J. Pharoah Doss: Moving to Ghana to escape America?

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

When Ghana’s President Jerry Rawlings visited the United States in 1999, he offered citizenship to all Black Americans that wished to live in Ghana. 

Hundreds of Black Americans decided to relocate, and in 2001 the Wall Street Journal published an essay called: For African-Americans in Ghana, the grass isn’t always greener.

In Ghana, the essayist explained, Black Americans discovered malaria was rampant, electricity and water were often interrupted, and wages were meager by US standards. Black Americans also discovered they weren’t welcomed like Ghanaian President Jerry Rawlings promised.

The Ghanaians called the Black Americans “obruni”, which means “white” or “foreigner” in the local language.

Black Americans that relocated to Ghana also wondered if they needed to start a civil rights movement to obtain equal and fair treatment. Ghana banned American residents from government jobs. Hospitals charged Americans higher fees. Americans could not vote in elections or participate in local politics.

In 2019, Ghana’s President, Nana Akufo-Addo, announced “The Year of Return” to celebrate the 400-year anniversary of when the first enslaved Africans arrived in North America. This was a call for all descendants from the African continent living abroad to return to Ghana and celebrate the “resilience of the African spirit”.

The next year, an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, was killed by a White police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which launched a world-wide protest against racial injustice and police brutality.

Ghana’s officials gave another invitation to Black Americans. This time, Ghana was promoted as a place of refuge.

By 2021, OMG Voice (social news for the Ghanaian Millennial) published a headline that said: Here’s why over 5,000 Black Americans have moved to Ghana since 2019. The consensus amongst this new group of Black Americans that relocated to Ghana was that the police killing of George Floyd proved that Black Americans were not safe in the United States.

DeNeen L. Brown recently published an essay in the Washington Post called: The case for leaving America to escape racism. Brown described when she was in Ghana and her driver was pulled over for making a U-turn.

“My stomach dropped. It was the middle of the night, and I was terrified. I watched as the driver got out of the car and walked toward the officer standing on the side of the road. The driver motioned to the officer and explained he was lost and apologized for making the U-turn. The officer listened. After a pause, the officer said, ‘I forgive you. Go about your way’.”

Based on this police encounter, Brown concluded, “I want this kind of freedom: to live in a country where traffic stops end peacefully. I want the ability to move amongst people who look like me … I know no place is perfect. But I want to live in a country where racism is not a constant threat. Which is why I have decided to eventually leave America.”

Once again, the grass isn’t greener in Ghana.

The year before the police killing of George Floyd, the academic journal The Conversation published a report about policing in Ghana.

The report stated that a police force is considered professional when there is a code of ethics that governs law enforcement, and there are credible structures of accountability that ensure integrity and quality of service.

These features are underdeveloped in Ghana.

The police have a reputation for intimidation, violence, and corruption. Police officers routinely treat citizens unfairly and brutalize citizens without provocation. The police officers are also trigger-happy.

In 2021, a Ghanaian security analyst reacted to the guilty verdict of the ex-police officer that murdered George Floyd. The security analyst said, “There is a need for Ghana to adopt a system that effectively handles and delivers justice to Ghanaians who become victims of police brutality.”

There are probably many good reasons to move to Ghana, but escaping America to no longer be in fear of the police isn’t one of them.

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