Beyond remittances: The untapped resource of Ghanaian Diaspora
Mobility is an accepted feature of contemporary society and there is a certain level appreciation of the fact that migration brings added benefits (IOM, 2011) as partner countries and donors see transnational engagement as a potential for economic development as well as challenges to both sending and receiving economies.
Three cornerstones of policy that ‘maximise migration payoffs’ have been identified by Martin and Straubhaar (2002), namely remittances, recruitment and return. As a result, mobilisation of the diaspora community through State level diaspora engagement policies have gained wide acceptance as countries increasingly seek to exploit the resources that migrants can offer their country of origin (Levitt, 2001), most especially given the success stories of China, India, and Israel to mention a few.
In Ghana, the contribution of the Ghanaian Diaspora to the nation’s development agenda cannot be underestimated. Remittances from Ghanaians living abroad in 2010 was estimated at $2.12 billion, a figure that is more than the $1.8 billion of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) the country received in the same year in support of the national budget according to Bank of Ghana sources.
The OECD has identified Ghana as having the highest emigration rates for highly skilled emigrants (46%) in Western Africa (OECD, 2005). According to some estimates, 33.8 per cent of emigrants from Ghana living in OECD countries possess medium skills, while 27.6 per cent had high skills with only 3 per cent of Ghanaian emigrants having no skills (EU, 2006).
Ghana is therefore following the example of sister African Countries such as Morocco, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Kenya which have established vibrant diaspora engagement processes to boost the socio-economic contribution of their diaspora to national development.
It is within this purview that the established Diaspora Support Unit under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration needs to adopt innovative ways to promote Diaspora investment opportunities in Ghana to increase economic growth, job creation and indigenous business development.
The State through the Bank of Ghana, should as a matter of policy consideration look at the creation of a Diaspora Investment Fund. Such a fund can be marketed through the Diaspora Support Unit and the Foreign Missions Abroad for Ghanaians and foreign investors who will want to take advantage of the positive returns on investments in Ghana. For Ghanaians living abroad, this becomes an end of service investment scheme that will cushion their return home.
To begin with the State must adopt policy mechanisms as the Chinese and Indians to attract the best of their diaspora. For instance, the existing tax exemptions on household gadgets and working machinery for Ghanaians returning home after, at least, a year of stay abroad should be publicised since most diasporans are not aware of it. Again, there should be a conscious effort at recruiting Ghanaian professionals abroad to fill in critical areas of lack. In such cases, our diaspora must appreciate their tax obligations, especially in the case of those who have renounced their citizenship for one reason or the other. There abound in the diaspora, from Togo to Papua New Guinea, enough Ghanaian expertise that can be tapped to enhance the country’s competitiveness at the international bargaining table.
The International Organisation for Migration which has much experience in mobilising skilled migrants for home country development remains a viable partner in an attempt to rally the expertise of the Ghanaian Diaspora for temporal assignments back home. The Health sector remains a key area of need. The lack of proportional representation of health workers, especially specialists across the ten regions of the country remains a threat to the future of this country and the mobilisation of the huge concentration of Ghanaian Doctors abroad for two or three months return service remains a viable untapped option.
While admitting the need for the Ghanaian diaspora to engage in the political process, we must also acknowledge that most of the first and second generation Ghanaians have legally renounced their Ghanaian citizenship. Such people of Ghanaian origin must begin to appreciate the challenges that engaging them in the national decision making process might pose, while legitimate Ghanaians must begin grasping the fact that citizenship comes with responsibilities such as taxation even beyond the borders of the country.
To this effect, the discussion at engaging the Ghanaian diaspora must be delinked from the seeming four-yearly circle of electioneering and also without emotional sentiments. This will help to sieve the arguments and for policy makers to appreciate the relevance of such an untapped resource base for national development.
Ultimately the State must own and commit resources to the process of engaging the Diaspora community if the needed potential thereof is to be realised.
By Kwaku Yeboah