After years of proclaiming to the world that we are the most “peace loving” people on earth, we have ‘successfully’ produced our own batch of refugees. News reports suggest that hundreds of Ghanaians fleeing tribal strife in the northern territories are being housed in refugee camps in Togo.
It’s a big shame, isn’t it?
Thankfully, though, after several years of hosting Togolese refugees in Ghana, it seems the government of Togo is more than willing to return the favour.
First, it’s quite sad that the sad episode of our refugee movements only came to our attention through the BBC.
We are here in Ghana and the news passed us by, went to London before finally getting piped back to our bosoms through the BBC. Even government officials were unaware of the refugee movements. That’s what you get when your intelligence agency delights in acting all stupid, scaring iced block sellers to death – like they did last week at the BNI offices.
Instead of bowing their heads in shame for their shortcomings (failing to restore law and order to the strife-prone communities and being unaware of the refugee movements) government officials are rather blaming the BBC for exaggerating the refugee numbers.
The BBC reported that there were about 3000 of them. But information minister, John Tia challenges that.
“The figures they are mentioning around are alarming and that is not true because the [population of the two communities] is not up to 2000,” Mr. Tia said. “My checks with the Northern Regional Security Command and the Regional Minister do not indicate that the people are more than 2000 so how could we be having 3,500 from Ghana to Togo?”
Mr. Tia was speaking on a holiday so let’s just assume that his grey matter took a walk on the day. Let’s forgive him.
But government’s tango with the UN refugee agency and the Togolese authorities over the number of Ghanaian refugee in Togo points to one of the causes of the backwardness in our society – dwelling needlessly on trivialities!
The question is does it matter the number of refugees?
Even if there are six Ghanaians seeking sanctuary in unstable Togo of all places, it should give government cause for concern. Now is not the time to argue over the inconsequential. This sort of shameful, inexplicable denial makes a laughing stock of our nation. The earlier it stops the better.
After meeting with Togolese officials in Accra, government has announced plans to quickly bring back the refugees. Why the rush? Obviously, government feels embarrassed and it seems the administration would want the issue swept under the carpet as soon as possible.
But the people fled their communities for a reason. They didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to take a hike to Togo with their mattresses and TV sets on their heads. They’ve had enough of the senseless violence and they feel the only way for them to live in peace and tranquility – even if without dignity – is to become refugees. Until the violence stops it wouldn’t make sense for government to encourage or gently prod the refugees to return to their communities.
I heard the deputy information minister, Samuel Okudzeto-Ablakwa, saying that government believes it’s better for the refugees to be on our side of the border than on the Togolese side.
The refugees will most probably not agree with him. If he went to Togo and told them that they’d pelt him with balls of kenkey – or whatever they are being fed with by the Togolese authorities.
It’s better for the refugees to be where they feel safe. And if it’s in Togo, so be it. Instead of taking panic decisions, government should carefully think things through and it would come to the realization that this is perhaps a great opportunity to finally resolve the conflicts that have sent our compatriots scurrying into foreign territories for refuge.
It’s hard to tell how they are going to do it, but we pay the likes of John Tia and Martin Amidu to come up with creative solutions to our problems. It could be suggested that, perhaps, the images of their brethren, sisters, wives, daughters and sons struggling to get by in squalid conditions in a refugee camp will help knock some sense into the heads of those who don’t think twice before reaching for their bows and arrows.