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Charley, I for lef Ghana: How Can Ghana Hold on to Her Brightest Minds?

“Charley, I for lef Ghana”. This pidgin statement translates as “I have to leave Ghana”. The statement in itself communicates despair, desperation and a sense of urgency to leave the shores of Ghana in pursuit of a better life elsewhere.

When you listen to young people in Ghana bemoan Ghanaian problems, one of the statements they usually end their conversation with is “Charley, I for lef Ghana”. This pidgin statement translates as “I have to leave Ghana”. The statement in itself communicates despair, desperation and a sense of urgency to leave the shores of Ghana in pursuit of a better life elsewhere.

Why should this be one of the common statements the youth in Ghana should end their conversations about Ghana with? Are the young people not aware of, and have they not learnt enough about the potential dangers leaving can have on their beloved Ghana?

As Ghana celebrates 67 years of freeing itself from colonial rule and imperialism, it is important to reflect on how we can retain Ghana’s brightest minds and guarantee a better future for the next generations.

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The meaning of “brain drain” is fast shifting from the emigration of educated, talented and skilled young persons to the emigration of dedicated and ambitious young persons and indeed this is the case for Ghana.

As opposed to the past where doctors and nurses, teachers and other skilled professionals formed the majority of the persons who emigrated, in recent times, a lot of young folk equipped not with a degree or any form of tertiary education or qualification, but with dedication and ambition are rather emigrating from the country with one simple yet intricate goal – to make life better for themselves abroad.

Let’s explore the most significant reasons why most of these young folk emigrate:

  • Quality and funded education and training – Most Ghanaians especially those who have completed university or have worked for a period less than five (5) years usually seek to further their education outside. They desire to do so mainly due to exposure to opportunities outside, the quality of the educational system and the availability of funding in contrast to the inadequacy of these in Ghana.
  • Existence of opportunities after education – In recent times and with most developed economies experiencing declining populations due to ageing and low birth rates, there has been a demand for labour from economies such as the UK, US, Canada, Australia and the like. A lot of people emigrate to find opportunities for employment after several unsuccessful attempts in Ghana. Quite a number of Ghanaians who do not have any basic healthcare training emigrate to do “Care Work”. This is something I dare say they would not be willing to indulge in while in Ghana. One would ask why. I answer this in the reason below.
  • Better compensation and standard of living – It is an open secret that the minimum wage in developed countries allows for a certain standard of living. In the UK and the US for instance, the minimum wages respectively stand at about £11.44 and $7.25 per hour compared to that of Ghana which is $ 2.68 (i.e. GHS 18.15 per day). Clearly, this amount is not enough to meet a typical Ghanaian’s basic needs. Hence, the young person of today will rationalise and rather move abroad to seek good compensation for work done and remit some money back home to family. Another reason that explains the standard of living abroad is the central and local governments work assiduously to put taxpayers’ money to beneficial use. This is evidenced by their good roads, reliable and constant supply of water and electricity, reliable healthcare systems and their excellent educational system. Are these not the basic things Ghanaians seek?

We cannot outline reasons for the brain drain without tickling our minds in search of measures to help curb the phenomenon. The truth is that there is a boon and bane aspects associated with the youth emigrating from Ghana.

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That notwithstanding, it is important to note that the banes outweigh the boons in the medium to long term. While in the short term, the exodus of young people may bring into some foreign exchange from the remittances from abroad, release some pressure off the government, seemingly ease our unemployment problems and reduce the stress in the system, Ghana loses experts and our energetic, risk-loving and ambitious young folk who constitute the future.

It is as though a large part of our future is being taken away elsewhere and before our very own eyes. This is akin to the problem with developing countries where low birth rates have contributed to a shortage of the labour force. In our case, the exodus of young people may still result in the same if measures are not put in place to either attract people to return after some time or create opportunities so they can stay to begin with.

We need to pause and ask ourselves that, after 67 years of independence, what is really our grand plan to solve our never-ending issues? The harrowing stories of unfairness against our own people are too many and do not help in solving the problem. Sometimes, the problem is even exacerbated because no argument can justify why certain things happen in Ghana. One such story recounts how a Valedictorian of a renowned university in Ghana was denied scholarship by the Scholarship Secretariat while colleagues of this valedictorian whose GPA came nowhere close were awarded scholarships because of our culture of nepotism popularly referred to us as “whom you know”. Thinking about this, one would ask, how do we expect such a person to have a love for the country and stay or even return after the person successfully leaves the shores of Ghana and makes it big?

Indeed, the time is now. The best time to have begun solving our problems was yesterday, the next best time is today. The older generation owes it to the younger generation to create a Ghana where the basic necessities of citizens are guaranteed, at least to an extent – good roads, good education and reliable healthcare facilities, opportunities for the youth especially and an enabling environment for businesses to thrive.

We must act now before the “brain drain” phenomenon becomes a “youth drain” or a “great emigration” in the -future. This is an all-hands-on-deck affair and specifically a clarion call to the leadership of this country to act fast before it is rather too late. In fact, we are already late, however, in our case, it is better late than never! We must curb the brain drain and hold onto Ghana’s brightest minds to guarantee us a better future.

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