The topic of racism is an uncomfortable one. It has been over 400 years since the last boat sailed from Africa with black men and women, sent to the new land to work as slaves for the plantation owners. It has been over 55 years since the first black African country was handed back its own country from the colonial masters which took them free of charge in the first place. Since then we have had civil rights, equal rights, acts in parliament which forbid discrimination, in theory, racism should be a thing of the past.
It should be, but it is still there. I am not saying my CV is spectacular, but when you go through it, you will see that I am highly educated. I have been working for over 15 years (20 if you count my mum’s Salon, McDonalds and Boots Retail Store while I was at school) and I have received recognitions for many of the project I have successfully executed. However, when I was in England, every time I was rejected for a job I applied for, there was always something niggling in the back of my head asking if it was because of my colour, my CV didn’t speak well enough or it was true, I wasn’t qualified for the position.
So I came to Ghana, where the majority of the population is the same colour as me. Surely, this feeling of insecurity would not be there as I am in the majority. As an added bonus, I was trained and worked in the Western world which is like heaven to my people; surely it should be like a walk in a park. So I thought.
Since I have got here, I have suffered probably the worst kind of racism. I am not white, but I am ‘not a Ghanaian’ either, I am somewhere in limbo. The amount of times I have been asked why I left UK when so many people want to move there, I should write the answer on my forehead. It is like people feel that I must have somehow failed over there so I am here to start again, so frustrate me accordingly.
I was recently offered a job at unilever. The position, a demand planner, the position is one that I used to be the manager of for 3 years. My boss would be my former colleague who I used to bounce ideas from and actually sat at the desk next to me throughout those three years. It is like my whole 15 years worth of work experience completely ignored, and my salary less than what I started on 3 years ago. It made me wonder, if I was a white expatriate, with the same CV, would I be treated in this nature.
A former colleague, white and French with no work experience at all was put on a fast track programme, sent to Ghana for 3 years, totally messed up, but still is now in Dubai on the fast track to senior management. I have already been in a senior management position, but I am being offered an entry level position as if I had just left school yesterday. I was reading the profile of another of the Executives at my former employers, he had been a brand manager for 2 years promoted to a Senior Brand manager and in less than 5 years was an executive working in Ghana. I was told, I would have to do brand management for 3 years, I would then have to get Sales experience for another 3 years before I was considered for any substantial promotion to senior brand manager let alone executive. Fine, I had no prior brand management experience, but what made the Executive so special that he was fast tracked and sent to Africa as an executive. I don’t know, but I also don’t have the time to wait.
The most irritating experience I have had in this country was during a discussion over medical insurance. The expatriates were sent to Lister hospital while the locals were sent to Nyahoo. Nyahoo clinic, well it is supposed to be a private clinic but I am not too impressed, I have had sinus problems for the past 5 years and they haven’t been able to detect the problem. So I ask why the difference, I was told that the whites are used to a certain standard of medical care (exact words). This coming from the mouth of the HR manager at the biggest multinational in the country, I couldn’t believe it. So I told her that if that is the case, I wasn’t born here either and not used to such levels of healthcare, her response was that I brought myself here, they were sent here by the company. I made up my mind there and then that if God forbid anything serious happened to me, I would jump on a plane and straight to the nearest NHS hospital. At least I have that option.
You could be reading this and think that maybe I am a bit bitter. However, I spoke to a colleague of mine in the Caribbean, a qualified lawyer at the top of her game in London went back home. Her white colleagues were respected more and given the best cases, she being black, female and considered a local returnee was left twiddling her thumbs.
I was having a discussion with my French friend, same issue, even small details like asking for information. When she asks her junior colleague to send information over, it could take days with a million and one excuses being made when in that time the analysis could have been done and sent over in that time. A white colleague or even a ‘local’ colleague asks for the same information and within minutes it has been sent over. To me it comes over a little spiteful but I could be wrong.
Now I am not saying that the mere fact that I spent the first 31 years of my life abroad automatically sends me to status of Chief Executive Officer. I am saying that my career spans more than the 5 years I have been in this country. I didn’t come here because I had failed, in fact I could have stayed, I was in employment when I came to Ghana and I was doing ok. Since coming to Ghana, yes I have worked in 3 companies. Well of course I will not stay in an entry level position begging for a promotion, I strive for greatness and if where I am is not going to get me there, I move on. Had I been in a job that gave satisfaction I would have still been there. But I wasn’t, instead my work experience prior to relocating was ignored and I was put in an entry level position. I did that once, because I wanted to get my foot in the door, but I am not going to do it again 5 years later.
If we want more local guys abroad to come back, we know that we are not going to earn the same salary as we used to, but at least appreciate us for the careers we had prior to moving to Ghana. We come here because we want to make a contribution, but if we are going to receive racism worse than received back in our place of birth, I might as well go back. After all, being a minority I am used to it.
Just because I brought myself here, it doesn’t mean that I am not qualified to be here.