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We Do Not Appreciate Our Overseas-Based Intellectuals and Professionals!

Ghanaweb.com Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.

Brain drain is a problem that both the ordinary man and the intellectual agree is ruining the growth and development of postcolonial societies, especially those on the African continent. Generally, brain drain is described as the unidirectional movement of people, knowledge, and information from a poorer economy to a richer one, where talents are better appreciated and innovations are more prized. Well, it is one thing to propose ideas to stop brain drain; it is another thing to take genuine steps to stop it. Better still, it is shameful that the Government of Ghana – and its agents of enforcement – would become an impediment to overseas-based Ghanaian professionals’ selfless acts to bring about positive change in the lives of the needy and the marginalized in their home country. In other words, the Government of Ghana may be unable to stop brain drain, but should it be an impediment to brain gain, the free investment of knowledge and talent by overseas-based Ghanaian intellectuals and professionals in the Ghanaian economy?

Unquestionably, Ghanaians – and, by extension, Africans – seem to bask in cheap talk, devoid of real action or change. In other words, our leaders dwell monotonously on the issue of brain drain, without doing enough to discourage it. And when these professionals leave and decide later to return and help rebuild their country, the government makes it impossible for them to do so. There is only one word to describe such a scenario: genius! Stay with me as I undergird my complaint with a pertinent example.

Do you, dear reader, know that you are required to have your teeth cleaned every six months by a trained dental practitioner? Do you, dear reader, also know that it is advisable to see your family doctor for a checkup at least once a year? From the routine to the complicated, dental and medical examinations are essential to maintaining a good quality of life. For example, your dental practitioner is able to diagnose the ailments that commonly plague the mouth, palate, and gums; and your medical practitioner is able to detect problems such as hypertension, hypotension, and diabetes early enough so they can be treated and eradicated. Overall, proper timing is essential to detecting diseases at the rudimentary stage, which makes it easier to extirpate them.

Take the example of Dr. Quincy Attipoe, a well-known dental practitioner based in Dallas, Texas. This dedicated family man could have ignored Ghana’s poor; instead, he has chosen to provide free dental services to Ghanaians who cannot afford it. And what does he get in return? One impediment after another by those authorized to protect the poor and the marginalized in Ghanaian society! In this case, however, the government is not protecting the poor; rather, it is depriving them of much-needed free dental work. Oh, yes, it gets worse, so please stay with me.

Dr. Attipoe recently shipped dental supplies to Ghana for use in several villages, but he was unexpectedly asked to pay duty on the items, although he was on a humanitarian mission. Remarkably, this mission was not his first, as Dr. Attipoe has been providing free dental services to impoverished communities in Ghana since 2008, and not once has he charged anyone for either routine or major dental work. Sadly, the Government of Ghana is now asking him to pay duty on his supplies and equipment, which is simply unjustifiable. Well, no one should accuse overseas-based Ghanaian professionals of a lack of devotion to the ordinary people of Ghana because, by and large, these professionals face hurdles in their own country that can best be described as shameful and appalling.

For his continual humanitarian work in Guatemala, and, yes, Ghana, Dr. Attipoe was given the Humanitarian Award by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) in Seattle, Washington last year. A graduate of the Baylor College of Dentistry in Texas, Dr. Attipoe has effectively combined private practice with free public service to those who are unable to pay for the basic dental services that you and I take for granted. He has traveled a number of times to Ghana and Latin America to help others, without asking for a cent to cover his travel, food, and lodging. Yes, he has borne these expenses himself, as any good and caring human being would.

On his last trip to Ghana, Dr. Attipoe, who had hitherto provided free dental services to the poor in the Greater-Accra, Eastern, and Volta Regions, was suddenly told that it was illegal for him to attend to any patients in Ghana without local certification. Was anyone now in doubt of Dr. Attipoe’s qualifications? After all, it takes two minutes to call the Dental Registry in Texas to confirm if Dr. Attipoe is in good standing with the Texas Dental Board, so preventing Dr. Attipoe from providing free dental care to the poor in his native Ghana only meant that several people lost the opportunity to get much-needed care. And no one really cares about these people – not even their government! There are Cuban doctors in Ghana who barely speak English, yet these professionals are brought to Ghana at great cost to the taxpayer to perform services that Dr. Attipoe – and others like him – is willing to dispense at no cost to his fellow Ghanaians! Talk about true Ghanaian patriots being shut out of their own country! And we have the chutzpah to talk about brain drain? Whew! Dear reader, pause for a minute and think deeply about these inconsistencies.

Dr. Attipoe could easily turn his back on his fellow Ghanaians, but he considers it necessary to give back to the country that gave him so much in his adolescence and young adulthood. Coming from a humble family, he understood what it meant to suffer deprivation, so why should he turn his back on others when God has opened doors for him today? I therefore call on the Ghanaian authorities to re-evaluate existing rules to make sure that qualified Ghanaian professionals in all fields of endeavor can visit their country of birth and provide free services to those in need. Yes, I understand that the government ought to prevent quacks from practicing their trade in Ghana, but is it hard to verify professionals’ credentials in today’s computerized world, where information can be ascertained in a matter of minutes, and not days? We must extricate ourselves from the dungeon of inaction and promote overseas-based Ghanaian professionals’ willingness to use their expertise and training to help the poor in Ghana, specifically because there is no cost to the recipients or the government. What is wrong with us, if I may ask?

© The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, may be followed on Twitter: @DanielKPryce. He invites the reader to join the pressure group “Good Governance in Ghana” on Facebook.com, which he superintends. “Good Governance in Ghana” is a group that emphasizes the preservation of democracy, justice, equity, and law and order in Ghana. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.