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Route ECOWAS… West is best

ECOWAS flag

It saddens me that many Africans think the ‘west’ is the land of opportunity. And it’s not just Africans. I only need to turn on my TV and the vast immigration programmes such as Passport Control, UK Boarder Force etc show us the extreme means people take to enter the western world.

Indeed there are many opportunities that the ‘west’ offers, but I don’t understand why many highly qualified people would choose to do demeaning jobs in the ‘west’, when they they could be using their skills towards something greater in their own home land.  For West Africans, whether most know it or not, they have a posible Western Empire of their own to be proud of- and it’s closer to home. ECOWAS- the Economic Community of West African States.

One of my objectives in wanting to become a travel journalist is to specialise in Africa and the African diaspora (anywhere outside Africa where there are Afro-descendant communities such as Brazil for example). Since 2010 I’ve travelled to 3 African countries besides Ghana (Cape Verde, Togo and Ethiopia), two of which are member states of ECOWAS (Cape Verde and Togo). West can indeed be best. Right in ‘west Africa’.  As much as I would encourage young people of the ECOWAS to seek opportunites within west Africa and not be so caught up in the ‘hype’ of the west,  I understand the many obstacles such as high costs of transportation and corruption at the boarders, that stand in the way of doing this.

In Lagos, 2006

Having a drink at a local bar!

It’s expensive to fly within ECOWAS. This was a bit of a surprise for me, as I discovered naively in 2009 when I went to a travel agent in Accra seeking a ‘cheap ticket’ to Lagos. Unlike Europe where ‘low cost airlines’ makes travelling within the continent affordable, there’s almost no such thing in West Africa. Fights are for those who can afford it and unfortunately that isn’t the average person.

I propose ECOWAS airways- An affordable, efficient and convenient way for local people to travel. Give ‘Easyjet’ a run for their money! Any takers?…

Another option is to take a coach/mini bus. And kudos to the coach companies. There are a range comfortable coaches and mini buses with AC. And they are affordable. There was one occasion in Accra when I was going to visit a friend in Kumasi. I had no idea about these luxury comfortable coaches. After just 5 minutes sitting in the tro-tro waiting for the run-down vehicle to fill up, I decided there was no way I could sit in it for hours through pot-holes and what not. I almost called off my mission to Kumasi when someone told me the other side of the park is where the ‘big buses’ are. And there they were, the coaches. I travelled in comfort (minus the preacher on the bus for the first hour)!

In march I travelled with my friend Kwame to Togo via motorbike! Kwame left his highly paid job in France, to fulfill a childhood dream of travelling around west Africa… on a motorbike! I admire his spirit to and enthusiasm to discover the continent of his father (his father is Ghanaian). He drove down to Ghana when I arrived and proposed we travel to Togo on his motor. I was up for the challenge!

When in Rome… Travelling around Lome on the motorbike- its the norm!

I’m actually quite embarrassed about the reception we received when we arrived at the Ghana/Togo border. With no clear immigration stop point, we were ordered vigorously off the bike. We showed our documentation. I hold a Ghanaian passport so no visa is required. Kwame had received his Togolese visa the previous day so it should have been smooth sailing. Of course it wasn’t.

First they said Kwame’s visa wasn’t valid and he’d have to get a new one- $200. There was no way we were spending that amount for a visa! And to tell the truth, neither of us had the kind of money on us anyway. They saw him as an ‘obroni’ (a white person) which often means ‘money’ to them. I spoke in my most Ghanaianised accent to eliminate any traces of my British accent coming through. There was one point where the ‘boss’ looked directly at me when I stopped talking. He reached for my passport and flicked through. My only grueling, thank goodness, was him asking what I did and what I was studying. Thankfully after much persuasion we were free to pass the border. I felt for Kwame. He went through that unnecessary questioning because they only saw him as european. What about his birth right from his father?

Of course, the corruption didn’t stop there. Once in Togo, another immigration officer wanted me to pay. Me? Succumb to his corruption? Kwame spoke to him in French saying I’m a student and had to do a ‘begging’ gesture before I was given the ‘brush off’ gesture as though an annoying fly.

They didn’t get me going into Togo but coming out was another story, and this time I was on my own. The immigration officer took my passport, flicked through and demanded some money. It wasn’t a lot but I’m sure the look of shock expressed on my face didn’t make matters ease.  Of course I refused to pay and ranted on about Ghana being part of ECOWAS etc. The officer refused to stamp my passport unless I paid and proceeded to put my passport in his pocket while he saw to other passengers.

Shocked and frustrated, I tried to hold back any tears as I weighed up my choices. Another officer took pity on me and  calmly explained; ‘Where is Mr ECOWAS? Does he pay us?… My dear if you want to go to Ghana, just pay him the money.’  I opened my purse and handed the man the money. They had won. corruption had won. Ok, so it was about $2 dollars, but it’s the principle.

Corruption is brewing at the boarders and something should to be done about this.

About @makingkai

I'm new on the blogging scene. Yes I know, but better late than never. In my mind I've blogged about everything! But in reality its a different story. I'm passionate about travel. This blog is not a guide book however. More of a way to express myself in differnt contexts. I'm here to tell my story of finding mysef through travel, and hopefully inspire a few people along the way! thanks for following my journey! www.travelmakerkai.com www.theefedstudent.wordpress.com

Discussion

6 thoughts on “Route ECOWAS… West is best

  1. Among the interesting writings of the blog, this struck me in particular way: i found it very well written … very smooth and with the quality to focus attention on important issues and personal experiences starting from consideration of immediate identification with the thoughts and emotions that bind the various topics. I liked the way are treated the different levels of reading, describing the personal experience of the problems at the border and dealing with the general economic development and social progress of the country. It ‘s hard to find a written that reminded in a way so clear and without unnecessary rhetoric as personal behavior and cultural and ethical progress of a country are so joined. I really liked and excited the way you describe the discomfort and frustration in front of the corrupt officer asking ” Where is Mr ECOWAS? Does he pay us?” claiming money.
    As you write “It’s the principle”…and the principle: is just something extra-cheap .. a value in itself and therefore not as barter goods. it happened in Ghana as it does in any other part of the world in different ways … it’s always good when somebody remembers that should not be the norm, we should get angry and this thin line of overbearing “normality” there should not leave anyone indifferent. It ‘s true: we have to start from everyday life, we have to put more attention to the customs (especially bad customs) and cultural growth of the countries.
    You describe these important reflections and experiences in a very real way, concise and at the same time emotional: Congratulations! A very nice writing! He left me with many thoughts and emotions, I would like to read this writing in some book of a newspaper instead of many writings chronicle generic and emotionless where the words are not associated with experiences and emotions that relate to real life.

    Posted by Francisco Moraes | November 15, 2012, 10:13 pm
  2. Hi Francisco, thank you for your comment! It’s very encouraging to receive comments such as yours so I know I’m actually connecting with people!

    Thank you for taking the time to express your thoughts on this piece.

    Keep in touch.
    Kai

    Posted by findingme | November 21, 2012, 5:50 am
  3. The Problem is that,and the truth is the West has Better Opportunities,that the African Homeland….Corruption is to a point that after Graduation from College,unless you know someone there is no Getting that job you covet sooo much.The Economic Divide is to a point that there is no middle Class in African Countries.When you Dont have a middle Class in a Society then,there is something very wrong.Take for Example the USA the biggest base is the Middle Class,and there is s reason for that.

    I do agree that Braisn Drain is a problem,But what do you do and you have to put food on the table,or turn to Crime…At least in the West you can Hustle and invest Back in Africa,its a Dog eat Dog world of today and i dont want to be the one being eaten.

    Posted by Computer-Information-Systems | January 3, 2013, 10:53 pm
    • Thanks for your comment.

      ‘its a Dog eat Dog world of today and i dont want to be the one being eaten.‘ I hear you loud and clear! In fact, this sort of mentality shouldn’t be viewed as selfish, but rather motivation for individuals to strive harder and perceiver more.

      My issue on this matter is, if all our professional Africans are heading to Europe and America what will be left for Africa?

      I’ve been really encouraged of late when I visit African countries and meet young people that are first generation British or American who have chosen to return ‘home’ to start a business. Yes, they tell my about the struggles they faced but at the end of the day, they are doing something for themselves and investing in Africa.

      I think this will be very common in the near future. More Africans are using Europe and America as a ‘temporary’ means, then intending to go ‘home’ to reap the benefits. Unfortunately it is easy to get trapped in the ‘the system’, and many people end up dismissing their intensions of ever returning ‘home’.

      Posted by findingme | January 4, 2013, 12:52 pm
    • Until recently I believed that young west-africans were attracted to Europe or America mainly because of the glitters of the western sitcoms character’s lifes. I realised only few days ago .that “Corruption is to a point that after Graduation from College,unless you know someone there is no Getting that job you covet sooo much.” I didn’t know how much this is true for high educational background ghanaians. After spending a lot of money to graduate from polytechnics; my friend work as a janitor. And it’s true that if she was doing this same job she dislike in Europe, well she’d make ten times much more money. Talking with her really changed my mind…

      Posted by Kwame | January 10, 2013, 10:50 pm

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