Ghana Migration and Development Policies: New Working Paper from DIIS

This morning as I was brainstorming migration topics for my Migration Monday series, I was happy to discover the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) have recently published a working paper on Ghana’s Migration and Development Policies.

The paper is written by Dr. Nauja Kleist, who I met two years back over a bowl of Maquis Tante Marie soup in Accra, and is called
  “Let us Rebuild our Country” Migration-development scenarios in Ghana (the link takes you to a page where you can download the working paper).

What is wonderful with this type of well-written, current and to-the-point publication is that it summarizes big chunks of data: in this case the recent history of Ghanaian migration policy to today, views from high level state officials, diaspora and academics on those policies and finally the implementation of them. Which proves to be minimal. Or in Kleist’s vocab

“Migration-development scenarios in Ghana thus have a strong symbolic and performance dimension, constituting a policy spectacle with several audiences” (my italics).

In looking closer on this so called spectacle; what is new in migration policy, is that migration is not only seen as a threat, but also as an opportunity to increased development. In accordance, migrants are seen “as development actors”, Kleist suggests in the paper. This follows an international agenda to couple the two streams of discourse.

Although the international agenda seeping through African policy making does not strike Kleist, nor me, as strange (Kleist soberly states “Ghanaian migration policies and initiatives not only reflect efforts to strengthen national development, but also are shaped by European agendas”), something else does. Why is that in the “Migration-Development nexus” which sees opportunity in migration (“if well managed”),  remittances or a returnee is seen as great news, while the alternative gains – a native working in his/her country of origin – is never assessed?

Kleist addresses this only indirectly, but quite elegantly, by addressing the problems of the overtly positive scenario advocated by some Ghanaian officials:

“win-win-win situations for the sending and recieving countries and the migrant alike…not only presume ‘orderly’ and informed migration decisions and processes but also a range of other preconditions… emigrants are assumed to be from professions characterized by unemployment rather than a shortage of labour to avoid brain drain; in addition this scenario presupposes that social frictions primarily are rooted in (presumed) unemployment and not in other political, social or economic structures. Likewise, this scenario presumes that migrants get employment that match and upscale their qualifications, are exposed to high-level technology, and finally, that they return to Ghana and are able to utilize their new skills there.”

However, many of the Ghanaian migrants I know are well qualified, but work abroad in jobs below their qualifications. Still, Ghanaian migration provides opportunities for class mobility/salaries one can live on/education etc. for individuals. Migrants send money home and sometime, just like Kleist reports buy land, property and come home to retire. But does it lead to development for migrant sending countries?

Ultimately, Kleist states the obvious regarding the win-win-win scenario: “Such preconditions are rarely fulfilled” and mentions, without going into any detail, that there are also conflicts of interest between migrant sending and receiving nations. I agree and have written about such conflicting interests like the strategies the EU (with inspiration from Canada and the US) employ to sustain its knowledge economies of today and tomorrow.

I think it is where Kleist signs off that my research will pick up. I understand that sometimes you have to take what you can get (a returning migrant that might or might not have relevant skills or a bundle of her cash in an envelope), but isn’t it very clear that is always less than what you could have had (Africans finding gainful employment and paying taxes in their home countries)?

Instead of aiming for “well managed” migration, can migrant sending countries not aim higher?

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  1. Great that you like my paper and yes, there is definitely a lot to discuss – not least in relation to conflicting interests between sending and receiving countries. The EU blue card as you write about is a good example of that. In my view, one of the big problems is the effects of migration management for developing countries because of unequal power relations, rather than migration and mobility as such. I think migration can both be harmful and very positive for sending countries.

    I hope to continue this discussion with you – maybe over a pot of hot palm nut soup when I come to Ghana in February?

  2. Thanks for a substantial, thought-provoking post and for the link to a very informative article!

    To answer a question first, no, I don’t think Ghanaian migrants sending back home is development at its most efficient. Foreign remittances are the number one factor driving up land and houses prices in certain areas, making them virtually unaffordable for those based in Ghana. Foreign remittances are the number one factor fueling the conspicuous consumption that is Ghanaian funerals.

    And to the main topic – it is perhaps not ideal to look at the relationship migration-development through the lens of the state, since the type of social relations and solidarity forged by Ghanaians within Ghana and across national borders is precisely about the irrelevance of the state to them.

    The state is not a source of financial security, nor a source of identity, nor does it have any impact on their decisions. Remittances amount to such a large share of the economy and the redistribution of resources takes place within the country too to such an extent because the state is virtually inexistent as a provider of social security, limited as a provider of infrastructure etc. Once again, based on the evidence from the article: Ghanaians disregard policies and distrust the government; state initiatives on (managing) migration start but never come to fruition. Moreover, let’s face it, the state has never been in danger of overdoing it on the high modernism front, as per Scott’s critique, not even within the national borders, not to mention abroad. In short, there is no relationship between the state and international migrants to speak of. There is image management from the side of the state towards other states and, to a more limited extent, towards its own population. There is definitely a relationship between Ghanaians abroad and Ghanaians at home, as well as a relationship between migration and development, which we need to look at.

    I’m very excited about your upcoming research and looking forward to discuss it with you and read about it! But I strongly believe you will find it of limited use to look at the aims of the state or speculate what those aims should ideally be and much more productive to look at the practices of the (non-state) individuals, the effects of those practices and the conditions of possibility they set out – at least to start with. Good luck!

  3. Raluca,

    many thanks for this. I think in your comment, you articulate something I have been seeing but unable to really put my finger on. This section of your comment eloquently says it all!

    “it is perhaps not ideal to look at the relationship migration-development through the lens of the state, since the type of social relations and solidarity forged by Ghanaians within Ghana and across national borders is precisely about the irrelevance of the state to them.”

    The Irrelevance of the State…should we write a book together? 🙂
    Thank you!

  4. I’ll be there in April to discuss the details! 🙂 Hope you and Selma will have a bowl of soup with me too!