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The burden of being Nigerian in Ghana

Africans Migrate in Africa All the Time

Friday 28 October 2022, by siawi3




The burden of being Nigerian in Ghana

By Titilope F. Ajayi

On xenophobia against Nigerians in Ghana.

Radio technician. Ghana. Image credit Arne Hoel via The World Bank Flickr (CC).

This past week, my morning radio habit led me to a convoluted talk show on Ghanaian radio station, 91.3FM, that could have easily been mistaken for a call to arms against Nigerians in Ghana. A guest on the program suggested Nigerians are responsible for a significant proportion of crimes committed in Ghana. In response, the host, following a feeble attempt to dissociate himself from this xenophobic sentiment, asked if the government ought not to monitor Nigerians in Ghana more closely, given our implied “criminal tendencies.”

It left me equal parts infuriated, exasperated and saddened at Ghanaian media needlessly inflaming public sentiment every time one misguided Nigerian of over 200 million dispersed around the world, commits a crime. Every. Single. Time.

The latest incident is the alleged orchestration between August and December 2018 of the kidnappings of three young women by a man believed to be Nigerian in the city of Takoradi in Ghana’s Western Region. The kidnappings are among several other incidents occurring in a climate of arguably unprecedented violent crimes with the killings of at least three women—among them a street hawker, the marketing and public affairs manager of the Ghana Ports and Harbors Authority, one prominent pastor and an investigative journalist since late 2018. Judging by comments on social and some news media, Nigerians have already been found guilty of the kidnappings.

A representative of Nigeria’s ruling party even called in to apologize on behalf of all Nigerians: “I will apologize on the [sic] behalf of Nigerians for this unfortunate incident and we will also plead with our Ghanaian counterparts to understand that there is only going to be one Judas in every 12.”

I don’t know which is more upsetting: the inherent delusion that criminality is un-Ghanaian or the increasingly less tacit suggestion that Nigerians in Ghana should come under special scrutiny just because of our nationality. The first point conveniently overlooks the latent lapses in, with and between the security apparatuses in Nigeria and Ghana that allowed this monstrous kidnapper to reportedly break jail more than once in both countries. Not to mention the fact that Mr “Mastermind” cannot have imported an exclusively Nigerian team for what appears to be the Ghana franchise of his diabolical dealings.

“History is cyclical,” commented a friend when I first posted this on Facebook last week. And he is right to some extent. “Ghana Must Go,” Nigeria’s 1983 expulsion of Ghanaians, makes a handy reference. At then-president Shehu Shagari’s orders, over two million immigrants from Ghana and surrounding countries were forcibly expelled, assaulted by Nigerian police as they left. Some would drown during treacherous sea crossings in overcrowded boats.

But this tragedy was preceded by Ghana’s expulsion in 1969 of some 200,000 “foreigners” under the Aliens Compliance Order of Kofi Busia’s government. Most of these people were Nigerian, deported because they were considered as economic threats to Ghanaians—a lopsided singular narrative about people who had contributed substantially to Ghana’s fortunes through legitimate commerce over many years. While there have been no further mass expulsions since 1969, there has been no end of finger-pointing and demonizing of Nigerians in Ghana by Ghanaians in ways that are unmatched by the experiences of Ghanaians in other African countries. Crimes in Ghana are readily attributed to Nigerians and some property owners pointedly refuse to rent to Nigerians.

My Facebook friend also suggested that inept political leaders in both countries, like to scapegoat immigrants to camouflage their failings. Yet there is a barely disguised disdain for the people known as “foreigners” in Ghana. Especially if you’re Black. Critically if you happen to be Nigerian.

Clearly, this xenophobic stew has been cooking a long time. As living conditions continue to worsen for the ordinary Ghanaian, it’s only a matter of time before it boils over as the tragic events in South Africa (where South Africans regularly attack other Africans) or Côte d’Ivoire (in the case of the latter, politicians built political platforms on xenophobia) have taught us. When it does, given the cultural and other affinities between both countries, Nigerians will probably not be the only victims.

Titilope F. Ajayi is a doctoral candidate in International Affairs at the University of Ghana





Africans Migrate in Africa All the Time

By Louise Matsakis

The majority of African migrants move between countries on the continent.

Photo: Charles Moses, 30, a new immigrant, in Madina, home to many Nigerians in Accra, Ghana.

Immigration to the West accounts for less than 50% of all global migration according to data from the United Nations. Most people move from one non-Western country to another, yet their stories are rarely told. Journalism about immigration focuses overwhelmingly on those coming to North America and Western Europe, even though individuals who move within the Global South make up the majority of refugees and migrants.

Claire Adida, the author of Immigrant Exclusion and Insecurity in Africa: Coethnic Strangers, published this year, wrote to me in an email: “Africans migrate in Africa all the time, looking for economic opportunity, interacting with members of their host societies, carving out a life for themselves away from their hometown. They have been doing this for generations.” Adida, who is also Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California-San Diego, added: “Yet we know very little about these communities, their struggles and successes, and we have very little data. This is therefore a phenomenon that remains very much informal and poorly understood.”

In her new book, Adida explores the diversity of immigration experiences in urban West Africa. The book is one of the first to explain immigration integration in the developing world.

Immigrants, for example, make up 3% of Ghana’s population. At least 80% of immigrants who come to the West African nation are from other African states, according to a report from the International Organization for Migration (IMO). Many come from neighboring states, such as Nigeria.

Most economic migrants arrive to Ghana from neighboring countries, partly because Ghana is a part of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The economic partnership of fifteen West African countries was founded in 1975, and aims to foster free migration within its borders.

Ghana’s borders have recently become even more porous. Beginning in July, the country began to offer tourist visas on arrival to citizens of all 54 African Union (AU) member states. Historically, it has been more difficult for Africans than for American and European tourists to travel within their own continent.

While in Ghana’s capital in June, I met a group of Nigerian immigrants selling cellphones along the streets of Madina, a bustling neighborhood on the outskirts of Accra. One of them, Henry Nnamdi, 33, held up a shiny red Samsung, and explained that he left three young kids to move to Ghana four years ago to earn more money for his family.

In the same market was Charles Moses, 30, another mobile phone salesman. He came to Ghana only six months ago, after the Nigerian government demolished his clothing boutique in order to build a bridge.

While his lack of knowledge of local languages has made meeting new friends difficult, “We Nigerians mingle with Ghanaians very easily,” he said. Nnamadi and Moses are some of the thousands of Nigerian immigrants who come to Ghana each year, largely to find opportunities for work.

While many migrants who leave neighboring countries to come to Ghana are unskilled laborers, some bring important trades to the country.

“I decided to move to Ghana because I wanted to learn an approach to medicine in an Anglophone country,” Van Nam Glouzon, 30, a doctor originally from Ivory Coast explained to me. Glouzon, who also speaks French and Russian, noticed that most medical research is written in English, and believed practicing in an English-speaking country would allow him to stay on the cutting-edge of his field.

According to research conducted at the University of Ghana’s Centre for Migration Studies, a significant number of male migrants who came to Accra reported that moving delayed marriage. Many said they had trouble renting a room, which delayed marriage even further.

Not all people who come to Ghana from neighboring countries are male. Nearly half of them are women, the University of Ghana report indicated. Olivia Ogechi, 26, is one of them. She moved from Nigeria’s southern Imo State in order to pursue nursing school in Accra.

“I have a passionate need to serve people,” she said while organizing the colorful women’s shoes she sells in the city’s street markets. “Ghana is a cool place to stay,” she continued.

The IMO report showed also that not every immigrant to Ghana comes from a neighboring state. Fifteen percent come from Europe, like Torbjörn “Toby” Bergman.

The 43-year-old emigrated from Sweden two years ago to open Chuck’s Bar & Restaurant, an upscale continental eatery in Tamale, a city in northern Ghana 10 hours from Accra by car. On a Friday night, the restaurant’s expansive backyard was packed, in part because it’s one of the only places like it in town.

“We changed something about this city when we opened this place,” he said.

Many of the people who come to Ghana arrive under more unfortunate circumstances than Bergman. In recent years, Ghana has seen a large increase in the number of refugee and asylum seekers, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The Ghanaian government has sometimes botched its responses to the influx. In June, more than 40 asylum seekers, including infants, were left to sleep in the open near Accra’s international airport, according to Joy News. The Ghana Refugee Board (GRB) chose to repatriate them back to their countries of origin.

“It was a number of refugees from the Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, central Africa, and other countries who were lodging on the lawn of a benevolent Ghanaian,” said Sheila Tamakloe, the journalist who reported the story. Some refugees were even sleeping on the lawn of the GRB.

According to Professor Adida, “Inter-African migration brings both promise and peril to African host societies. It brings promise because African migrants open up new economic opportunities by creating or bringing new goods, new trading routes, new institutions,”

“At the same time, African migrants are – just like everywhere else in the world – easy scapegoats when an economy contracts, and unemployment and instability rise.”

What is clear is that each individual who immigrates to Ghana, or to any country on the globe has their own narrative, no matter their reason for movement. What can be done now is to continue to tell their stories, especially those largely undocumented in the Global South.

Louise Matsakis is a journalist working in New York.