they may know success stories from families within their community or town

The evolution of social media in the last decade has also contributed to perpetuating such narratives of successes, whether fake or real. The development of the internet in the last decades and the rise in social media usage, has facilitated access to information like never before. As of this year, the global internet penetration rates stand at 58.8%, of which that on the African continent stands at 39.6%ii. At this rate of internet penetration with a social media penetration rate at about 17%,iii the continent is not barred from the influence of the social media boom. On the one hand, this is a positive development as this promotes access to information. On the other hand, this can serve as an avenue for projecting and perpetuating false images that could fuel the wish to travel abroad.

The above therefore speaks to the complexities of the triggers of irregular migration. It speaks to the fact that the phenomenon is multifaceted. It is one which can be a culmination of inspirations, inspirations not only in economic terms but also of the dreams of the individual to make it big. It also includes the fact that many are oblivious of the lives that many of the ‘celebrated Borgas’ live here in Europe. And in particular, many are unaware of the dangers of taking these dangerous routes. And even for those who are aware of some of the dangers, they can’t relate to them. It is also the case that many do not see the opportunities in their home countries, they don’t see how their dreams could be fulfilled in their home countries and hence, need to travel at all costs.

This shows that the problem of irregular migration cannot be managed with a one-sided solution. A single-sided approach to tackling irregular migration from Africa would be one built on a single story, and as summarised by the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie, ‘a single-story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but they are incomplete.” A framework to tackle the problem of irregular migration from Africa requires a combination of approaches, and more importantly, it should be evidence-based.

Current interventions have largely focused on building barriers to impede the entry of migrants into Europe, as well as into the labour market. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that irregular migrants should be given equal access to the labour markets in Europe. But even as an African when I see young energetic African men and women strolling aimlessly in the parks and city centres here in Germany, I get concern on two levels: First, these are young energetic people with dreams and sometimes skills, but have their hay days being worsted away. Second, this is a cost to the German taxpayer, whose money is used to finance the living costs of these irregular migrants, without any direct returns to the German economy. Hence, it is not surprising to see the uprising of populist sentiments in this regard.

I believe, it is time for policymakers and relevant stakeholders both in home and host countries to find sustainable solutions to the problem. One would ask: where is the motivation for the governments in the African continent to want to curb irregular migration? Please allow me to be a bit cynical here. After all, is it not the case that the fewer people who stay on the continent, the fewer job placements governments would be required to create? But that should not be the case. The wasting away of Africa’s youth in the Mediterranean, as well as in the parks and city centres of Europe should be of concern to its leaders.

After all, one of the factors that facilitated the development of China, is its labour markets. The fact that China was able to offer cheap labour to the industrialised world, an incentive which attracted industries to the country, creating the economic boom that we see today, should give insights to the leaders on the African continent. Having their youth wasting away either en route to Europe or in the parks and cities squares in Europe should spark concern among them. And for their counterparts in Europe, aside concerns of how to manage the migration crisis in order not to aggravate the growing populist anxiety, there should be the desire to find lasting solutions, a desire I want to believe exists.

The question then is what can be done? This is a question I can’t assume I know the answer to, not at all. But based on some of the points raised so far, and my knowledge of the context of some of the home countries, I can confidently say, any approach to tackling the problem should first and foremost be a multi-dimensional. As so far indicated, most of these migrants who embark on these journeys are not necessarily the poorest of the poorest, which implies two things: The motivation to travel is one which goes beyond just economical inspirations. Its sometimes has to do with the prestige that comes with travelling abroad, and the perception that one can only make it by travelling. Debunking such false narratives is key to reducing the number of people who leave their home countries for Europe. Second, some of these people who leave might reconsider their stands if they are well informed about opportunities in their home country. Creating an awareness of the alternatives to travelling to Europe is key, as this group can invest the large sums of money hitherto being given to smugglers, thus creating jobs not only for themselves but also for others.

The above mentioned, I believe are the bedrock of the Migrant Media Network Project. The project, which has so far been piloted in Ghana, does not only seek to create an awareness of the dangers that come to taking the irregular route to Europe but also seeks to highlight the opportunities in the home countries. And of particular relevance to the social media boom, the project seeks to provide young Africans with reliable information not only on safer options to migrate to Europe but also on the need to scrutinize some of the false images that can be created on social media about life in Europe.

To conclude, I would like to highlight the need for such awareness creation by ending with a quote from one of the participants from the training in Ghana. : “I am happy I have built some capacity from this workshop. I have learnt about migration. We think that travelling outside of Ghana alone will make you happy but because of this workshop, I have come to understand that not just travelling outside can make me who I want to be in future”. Thank you.

Keynote Talk by Fortune Agbele, #MMN Trainee and social scientist at University of Bayreuth
Migrant Media Network, MMN, Public Presentation
December 13, 2019
Werkstatt – Haus der Statistik, Berlin

i UNDP, „Scaling Fence“, 2019. Available: https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/librarypage/democratic-governance/ScalingFences.html

ii Internet World Stat, 2019. Available: https://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm. Accessed on 09.12.2019

iii DataReportal, 2019. Available: https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2019-global-digital-overview. Accessed on 09.12.2019