Early this year, I was selected among 40 Ghanaian leaders to partake in the Mandela Washington Fellowship in the US. From the first day I met a Ghanaian, a part of me started grieving, not because I missed my family terribly (which was true by the way) but because I was having a different kind of overseas experience.
So I met this able-bodied Ghanaian man who advised me matter-of-factly ‘run away! Don’t return home, that’s what I did when I got here and blah blah blah’ Instantly, I panicked! I looked at him thinking ‘do you know what I have left home that you think I shouldn’t go back to?’ Anyway, I simply feigned a laugh and told him I had no such intention.
Thankfully, such a conversation never came up again during my stay there but I met and interacted with many Africans and for that matter Ghanaians there who were not only able-bodied but smart, healthy and highly productive entrepreneurs, engineers, doctors, teachers, etc. I keep thinking, ‘wow all these people are Africans? Imagine how our continent will turn around if we had access to their abilities back home’.
Initially, my question to them would be ‘so when are you coming back home?’ but I noticed I wasn’t liking their responses, so I changed the question to ‘how are you giving back to your country?’
The response to the latter would usually end up getting me quite emotional and I didn’t even know how judgmental I came across as until one of my mates was kind enough to give me constructive feedback about my questioning skills.
Actually, I didn’t ask these questions because I thought of myself as this great Ghanaian girl giving back to my country in a giant way; I asked because I firmly believe that ‘to whom much is given, much is expected’. What I mean is a lot of our people abroad have been given an amazing opportunity to learn from people all over the world in these developed countries. They have been exposed to their way of thinking and how they have been able to build their countries to their shining glory; so the question is what are we taking back home to build our own country and continent too? Or do we not intend to build ours to see it blossom as well?
Over and over, I get the sense that given the opportunity, most of us would much rather stay in developed countries and thrive, than to go back home to where life is ‘harder’. I asked myself, ‘Why do we all want the greener pastures from other places? Why can’t we go back home to water and prune our own grasses to be as beautiful as we would like to see?’ Yes, I think of all the opportunities abroad especially for startups like mine and I am awed.
I see the Northwestern University campus and it is just mind-blowing. Motorist actually obey traffic rules and that is great. So is it not possible to have such facilities and systems for our people back home too? I recall being at a shop in New York and feeling all excited because I was due to return home in a couple of days. The shopkeeper asked me ‘but why are you going back to Africa?’ Now it was my turn to be puzzled; ‘because it’s home’ I replied. But of course, where else is home?
I met another Ghanaian who had recently completed his MBA in one of the top US schools. He said to me, ‘the way things are back home, it will take more than 20 great minds with the passion to change things’.
He explained that ‘somethings’ will have to change before we can make progress. I immediately assumed that corruption is one of the main issues, though I could be wrong. Perhaps, this statement is true; but does it mean we should give up because the systems back home make it difficult to thrive and make a positive impact? Tell me, if we with our brilliant minds and great exposure, do not find a way to give back to our continent to make it better, who will do it for us? If we just give up, what legacy will we leave for our children? Is this the home we want to leave to the future generations?
Our forefathers literally shed their blood, so that we can enjoy freedom; what are we prepared to shed for our continent too? In fact, do we even believe that our continent is worth sacrificing for? Stories like that of Dr Patrick Awuah, quitting his job with Microsoft to come home and help build Africa through Ashesi University inspires me so much. There are others who have not necessarily given up their lives abroad to come home but still give back to Africa. One of such is an 18-year old college student called Samantha Boateng, who has already built three community libraries back home for schools in deprived communities.
I believe strongly that if there are enough people to inspire one African per day to have a more positive mindset and behave differently, we can actually have the Africa we deserve. It may take 10, 15, 100 years, but that is fine as long as we move towards that vision instead of looking on in despair as this rich gift of a continent called Africa deteriorates.
What problems are you finding solutions too? Are you the gardener making sure our grass is cut to the right trim? Are you the nurse caring for cancer patients? Are you the driver bringing those tomatoes from the village? Are you the Finance Minister deciding on how much tax should be paid? Which one is your own? Do it to the best of your ability! Africa needs all hands on deck, we owe it to our generation and others to come. We cannot give up hope because actually, Africa is all we have. Please stop looking on in despair as things are not working and let us have faith that together we can, one at a time. So help us, God.