Ghana: Searching for Opportunities at Home and Abroad
The pages of Ghana's international migration story are filled with contrasts. According to the country's 2000 census, the population of 19 million is composed of a mosaic of ethnic groups, virtually all of whom claim to have migrated to Ghana from other regions of Africa.
The Castle of St. George d'Elmina and other infamous abodes of the "doors of no return" mark the paths of slaves destined for the Americas. The current Ghanaian government has swung these "doors" back open, hoping to persuade American and Caribbean descendents of the slave trade to live in Ghana.
Meanwhile, Ghanaian citizens continue to emigrate to North America, Europe, and other parts of Africa. The economic, political, and social woes of the past three decades have created a new diaspora of Ghanaians searching for opportunities elsewhere. As a result, Ghana is often highlighted as a nation struggling with the effects of brain drain.
At the same time, however, Ghanaians abroad remitted over US$1 billion in 2004 and have been highlighted as catalysts of small business development in their home country. Also, Ghana has been the source and destination of refugee flows. Ghana's migration story is dynamic and complex, and, as with most African countries, present-day migration trends are deeply rooted in historical antecedents.
Well before the colonial era, the movement of people was a way of life in Ghana, the rest of West Africa, and Africa as a whole. Intraregional movements were dominated by traders, fisherman, and nomadic farmers. Trans-Saharan trade routes linked the region to other parts of Africa and permitted the interregional movement of traders, scholars, and religious clerics.
When Europeans arrived in the 15th century, they disrupted the traditional patterns of trade and seasonal movements with the slave trade. The slave trade grew steadily from its inception in the 15th century to its peak in the 18th century. An estimated 12 million Africans were transported across the Atlantic to the Western Hemisphere from 1450 to 1850.
Of those 12 million, approximately 6.3 million slaves were West Africans, and about 4.5 million of them were shipped to North and South America between 1701 and 1810. Estimates indicate that 5,000 a year were shipped from the Gold Coast, the coastal region that encompasses modern-day Ghana, Togo, and Benin.
By 1850, the British were the sole colonial power in the Gold Coast, and, in 1874, they formally established the Gold Coast Colony, which eventually contained three distinct territories: the Colony (the coastal regions), the Asante hinterland, and the Northern Territories.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the development of gold mines and cocoa farms in the southern region of the Gold Coast attracted mostly male migrants from the other British colonies of Gambia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria as well as the French colonies of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Togo, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, and Benin. The 1913 Gold Coast census indicated that there were 4,142 foreigners working in the colony.
The number of foreign migrants continued to grow rapidly from 1910 to shortly after independence in 1957. Much of this was the result of organized labor recruitment programs run by the colonial government. According to the 1931 census, there were 289,217 foreigners living in the Gold Coast at that time (see Table 1). The majority of the migrants came from French colonies — most of them from Burkina Faso. Nigerians accounted for over 95 percent of the migrants from the British colonies.
Table 1. Foreign-Born Population in Ghana, 1931
While this was a period of net immigration, at least some migrants were there temporarily, and their presence correlated with the peak agricultural season in the cocoa industry. Data from the 1931 census indicate that approximately 287,000 people from Burkina Faso entered the Gold Coast between 1921 and 1931, but fewer than 190,000 actually resided there in 1931.
Yet economic growth and the corresponding surge in immigration did not stem the traditional seasonal emigration of Ghana's fisherman and traders to other areas in West Africa. Furthermore, a small number of students and professionals went to other African countries or followed colonial links and moved to England and other Anglophone countries through the 1950s.
The country shed its British colonial name and adopted "Ghana" after becoming the first sub-Saharan African nation to gain independence from colonial governance in 1957. In the early post-independence period, the number of people entering Ghana far surpassed the number leaving, creating a positive migration balance.
The 1960 census indicates there were 827,481 persons of foreign origin living in Ghana, accounting for approximately 12 percent of the total population. About 98 percent of the immigrants were from Africa, with less than one percent of the them from outside of West Africa.
Four West African countries — Togo, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, and Côte d'Ivoire — accounted for 88.9 percent of all immigrants in 1960.
Historical and cultural ties have been the predominant factors dictating migration flows between Ghana and its West African neighbors. Thus, Côte d'Ivoire, Togo, and Burkina Faso, which share not only common boundaries but also common ethnic affiliations with many Ghanaians, have been the principle sending countries. Common colonial ties in terms of language and government account for historical flows from Nigeria.
Eight years after independence, the Ghanaian economy and social conditions took a turn for the worse. Hindered by a balance of payments deficit, rising unemployment, and increasing levels of crime and smuggling, Ghana suddenly became an unattractive destination for West African migrants and a challenging place to live and work for its citizens. This turnaround ushered in a period of heightened emigration that continues today.
During the early stages of the downturn, several newly independent countries in the region capitalized on the country's woes and hired Ghanaian professionals to assist in their development. Emigration of teachers, doctors, administrators, and lawyers to Uganda, Botswana, Nigeria, and Zambia characterized these initial emigrant flows.
As the economic and social conditions continued to worsen in the 1960s, the immigrant community in Ghana became a scapegoat for the country's deteriorating situation. In 1969, the Ghanaian government enacted the Aliens Compliance Order, decreeing that all immigrants living in Ghana without proper documentation had to leave the country within two weeks. The vast majority of those targeted were migrants working informally in the cocoa industry.
The majority of those forced to leave were from Nigeria, but immigrants from Togo, Niger, and Burkina Faso were also among the expelled. Although exact figures do not exist, an estimated 155,000 to 213,000 individuals were forced to leave. Overall, the foreign born's share of the total population dropped from 12.3 percent in 1960 to 6.6 percent in 1970.
A succession of unsuccessful civilian and military regimes in the 1970s did nothing to improve conditions in Ghana. The formation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1975 expanded both temporary and permanent migration opportunities for Ghanaians because one of the objectives of the regional organization was to facilitate freedom of movement, residence, and employment within the community.
The 1979 Protocol to ECOWAS directly covered the movement of people within the region and established that citizens of member states could enter other member states for a period of 90 days without a visa. Working was technically not permitted, but many found employment and overstayed the 90-day time limit.
An estimated two million Ghanaians left between 1974 and 1981; their primary destinations were Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire. The number of Ghanaians living in Côte d'Ivoire was estimated at 42,000 in 1975.
During this period, Ghanaians were migrating to Nigeria at an estimated rate of 300 per day to find work in the booming oil economy. Most of the Ghanaian migrants were unskilled or semiskilled and found work in construction, truck driving, food distribution, and ports. The large numbers of unskilled workers were complemented by a significant number of skilled professionals working as doctors, engineers, surveyors, pharmacists, teachers, and nurses.
Expulsion from Nigeria
During the 1970s, the Nigerian government overlooked the fact that many of its migrants, including Ghanaians, were undocumented. However, when oil prices plummeted in the later part of the decade and the early 1980s, Nigeria's boom turned to bust. In parallel fashion to Ghana's downturn a decade earlier, the economic deterioration caused significant political and social turmoil as unemployment became widespread.
Nigeria followed Ghana's example and used the migrant community as its scapegoat, stating that immigrants were taking jobs away from Nigerians. Thus, in mid-January 1983, the government declared that all migrants living in Nigeria without proper papers had to leave by the end of the month. The expulsion specifically targeted low-skilled workers, exempting professionals with proper work permits and their families.
The military government used round-ups to enforce the expulsion order. As a result, an estimated two million migrants were forced to leave. The United Nations reported that approximately 1.2 million Ghanaians returned to their homeland, either on land through Togo and Benin, or by sea.
The Nigerian government repeated the procedure in 1985, and an additional 100,000 Ghanaians were forced to leave, indicating that a substantial number of those expelled in 1983 had returned or had never left.
The New Diaspora: Ghanaians in Africa, Europe, and North America
The mass expulsions from Nigeria in the first half of the 1980s set the stage for a change in the West African migration order for years to come. Not wanting to return to their country of origin, Ghanaians expanded their migratory view to include other regions of Africa, Europe, and North America.
By the mid 1990s, it was estimated that between two and four million Ghanaians, or 10 to 20 percent of Ghana's approximately 20 million people, were living abroad (see Figure 1). Skilled workers and professionals dominated early flows from Ghana, but, by the 1980s, many semiskilled and unskilled workers chose to leave as well.
Although Ghanaians continued to migrate to other West African nations, greater numbers left the region than in the past. In West Africa during the 1990s, Ghanaians were mainly found in Côte d'Ivoire, Togo, and Nigeria, despite the expulsions. Today, smaller numbers of Ghanaians are present throughout Africa. Exact figures are unavailable, but researchers have confirmed a smaller presence of skilled Ghanaians working at universities and in other professions in South Africa.
The size and characteristics of the Ghanaian population residing in European nations have been documented to a greater extent. Perhaps the most obvious destination is the United Kingdom. Due to colonial ties, Ghanaians represent the UK's largest and longest-standing African migrant community.
The number of Ghanaians immigrating to the United Kingdom has grown steadily during the past 15 years. Results of the 2001 census of England and Wales identified 55,537 people who were born in Ghana, having increased 72 percent from 32,277 in 1991. This growth can be attributed in part to steady growth in the number of Ghanaians who received student visas, work permits, and refugee status throughout the 1990s and into the new millennium.
In 1998, the United Kingdom enacted the National Health Service (NHS) Plan, which included the recruitment of foreign health care workers. Part of the plan consists of a website set up to recruit nurses from other countries (www.nursinguk.nhs.uk). As of May 2003, 2,468 Ghanaian nurses had sought verification for the program. In addition to the nurses, the Ghanaian Health Service estimates there are 300 Ghanaian-trained doctors working in the UK.
The United Kingdom's recruitment scheme has been controversial because it poses serious challenges for health care provision in the migrants' home countries. In light of the controversy, NHS has made a commitment that developing countries will not be targeted for recruitment, unless there is an explicit government-to-government agreement with the UK to support recruitment activities.
However, such plans do little to stop individuals from seeking out work opportunities. The Ghanaian government and medical associations have responded to overseas pull factors in the health care sector by instituting incentive programs for Ghanaian-trained health care professionals to stay in their home country. Such programs have had limited success thus far.
There are also sizable Ghanaian populations in Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy. Official German statistics state that there were more than 20,000 Ghanaian passport holders residing in Germany as of the end of 2004 (see Table 2). Ghanaians represent the third-largest African community in Germany after Moroccans and Tunisians.
Most of the Ghanaians arrived in Germany between the late 1970s and the early 1990s, a time when Germany had relatively liberal asylum and work authorization procedures. After 1993, Germany put in place a more restrictive migration policy, and the number of Ghanaians entering the country dropped significantly.
Table 2. African Foreign Population in Germany on December 31, 2004, by Country of Origin
Ghanaians are a relatively new migrant group in the Netherlands. In contrast to more established Moroccan and Turkish migrant groups, which were welcomed to the Netherlands in the 1960s as guest workers during a period of economic growth, most Ghanaian migrants in the Netherlands have informal status. The growth of the Ghanaian population was a product of the turmoil in Ghana and Nigeria in the early part of the 1980s.
According to Statistics Netherlands, the country was home to 18,000 Ghanaians in 2003. However, researchers indicate that a more reliable figure is approximately 40,000, based on the number of Ghanaians residing in the Netherlands who registered to vote for Ghana's presidential elections in 2000.
In Italy, as in the Netherlands, Ghanaians began to settle permanently in the 1980s in their effort to escape turmoil at home. The 2004 Ghanaian population was 32,754 — almost three times the size of the 1990 population of 11,443.
Flows to Canada began in the early 1980s and intensified through the 1990s. The first arrivals included professionals, who gained entry because of their skills and education, and later asylum seekers, whose application numbers peaked in 1990 at 1,149. A 1999 survey of Ghanaians in Toronto showed that over 65 percent of Ghanaian asylum seekers came from a third country. Once accepted as permanent residents, Ghanaian residents took advantage of Canada's family-reunification policy to sponsor spouses, dependent children, and parents.
According to the 2001 census, 16,985 Ghanaians were living in Canada. Data from Citizenship and Immigration Canada show that an average of 960 Ghanaians gained permanent residency each year from 1995 to 2004 (see Table 3).
The Ghanaian population in the United States has grown rapidly over the last decade and a half, particularly between 1990 and 2000, when the population jumped from 20,889 to 65,570, or 210 percent. Family reunification, refugee resettlement, and the strong economy of the 1990s are the factors driving this increase. Many believe these figures to be undercounts, and nonofficial estimates reach as high as 300,000.
As is characteristic of immigrant populations, the majority of the Ghanaian population in the United States is of working age, and Ghanaian males slightly outnumbered their female counterparts in 2000 (see Table 4).
Ghana and Brain Drain
As the Ghanaian diaspora continues to grow across the globe, many observers have expressed concern that mass emigration has depleted the country of much needed human capital. While skilled professionals have been leaving Ghana since independence, the numbers have continued to increase.
One often quoted statistic first produced by economist Douglas Rimmer in his 1993 publication Staying poor: Ghana's political economy shows that between 1975 and 1981, Ghana lost approximately 14,000 teachers trained in its institutions. Table 5 shows the high percentages of Ghanaian-trained health care professionals who, since 1995, have opted to leave the country in search of work abroad.
Percentage of Those Trained That Year, 1995 to 2002
The factors contributing to the flight of trained medical personnel from Ghana include low salary and remuneration, poor long-term career prospects, the low respect/value placed in health workers by Ghana's medical system, poor management of the health system, and bleak prospects for saving enough money for retirement.
At the same time, demand for doctors and nurses has increased in countries that do not produce enough of their own medical professionals. The UK accounts for three-fourths of Ghana's verification requests, a process in which a potential employer or government agency checks the academic background of a job applicant not educated in the country of employment.
For the most part, Ghanaian doctors and nurses have had little trouble getting their qualifications recognized in foreign countries although the qualification process differs by country. Ghanaian health care workers, for instance, believe the United States has more stringent qualification requirements than other developed countries.
The exodus of skilled medical professionals has challenged the Ghanaian Ministry of Health, as well as its semiautonomous subdepartment, the Ghanaian Health Service (see Tables 6 and 7).
While these factors increase the difficulty of stemming brain drain, the Ghanaian government has taken some action to address its effects. Since 2000, the government has attempted to provide incentives to health care professionals to stay and work in Ghana.
One program, called the Additional Duty Hours Allowance, paid doctors and nurses for hours worked above their normal schedules. This program was said to be initially successful with doctors but not with nurses because nurse salaries were so low.
Another government program procured cars for medical professional with membership in the Ghana Medical Association. This plan has done little to slow the flight of nurses, however, because very few cars were made available to them.
Both the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service produced strategic five-year human resource plans in 2002 and 2003, but these plans have been criticized because they only project how many medical professionals will be needed in coming years and offer no solutions for curbing worker flight.
The Medical and Dental Council of Ghana now requires doctors and dentists who are educated at Ghanaian institutions but do not complete their residencies in Ghana to sit for an examination before being allowed to register with the council. Registration is important because the Medical and Dental Council of Ghana is involved in the approval process of verification requests from foreign countries. The goal of the policy is to encourage young doctors and dentists to stay at least a minimal amount of time in their home country.
Ghana's Nurses and Midwives Council has taken the policy a step further by preventing council-registered nurses who want verification from abroad from obtaining their certificate until they work for at least two years in Ghana. Despite these efforts, analysts believe the residency requirements have largely failed because of poor compliance on both sides.
Migration and Development: Remittances and Returnees
While the loss of skilled professionals trained at Ghanaian institutions is a serious cause for concern, both the Ghanaian diaspora and return migrants have not lost touch with their home country. The diaspora's connection is not only manifested by their commitment to send money over time but also by their sustained contacts with family and community and their financial investment in their homeland.
Ghanaian remitters are similar to those from other diasporas in their frequency of sending, rationales for sending, and choice of beneficiaries, but are unique in that they tend to send money over a longer period of time. Figure 2, based on a recent international survey of Ghanaian remitters, shows how this pattern did not vary between Ghanaians in the United States, the UK, and Germany.
and Average Amount Sent (in Dollars)
The Central Bank of Ghana estimated that US$1.2 billion in remittances flowed into the country in 2004. Analysts believe this represents approximately half of the total flows due to money remitted through informal channels.
Remittances are critical to the economy because they are the second most important source of foreign exchange after exports. Furthermore, they have an important distributive effect because they reach poorer, rural areas (see Figure 3), such as the Upper West, Upper East, and Northern regions, and are mostly received by women.
Realizing the economic importance of the diaspora, the Ghanaian government has sought to keep its citizens abroad engaged. In 2002, the Ghana Dual Citizenship Regulation Act was passed, which, for the first time, made it possible for Ghanaians to keep their Ghanaian citizenship after obtaining the citizenship of another country.
The government also organized a Homecoming Summit in 2001, which invited members of the diaspora to the capital city of Accra in order to promote their efforts in national development. A Non-Resident Ghanaians Secretariat (NRGS) was instituted in May 2003 to promote further links with Ghanaians abroad and to encourage return.
Data from the Ghana Living Standards Survey (GLSS) indicate that in 1998-1999, there were approximately 50,000 return migrants living in Ghana. This particular data set merges returnees from Africa, Europe, and North America, but it is thought that the majority come from Europe. Research in this area has shown that migration can be a form of poverty alleviation as migrants tend to return with more capital and education than they had on departure.
Return migration can also be a path to job creation. In 2001, researchers from the UK-based Sussex Centre for Migration Research interviewed 152 Ghanaian returnees. Over 55 percent of those surveyed were self-employed on return, and the vast majority of these individuals employed other Ghanaians in their business. It should be noted, however, that existing data do not indicate whether migration is a form of poverty alleviation for the poorest of the poor, because studies have focused on Ghanaian returnees who were relatively well-off before they migrated.
Despite the interest of the Ghanaian government and European and North American development organizations to influence return to Ghana, current data suggest they exercise little control over the matter. The overwhelming majority of the respondents in the Sussex study indicated they did not know of any government or international organizational assistance for business development of returnees, and even fewer had actually received assistance.
While the relatively small size of the survey sample must be considered, the results indicate that governments and international organizations still face the challenge of reaching returnees.
Less discussed than the country's brain drain are Ghana's own refugees and the refugee population it hosts. The majority of Ghanaians who fled the country did so in the 1980s because of fears of politically motivated executions, disappearances, imprisonment without trial, confiscation of property, and public flogging. Between 1982 and 1991, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) registered 97,536 asylum applications from Ghana, which placed it among the top countries of origin for forced migrants at that time.
The improvement of social, political, and economic conditions in the mid 1990s changed this trend, and Ghana became the destination of refugees fleeing civil strife in other African countries, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Côte d'Ivoire. At its peak in 1993, Ghana was the place of residence for over 150,000 refugees.
Prior to the 1990s, Ghana's asylum policy was influenced by its pan-Africanist foreign policy adopted by the regime at independence. Advocating the cause of African liberation and unity, Ghana took in relatively small numbers of southern African refugees, and the president took direct interest in their welfare.
The larger numbers of refugees that arrived in the 1990s strained the government's ability to deal with their needs. In 1993, the government passed legislation creating a Refugee Board to deal with refugee policy, but, in practice, UNHCR and private citizen groups, organized mostly through church organizations, provide material support to refugee groups.
When Ghana revised its National Population Policy in 1994 — a policy that assesses, monitors, and evaluates the overall success of specific population-related programs and activities — it recognized that it had become a country of emigration. While improvements in economic, political, and social conditions during the last decade have given Ghanaians more of an incentive to stay in their home country, Ghana remains poor, and the presence of a dynamic diaspora in the major capitals of Europe and North America continues to be an important pull factor.
The pull factor is so strong that many risk their lives to leave, as evidenced by the two young Ghanaian boys who died as stowaways on a Ghana Airways Flight to England in 2002.
The present and future challenge for Ghana and the international community is to improve conditions to the point where its citizens are not compelled to risk everything to leave. The Ghanaian government realizes this and is beginning to engage the diaspora in order to produce results beneficial to its citizens abroad and at home.
In an interesting twist, which in some ways brings the Ghanaian migration story full circle, the government is reaching beyond its current citizens to all descendents of the African slave trade. The government plans to offer free land and a lifetime visa to members of the African diaspora with hopes that people of African descent from all parts of the world will travel to and perhaps reestablish roots in their ancestral homeland.
While the plan faces significant hurdles — African-American visitors are often disconcerted that locals refer to them as "obruni" or "white foreigner" — the Ghanaian government remains committed to establishing itself as the gateway for the worldwide African diaspora.
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