by Jessica M. Campbell

Jessica M. Campbell

“Sssstttt.” I looked back. Unlike in Canada, a forceful push of breath through open lips and locked teeth is socially acceptable in Ghana. The intended targets of the hissing are often cab drivers, street hawkers, waiters or waitresses. And it gets you service, not a dirty look.

But even though I don’t roam the streets of Accra, the country’s capital, driving a taxi or selling goods, I get hissed at all the time. My supposed “service” is valued and noticed primarily by Ghanaian men.

As common as the hissing is, I still turned to see a not-so-common punter running toward me the other day. He was a policeman with a gun strapped to his back. “Am I in trouble?” Far from. 

“Obruni, I want to marry you,” he said, trying to catch his breath from both excitement and his light dash. Obruni is the Ghanaian term for a person from outside of Africa, usually white.

This was the fifth such proposal that day. And all asked before hearing me speak. The policeman’s ticket number, issued by me and not him, and his disregard for the supposed authority role, marked this as a watershed moment. 

Reasonable visa process

It’s when I started investigating why some Ghanaian men obsess over marrying obruni. My guess was that it might be their easiest way to get out of Africa, considering how difficult it is for Ghanaians to cross into more prosperous countries. I made my way to the Canadian High Commission to confirm my suspicions.

There, Michael Opoku Gyebi, 21, was nearly in tears after a man handed him his passport with his student visa for Canada pasted inside. Gyebi had dropped it off two weeks earlier as he planned to study accounting at the University of British Columbia. He wasn’t sure of his application being approved.

“I’m just excited,” he said, staring closely at the keypad on his cellphone to compensate for his trembling hands trying to dial home. “My dad is going to be so happy.”

Although meticulous, he said the process to get his visa was reasonable. He had to verify his school’s acceptance, and that his family can financially support his education. He spent $125 (Cdn) on an affidavit to confirm the above information.

His medical exam, about $100, had to confirm he is in good health. This included an x-ray of his chest and blood tests. Finally, he paid his CND$150 application fee when handing over his passport for a multi-entry visa.

U.S. universities too had accepted Gyebi for admission. “I chose Canada because I know it is peaceful,” he said after being told by friends already studying across North America. They also value Canada’s education system, he said. “It’s practical.” Gyebi wants to return to Ghana to run his family’s road construction business when he completes his degree in four years.

Like Gyebi, other Ghanaians stood in line at the mission waiting to retrieve their passports. Aside from the common grumble about paperwork, all had positive feedback on Canada’s visa application process.

Anthony Teye, accompanying his brother applying for a visa, said he has already been to Canada three times: “I didn’t go through any hassle.” A few years ago, he obtained a single entry visa to attend a conference on water management in Ottawa. “It was approved the same day,” he said.

Teye has also been to the U.S. and said he prefers the Canadian application process. In-person interviews are mandatory for U.S. visas, unlike the Canadian system.

“I usually don’t compare apples with oranges, so I take a country on its own” said Teye, who has been interviewed for both countries’ visas. “But the U.S., sometimes they don’t really want to listen to you and look at your actual circumstances. They base their decision on how they feel. I find the Canadian interview to be much friendlier because the questions were related to personal issues.”

Despite this subtle difference, both processes are quite similar and fair, said Teye.

‘White is better than black’

Evidently, you don’t need to marry an obruni to travel to Canada or the U.S. Not knowing what I was still missing, I swallowed my pride and headed to Ghana’s Immigration Service to interview the head of public affairs, Francis Palmdeti, the next day. We shared a laugh when I told him about my investigation. But, his response wasn’t as funny.

“A black man’s fascination is a result of seeing a white lady as of a certain prestigious level,” Palmdeti said. “To have a white woman is of ultimate status. He thinks that white is better than black.”

This outlook, stemming both from the country’s demoralizing involvement in the slave trade centuries ago and now poor education, leads to myths about white women, said Palmdeti. A lot of “unpolished” men think obruni women come to Ghana looking for husbands, he said. “It has to do with upbringing.”

Gulp! I would almost rather if my potential fiancés were motivated by unrealistic visa processes. They’re a lot easier to remedy than views on race.

But, realistically, tighter border controls would only further perpetrate the problem as travel is a part of the solution.

Sitting at his desk in his military-like uniform, Palmdeti’s face lit up when I told him my nationality. “My wife wants to move to Canada!” he said.

And seeing she has visited Canada and is married to a Ghanaian, it’s not to find a white man. It’s because every time she returns from Canada she raves about how friendly people are and how everyone there is treated equally, Palmdeti said.

Perhaps something she wouldn’t have learned without travelling there, and now something I aim to show my hissers during my travels here. How a person is valued should never be based on race. 

“For me, if I were to settle with a white lady, I must love her. I should find qualities in her that I wish to spend the rest of my life with,” said Palmdeti. Closed borders won’t let my hissers realize exactly that.  -- New Canadian Media

Jessica Campbell is a passionate freelance journalist based in Africa. While on the continent, she has had affiliations to Farm Radio International and jhr: Journalists for Human Rights. In 2014, the Carleton University journalism and political science graduate from Brampton, ON, will relocate her career to South America.

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Published in Africa

by Our Special Correspondent

Politically-mobilized diaspora communities have the potential to act as “spoilers'” in conflict resolution and post-war reconciliation in their home countries, Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the UN in Geneva has said.

Ravinatha Aryasinha told the first-ever Diaspora Ministerial Conference in Geneva last week that Sri Lanka offered an instructive example, of both the scope as well as the complexities encountered in the nexus between diaspora, home state and host states.

 Aryasinha’s warning came as the International Organisation for Migration said earning the trust of diaspora populations is the singular challenge it put before governments, organizations and others working with these communities.

“Knowledge about diasporas is not sufficient to foster collaboration; the foundation of effective engagement strategies is trust building,” a background paper for the conference said.

The Sri Lankan ambassador said politically mobilized pro-LTTE Tamil diaspora sustain hatred and prevent reconciliation and that meaningful engagement was not possible with groups having such a pre-disposition.

Noting that the transnational political opportunity structures prevalent in host states help shape and sustain such diaspora activism, Aryasinha said countries that continue to condone the hostility and disruptive tendencies shown by such elements are giving a wrong signal.

He cautioned that while in general the diaspora can play significant roles in developing their country of origin, in the case of countries that remain conflict affected or have recently emerged from protracted conflict, the academic discourse clearly demonstrates that diaspora are rarely autonomous actors.

They are known to be compelled by organized networks to fund, arm, engage in propaganda and be electoral vote blocks in host countries, there-by having the potential to act as “spoilers” in conflict resolution and post-conflict reconciliation in their home states.

He said there are ample instances where even when home states might want to end a conflict or pursue reconciliation, diaspora resist such moves, for it is not their sons and daughters who die, and often keeping the pot boiling in the home states helps them retain greater leverage, particularly in their quest to legally reside or gain citizenship in their host country.

Aryasinha said we should recognize the complexity of this challenge, acknowledge the pre-disposition among some diaspora categories to make meaningful engagement difficult, and try to explore modalities through which both home and host states could better influence diaspora in processes of conflict resolution, reconciliation and development in their home states.

Call for Jewish forum

In news about the actual Diaspora that lent the word to describe immigrant communities, the Jewish People Policy Institute recommended in its 2013 Annual Assessment that Israel should establish a forum for regular consultations to discuss matters that could affect Jewish communities worldwide. The Israel-based think tank presented its report in Jerusalem this week.

With regards to Jewish identity, the report states that programs like “Birthright” and “Massa” are having a positive effect on the younger generation, despite the trend of weakening identification of people of Jewish descent with the Jewish people.

“Today's young generation sees the link with the Jewish People and the State of Israel as an option, for them this is a choice of being Jewish," Einat Wilf, one of the reports contributors, said. "Despite the fact that the trend is negative, there are indications that this is changing, we see that the different programs are having an effect."

Diaspora bonds planned

Money talks and bonds people together. The country which attracts the most remittances from its diaspora is planning to issue “diaspora bonds”.

India, which received $ 69 billion in remittances in 2012 [followed by China at $ 60 billion] as per a World Bank report, is considering the bonds to funds its infrastructure sector.

Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi said New Delhi is examining longer-term investment instruments for overseas Indians so that the community can participate and benefit from India's "growth story".

"The bulk of diaspora investments are in portfolio investments of a short-term nature. We are considering longer term investment instruments like 'diaspora bonds' to provide opportunities for overseas Indians," Ravi told the 5th biennial Jamaican diaspora conference.

Overseas Indians worldwide are brand ambassadors and produce an economic output of about $ 400 billion, Ravi said. While India's growth story so far has been driven primarily by its domestic industry, the diaspora holds far greater potential, he said.

"The cumulative Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) by Non Resident Indians is a modest $10 billion constituting less than five per cent of the total FDI in India,” he said. Lauding achievements of about 25 million overseas Indians spread across 130 countries, he said the community can serve as an "important bridge" between the "home" and the world.

Visa bonds decried

In news about another kind of bonds, a British proposal to slap £3,000 visa bonds for visitors from targeted non-white Commonwealth countries has attracted the expected flak.

The pilot scheme will initially cover India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Ghana.

“They have been designated ‘high-risk’ countries, from which visitors aged over 18 on six-month visit visas will be forced to pay the £3,000 from November. The countries are being targeted by the Home Office because of the high volume of visitor visa applications and relatively high levels of fraud and abuse,” The Sunday Times newspaper said.

The plan was in disarray Monday after the Liberal Democrats, part of the ruling coalition, denied the policy had been formally agreed and Indian businesses accused Britain of discriminating against them.

The pilot scheme, announced over the weekend by the home secretary, forms part of wider Conservative Party efforts to bring down net migration to less than 100,000 by the next election.

As the coalition quibbled over the status of the policy, Indian business groups and would-be tourists responded with outrage to the idea.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) was one of the first organizations to hit out, saying the bond was “highly discriminatory and very unfortunate.”

“The suggested changes are not only discriminatory they are also against the ‘special relationship’ publicised by the U.K. government,” a CII spokesperson said. “We share U.K.’s concern on illegal immigration but surely there are other more effective and non-discriminatory ways to put a check on it.”

On social media, a flurry of angry Tweets from Indians made pointed references to Britain’s two centuries of colonial rule over India, and suggested New Delhi impose a reciprocal measure on British visitors.

“UK wants a bond of £3,000 for a visa. We should do the same. Their citizens often overstay their welcome here,” Ian Pereira, a professional photographer, tweeted. -- New Canadian Media

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Published in International

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved