Taking on more jobs only adds to the trouble. For some strange reason, the harder you work, the less you have in your pocket. Travellers on dawn and night trains in the Netherlands will be familiar with sight of Ghanaians on the way to and from different jobs even at the oddest of hours – including many who work as cleaners at Schiphol airport and the train stations across the country.
Most Ghanaian women in the country split their time between cleaning offices and taking care of old people at hospices. Such unrewarding jobs lead to alienation and discontentment. One of the most telling results of such disgruntlement is pervasive alcoholism. This is compounded by poor eating habits, occasioned by the odd hours people work, leading to very unhealthy lifestyles and even death.
About two years ago, Ghanaians in the city of Amsterdam stunned their Dutch hosts when they gathered to perform an exorcism on the Amstel River, which they believed was responsible for some of the deaths in their immigrant community, which they superstitiously blamed on the anger of the river gods.
A Ghanaian medical doctor at the University of Amsterdam Medical Centre, Charles Agyemang (an epidemiologist and public health scientist), blamed ignorance for this and explained that the debilitating diseases afflicting many Ghanaians and the seemingly unnatural high death rate could be explained by the low-quality lifestyles people lived. Bad eating habits, heavy consumption of alcohol and a lack of regular exercise were contributory factors, Dr Agyemang maintained. He now regularly participates in radio discussions to enlighten the Ghanaian community about the dangers of such a lifestyle.
Envy also comes into the equation as Ghanaians who make trips back home after many years abroad see how far the country has come, and feel left behind. Thinking that they live in civilised, wealthy Europe, it shocks them to see that Ghana today is not the same place they left thirty, twenty or ten years ago. Depression sets in when they see that many of the friends they left behind are now “big” men and women with houses of their own, and some have fleets of expensive cars.
As the saying goes, there is no place like home. The challenge for Africa is to abandon the devastating neo-liberal policies and devise new economic paradigms that will allow its people to benefit from the continent’s abundant and wealthy natural resources, that by and large have helped develop the very countries in Europe (not so richly endowed) to which Africans are fleeing for perceived economic benefits.
Africa has abundant mineral wealth. As such, bad policies are to blame for creating the misery of Africans fleeing their continent as economic refugees. To adapt the words of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the plight of African migrants is a “scar on the conscience of the world”, but even more so, on that of African governments. What will they do? That’s the question.