I participated in a writing competition organised by the World Bank on this topic (http://www.essaycompetition.org/index_1), and I made it to the top 200 authors out of over 1900 entries received!
Now, I wish I had put much more effort into it...I started writing this entry at about 8pm on March 17,2011..i had less than 4 hours to the submission deadline... the only thing that kept me going was the fact that I'd told myself I must submit an entry at all cost and I wasn't ready to see myself give up on something again just because I could not make the time for it...Though 200 sounds like a huge number, I still find it quite rewarding...:)
Here's the essay I submitted (it's copyrighted oooo....lol)
During a recent visit to Elmina Castle, the largest slave trade centre in the world, the tour guide took my group to the “door of no return” and recounted how people were taken to unknown lands against their will. A young man who happened to be in my group said he wished there were still slave trade as he wouldn’t have to go through the hassle of acquiring a visa and ticket before leaving the shores of Ghana.
This statement got me thinking as I realized there were many more people in my tour group who agreed with this young man. What is wrong with Ghana that the youth are so keen on leaving? And at this point, I must point out that they do not want to leave for just any country. No Ghanaian youth wants to leave for a country less developed than Ghana and I am sure this applies to youths of different nationalities the world over.
Migration exists at two major levels – at the national level where it usually takes the form of rural-urban migration, and at the international level where it takes the form of emigration or immigration. Rural-urban migration has been linked to the wide gap in development between urban and rural areas. If the world is to be viewed as the global village that it is, the low and middle income countries can be taken to be the rural areas and the high income countries as the urban areas. With this analogy, it can be seen that the factors that will push a 25 year old girl to leave her hometown in Northern Ghana for the capital Accra with nothing but her transportation fare and the optimism of a life better than what she was going through in her village where she was assured of the support of an extended family during unpleasant times such as sickness will not be much different from what will drive her counterpart in her dream destination to save all he can to get on board a flight bound for London, New York, Amsterdam, Johanesburg. More daring stories have been told of those who crossed the Sahara on foot, all in search of greener pastures.
Rural-Urban migration has had both positive and negative impacts on my life as an individual, on my community and on my country Ghana. I was born and raised in the city, and I have spent all 25 years of my life in the city. I am not well placed to argue on the difficulties of living in rural Ghana, but I have heard stories, watched movies and had the chance of spending some weekends in my village. To those who are attracted to life in the city, it is a place where their dreams of making money can be met. To a typical city girl like me, a weekend in the village is a time away from the incessant noise of the city. A time to admire nature - where the chirping of the crickets at night even sounds like music in my ears. I sometimes wonder why anyone would want to leave such a lovely place for a noisy place like Accra. It certainly cannot be because of electricity for there is now electricity in my village. It cannot be for entertainment because, night life in the villages cannot be compared with what goes on in the clubs on the streets of Accra.
As more people move from rural areas to urban areas, the facilities and amenities in these urban areas are pressurized as more people than they were designed for have to be served. Water is rationed in Accra by the utility because demand outstrips supply. Where I live in Accra, our taps flow twice in a week and arrangements have to be made to store water for the remaining 5 days of the week. Rural-urban migration alone cannot be blamed for this but the fact remains that it is a contributing factor to it. Perhaps, one of the most obvious impacts of rural-urban migration on me as an individual and on the community in which I live is this: Directly opposite my parent’s house where I live with my family on a plot of land is a small kiosk. I am not so sure of the exact dimensions but it should not exceed 3m x 4m. This structure is home to a family of about 10 – a husband, wife and their children. The point I want to make has got nothing to do with how they manage to sleep in that tiny structure but rather, has more to do with the more pressing issue of sanitation. There is no toilet facility in their home, and there is no public toilet facility in my community as it is a residential area with self-contained houses. I have woken up many times to find black polythene bags containing human excreta dragged to my front gate by dogs. It is not just the sight of this that bothers me, but also the health impacts it can have on my family and all others within my community. To be able to truly appreciate the scale of this, I have to add that there are not less than 8 families living in this kind of situation within a hundred meter radius from my house. These are all families who have relocated to the city with hopes of bettering their lives. They live in uncompleted buildings or kiosks with the inscription “Remove by Order” from the Metropolitan Authorities. They do not have water, electricity or toilet facilities, but they would rather live in that situation than move back to the villages. In the process, the communities in which they live are polluted and made prone to flooding as their wastes are left in polythene bags and dropped in the open drains.
Roadside hawking is very common on the streets of Accra, and it is in such ventures that the youth who move to the cities are engaged to make ends meet. Some run after cars to sell a sachet of water which costs 10 pesewas ( less than 5 pence), putting their own lives and those of other road users at risk. There are others who wait at the traffic lights to wipe the windscreens of drivers for a token which they might not get because all cars have windscreen wipers. The profits they make from these activities are what they use to fend for themselves. They are therefore drawn into a cycle where they make just enough to feed themselves. The perceived benefits of rural-urban migration in my opinion do not measure up to the risks. Young girls are at risk of being drawn into vices such as prostitution or at worst could be raped especially those that spend their nights on the streets. The young boys could join armed robbery gangs out of frustration.
When it comes to the issue of migration at the international level, the story is no different. I know people who are living in developed countries on expired visas. They live in constant fear of being caught by the law enforcing agencies. The developed countries have put in measures to check illegal immigration, but the illegal immigrants also better their skills at evading deportation as the days go by. There are some who as a result of their illegal status cannot even access healthcare when sick. They take to self medication.
There are people who are willing to do jobs that they would not be caught dead doing in their home countries. The reason being that those jobs pay much more than jobs that are considered as professional in their home countries. As a postgraduate student in the United Kingdom, I was faced with the opportunity of applying for a 2 year post-study work visa. I did not take up that opportunity because I had a job waiting back home for me. Most of my colleagues from other developing countries were however not that lucky. They are still in the UK as legal immigrants, sorting mails, and washing dishes at McDonalds with their Masters degrees. Most of them say they just want to make enough, and then go back home to start a business. It is very true that the amount of money they will make doing those jobs, will exceed what the average teacher for example makes in Ghana. But the question remains, Who will build the economy in their home countries for them to come down and invest the money they are making?
The figures of people who live as migrants are quite staggering. Migration cannot and must not be stopped. It can and should however be managed to ensure that people migrate for the right reasons. If governments in developing countries will invest in setting up manufacturing companies so that things such as tooth picks and matches are no longer imported but are produced locally, the issue of both rural-urban migration and international migration can be addressed effectively. If companies are set up in the rural areas to process farm produce, the youth would not move to Accra or any other city for that matter in the country to chase after cars just to get money for supper.
In my opinion, if Ghana as a country will focus on exporting partially or fully processed products, not only will there be job opportunities for school drop-outs, but graduates will also find reasons to stay home and develop the country. This is because both skilled and unskilled labour will be needed to keep these industries running.
Until then, the youth will continue wishing that slavery still existed so they can have free access to the now developed world, all with the hope of a better quality of life.