Why Sweat Elsewhere? – Nana Awere Damoah


Efie ne fie

Home is best
Tough but best
Away may be brighter
But first class citizen
You may not become

As I made my way to work this morning, my thoughts turned, as usual for this week in particular, to Africa. I have been musing this week about Ghana and today I added the country I consider my second home – Nigeria.

I have been working here in Nigeria permanently for almost three months now. I am not new to Lagos. Since I started working with Unilever after school in 2000, I had visited for about fourteen times before moving here permanently. My first visit to Nigeria was in January 2001, and it was for a conference in Ogere. Interestingly, my first trip out of Lagos in April this year was to Ibadan and we went by Ogere and right by the conference centre – nostalgic. In 2009, I stayed here for a full month.

I have been telling my colleagues at work, Mr. O and Mrs B., especially, that when I read the papers, especially The Punch which is what I subscribe to at work, I find too many negative words being used, too much pessimism.

Just as an example, I have now picked, randomly, the Thursday June 14 2012 edition of The Punch. The words and phrases that jump at me: scandals, bribe, suspicion, rot, stinks, emergency, warns, recession. This is just the front page, I have not opened it yet. There is, however, one positive story – Man, 80, bags B.Sc in Sociology (that was so inspiring).

I ask my colleagues why.

When I come to work during the week and also move about during the weekend, I never regret being in Nigeria or working here. I love it. Challenges nevertheless.

Another argument I always have with my Nigerian friends – I tell them they have a romantic view of Ghana. Usually when I hear such statements as ‘Oh, it is not like this or that in Ghana’, I challenge the speaker and ask ‘Have you ever been to Ghana?’ Three times out of four, the person hasn’t been. It is not all that rosy in my homeland. We are all on this road to development, and have our challenges.

After my first degree and my statutory (second) National Service, I worked for five years in Ghana before going to the UK for a year’s Master’s programme. This was between September 2005 and September 2006. I submitted my dissertation on the 15 September, stayed for two weeks to help with the Welcome programme for International Students and to tidy up a few issues and I was back in Ghana on the 2ndOctober 2006. I had resigned from Unilever before going for my studies and as at the time I returned, there was no firm offer from Unilever to take me back. A Ghanaian friend based in the UK asked me why I was returning to Ghana, and why I didn’t like it in the UK. As a typical Ghanaian, I answered him with a question, querying him in return why he was in the UK and why he didn’t like it in Ghana. I will state my reasons for returning home so soon, later in this piece but before that, allow me to share a statement a senior colleague made to me.

I had got a Chevening scholarship to study at Nottingham University. As I considered my options, I went to consult with Adlai Opoku-Boamah, a senior manager at Unilever who had just recently returned from the UK on a similar scholarship. His advice was simple: “Nana, if you want to be a big man, come back home.”

I saw the development in the UK, I have seen the development in South Africa and since returning from my studies, I have been to other countries where the level of advancement is far above what transpires in Ghana and other African countries. I saw how hard people, including many Africans, are working in the UK to make that country prosper and become what it is. And I asked myself, Why sweat somewhere else?

Why sweat my youthful years away building someone’s village and not mine? Why put my shoulders to a wheel that turns another economy whilst the one that has my umbilical cord tied to it travels south? And in returning to Ghana, I was returning to Africa, to the continent that needs the resources to grow.

We berate the whites for slavery and argue that the slave trade took away all our energetic and productive young men and women. Are we not practising a voluntary trade today?

One of the issues that tickle in the wrong places is when my brothers and sisters living abroad visit home for a week and lament about everything and see nothing worthwhile to commend. Who should stay behind and build?

I was in school with a number of Nigerians, who stayed back. Try telling them to come back home to help, and it will be like selling amala to a Chinese man. How else can Nigeria grow if all the top brains are going out for studies and not returning? How can Africa improve if we don’t want to stay, sweat and swim against the tide of under-development and turn our economies around?

Who is to give the hope back? Who is to change the language we use? Who is to enervate us, inspire us, bring us the va-va-voom? It will not be the politicians, I can guarantee you. It will be us, the ordinary citizens.

Why sweat elsewhere when I can sweat on the continent, and stay in a better Ghana, a better Nigeria, a better Africa?

Why sweat elsewhere?

By: Nana Awere Damoah

Author, I speak of Ghana


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