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Green card - pursuing America for Ghanaian development

Posted by abocco on Wed, 03/26/2008 - 16:45 GhanaThink Managing Executive

...Sounds on da ground and seens on the see-ins

I just got back to Uncle Sam's Abode last weekend. It was a long flight. As usual, I had wanted to extend my stay. In fact, I had overstayed my welcome. I met a Facebook friend and made a new friend as well. I had this burning desire to talk to this friend I made because I overheard him say he went to IPS (the one near Legon). Hey, maybe I just wanted to speak Pidgin with somebody. After talking to him for awhile, I realised Asumasi was on the Green Card path and heading towards the land of milk and honey. His IPS education was on hold. Almost seconds later, Wanlov da Kuborlor's Green Card song came to mind.

Green Card is the title track on Wanlov da Kuborlor's debut album. That album is a masterpiece and a must-listen for anyone who has an interest in Africa. According to Wanlov, he chose 'Green card' as the album's title because a lot of people could relate to it and it was symbolic. The song itself talks about how we (Africans) fight to get us a green card with reference to fighting to get off the slave yard. Basically, Wanlov uses the song to talk about the experiences we go through trying to get legal residence in the USA and wonders why we have to go through all we go through. The album has other great tracks like Mek u no try, 50th Dependence, Sagaa, Supa Chompia, Smallest Time, Never die, Highlife; in fact too many songs that deserve blog entries. Watch out for some more.

It's no secret how attractive the Green card is. I don't have stats for the green card lottery but a good number of Ghanaians, both home and abroad, are always trying to win the lottery. Some people believe it is easier to win it if you try it while you are in the US, even visa holders are getting in on the act. With the recent restrictions on H-1 visas and the relative stringent procedures in getting the F-1, the green card lottery is becoming a very attractive option.It is not uncommon to hear stories of people duping others under the pretext of getting them visas to America. Whole prayer camps are centered around this phenomenon and bank accounts are emptied to pursue the 'dream'. The Ghanaian dream may very well be 'entering and staying in America'. of course, we hope it isn't, but we'll address the subject of the Ghanaian dream later. Wanlov talks about the connections at the embassy and how we refuse to pay bills, keeping the money for the 'coming to America' journey instead. We should pause and think of the amount of money we are spending on leaving our own country, and economy.

Once you get to the USA, you will know it is not easy. Prices are even more expensive there and the weather (for the most part) is not kind. Finding a job is not easy and the money you would have loved from home has ended up in the pockets of immigration officers, pastors, and other places you cannot retrieve from. Worst of all, you are expected to send remittances every now and then like manna from heaven. Aside that, you have to make do with the culture shock and American hospitality. For every new immigrant who got into Harvard, there's also the one who got into the state college where he has to work his butt off to go to school and maintain his visa status. For every new Green card winner who ended up in his uncle's apartment in the Bronx, there's also the one who has to start a new life in Kalamazoo. Green card means go alright, but many times, we don't know where it is taking us.

One thing Wanlov mentions that struck me was "Uncle Sam don't do adoption, unless you a basketball or soccer star". Well, in some cases, it adopts the brilliant minds too when they make their way up the ladder. So what happens to those who have no sporting skill or were unlucky enough to progress deep into the academic and industrial fabric? In many cases, their way to adoption is to marry an American citizen. Wanlov's CD cover will tell you what some people do to get a 'green card'. "So you get 10 grand and holla "What it do" Meet me downtown mami and say I do".

Kuborlor brings us home to why we should even bother to pursue this green card. "Then 1 day you remember why you came here, To make some money, go home and share". Unless by a stroke of genius, you won your entry to the USA by yourself, you have countless responsibilities back home when you do make money, however little you think it is. I will really love for many Ghanaians to travel to the US to see how life is there, how it is 'developed', how it is organized, how it is disciplined, among others. It does a great deal to the mindset, outlook on life, and the need for something better. Many kinds of Ghanaians are leaving our shores, and we are not only losing the manpower and brains, we are losing what they have learnt and experienced. Sharing is not only defined by our remittances, but by the advice, the infrastructural investment, the promotion of our abilities to the outside world and our cultural visibility wherever we find ourselves.

Full Green Card lyrics, audio, video.
Photo by Wanlov's Myspace


I love the way sometimes we

I love the way sometimes we are quick to be romantic about Ghana and often equate being in Ghana and not living elsewhere as a sign of patriotism. I also love how aware people try to make us of certain occurrences and happenings through music, and how quick we are to lurch on to the message without realizing that indeed the reason for the awareness is possibly so someone could make a quick buck for their pockets, and become popular in the process.

I am a Ghanaian and I love that I am, but I cannot live in Ghana and so will lurch onto a chance to pursue a green card faster than I would a ticket back home to Ghana. There was a time when I would feel guilty about it but now I don't because no one has to live my life except me. Many people make similar decisions for different reasons. I don't feel in anyway bound by a desire to take care of my extended family or send money to my family back home. The decision to stay in a foreign land is intensely personal and I will never judge anyone for making a choice for or against it.

I however, get concerned when people get preachy about the message of going home and make it look as if those who decide to stay in another land have in some ways committed an unforgivable sin. I could go on and make important points about people's decisions to stay which could range anywhere from a desire for a better existence to sheer greed, but that will be stating the obvious. I guess I can speak for myself by saying that this is the happiest I have been all my life. For once, I find myself in a place where my opinions are respected, where I am surrounded by people who love me and where I am somebody and that feeling can never be traded for a mere "ideology" of patriotism that is inherent only in geography. Hence, if my condition means starting on a path to secure a green card then I daresay it is worth the fight.

PS:The blog entry was interesting and made for good reading. Keep it up. Blessings!

GhanaThink Managing Executive

Great comment B

Great comment B.

You raise important points everywhere but I will like you to look at my last sentence or so - "Sharing is not only defined by our remittances, but by the advice, the infrastructural investment, the promotion of our abilities to the outside world and our cultural visibility wherever we find ourselves." All of that constitutes patriotism. We can even argue that many Ghanaians abroad are more patriotic than Ghanaians at home, it's arguable. I was trying to say that Ghana is not getting enough out of its citizens who have left the country - whether for the right or wrong reasons. You could look at the Asian tigers and compare.

And yes, for many people the condition is starting a path to secure a green card cuz the person needs it to keep afloat in achieving his/her own goals.Concerning finding yourself in a place where your opinions are respected, I feel that. But that's part of the mindset right? I think the generation gap issues in Ghana are not good and even though people may argue that that is how it is in Ghana (and that it is not America), it needs to change. That's why we need to make sure Ghana feels the full rigor and impact of our traveling and 'green card' experiences, because ultimately it would make us all better.

Keep 'em coming. :-)

the destiny of a nation at any given time depends on the opinions and contributions of its young men and women.


Monsieur, I guess I am a little lost between the message of the song about green cards and the point you intelligently make about Ghanaian visibility, infrastructural investment and advice. Can you you kindly help me find the correlation there? I believe the song essentially just speaks to people pursuing green cards and paying money for it and going through avenues that the artiste may not necessary deem appropriate.

It seems what you are saying is that Ghanaians shouldn't lose themselves even in the bid to pursue personal gain and with that, I totally agree . However as to how a song that just simply describes the pursuit of green card corroborates that point I am yet to understand.

Again, at no point in my time here in the United States would I be anything else but a Ghanaian. The Green card would simply be a means to an end and that I believe is the case for most Ghanaians. In my opinion there are some Ghanaians who lose themselves in the midst of their pursuit, but for every Ghanaian who loses themselves in that pursuit there is one just like him/her who is maintaining their grounds and still holding true to who they are as Ghanaians.

GhanaThink Managing Executive

So the song only inspired me to write the blog

So the song only inspired me to write the blog, that's what "sounds on the scene, etc" is a ll about. I don't agree with all he said in the blog, am just discussing the lyrics and in effect the bigger issue of green cards, immigration, leaving your country, etc

So there is no correlation between my ideas about the subject and the song, only that I like the song for its lyrics and music and it inspired me to address an issue. So the song doesn't corroborate the point, if I wrote the song, it would :-)

And for Ghanaians not losing themselves and maintaining the grounds, that's what we are looking for.... I can tell Wanlov himself falls into this category.

the destiny of a nation at any given time depends on the opinions and contributions of its young men and women.

bbc dissemination

By coincidence, there is a documentary about this very issue of the green card seeker (10mb mp3 download, mp3 player required). Otherwise you could listen to a server stream from the bbc world service web site. Courtesy of bbc and joy fm.
Some comments after listening: the woman with an english degree who wants to go abroad; the man who failed the sahara crossing and returned after seven year attempt. Why are ghanaian education providers offering degree courses such as english, which have negligible benefit to the economy? Whilst I congratulate the accountant for choosing to remain in ghana, the fact is, subjects such as accountancy, or medicine are service subjects; they are not wealth creating disciplines such as science and engineering.

If the money saved for travelling abroad was instead used for small business investment, surely ghanaian employment rate would be better? This is especially salient since finance for small business innovation is so important.

In terms of remittances, it seems money is used for immediate consumption rather than investment. Government should be worried that personal remittances are greater than some industry exports.

GhanaThink Managing Executive

thanks for the documentary

thanks for the documentary comrade r.

Comrade r, I suppose by your reasoning, the person with the English degree can go abroad and the one with the engineering degree would be best suited for the country to stay and have us retain his expertise and services? We still have Western volunteers traveling Ghana to teach English in some schools which I find mind-boggling.
have you noticed that the US is looking to retain more international scientists and engineers? if Kufuor and his government are watching, they have to work very hard to retain the scientists and engineers we are producing back home because I feel the 'brain-waste' which is causing many engineers and scientists to flock to the banking jobs in Ghana is worse.
Not to move away from the subject, you can also look at the Green card as a way to keep our citizens abroad comfortable and able to keep on making the money and capital that can drive the investments back home. or?

the destiny of a nation at any given time depends on the opinions and contributions of its young men and women.

English graduate abroad? Not quite

The question in my mind: why should the ghanaian taxpayer fund the infrastructure for an english degree in the first instance? You're quite correct to notice that even developed countries such as usa recognises the importance of science and engineering. Be under no illusion: no country is going to gain any significant comparative advantage without targeted investment in engineering.

The brain waste would be minimised if government allowed an environment for commercialisation of engineering knowledge.

The problem with the green card fanaticism is its economic in-efficiency. Money which would have been spent in the local economy is instead diverted into international escape. If the emigrant is sending money back and those funds eventually create sustainable high value local employment, you could argue going abroad is justified. More opportunities would become apparent and peope would no longer have the necessity to leave. However, it seems that monies sent back are simply insufficient for this to happen, so further emigration continues.