PhD case study - Kwaku Gyening Owusu

Kwaku is in his third and final year of his PhD, studying migration and Ghanaian Diaspora in the UK and the impact on Ghana's welfare development. We spoke to Kwaku and asked him what was his draw to this particular subject, what motivated him to study a PhD and how he has found studying at Sheffield.

PhD student in the Elmfield lecture theatre

Emigration and the Diaspora in Africa’s Contemporary Welfare Development: A Critical Examination.

My draw to the subject

What actually motivated me to undertake research in migration was an experience I witnessed in Sweden. During my first Master’s programme, MSc in International and European Relations at Linkoping University in Sweden, I realised that there were many taxi drivers with foreign origin or to specifically put it, non-Caucasian origin. Through informal talk with some drivers, I realised the average taxi driver with foreign origin had a bachelor’s degree from their countries of origin. Some were doctors, engineers, teachers and even lecturers who had come to Sweden as refugees, undertook Swedish language lessons, regularised their residency and spoke fluent Swedish but could not find work within their field of qualification. After several attempts to no avail, they had to settle for taxi driver jobs as these were readily available once they received their commercial taxi driver’s licence.

This dawned on me as an interesting topic to undertake as scientific research. After completing my MSc, I undertook another Master's programme in Social Work and Human Rights and conducted research on migrants and their employment experiences in Sweden titled - 'Employment: A Crucial Tool for Integrating Immigrants and Foreigners in Sweden'. Although the research focused on how migrants can integrate economically for the mutual benefit of the Swedish economy and migrants, the informal interactions I had with the taxi drivers before starting my second Master’s degree threw light on the linkages, connections and responsibilities of migrants especially of African descent to their left behind families, communities and villages in the countries of their origin. The responsibilities of these migrants were even more pressed in situations where the left behind family members are in countries recovering from a civil war or civil unrest. This meant that a good paying job for a migrant reflected how far he or she could assist their family, community or village back home.

It was around these years that the issue of migration, especially in the UK, started to resurface. Similarly, migration issues had also been on the list of agendas for regional blocs such as the EU and some developed countries such as Australia and the USA. There was also upsurge of pessimism on pro-migration policies such as in the UK, which was once a leader for pro-migration policies. The effect is that diaspora communities in these western countries have been encountering different forms of blame, hatred from some sections of local communities, politicians and the far right for several reasons - chiefly among them is taking their jobs from them. This has reinforced my interest to shed light on migrants and their collective roles back home and how they not only affect their lives in their receiving countries but also lives of the left behind families, communities and villages in their countries of origin.

Being a Ghanaian by origin and knowing the UK is home to over 100000 documented Ghanaians, a case study on the Ghanaian diaspora in the UK and their role in welfare development back home was always going to be an interesting and challenging start off point and a knowledge worth contributing to the social sciences and policy makers.

The questions and challenges I set out to address

The initial challenge was the unresolved academic debate on ‘migration-development’ nexus. This unresolved debate begs the question whether the positivity of migrants’ role in developing their home countries outweighs its negativity. In the 70s and 80s, structural theories such as world systems theories and dependency theories posited that the push and pull factors of migration  made sending countries who were predominantly in the Global South worse off for the betterment of receiving countries predominantly in the Global North. But in recent years neoliberal theories such as new economics of labour migration are proposing otherwise.

Apart from individual financial remittances which has been researched for some time now, little focus has been placed on collective remittances of migrants and diaspora associations and their engagement with their countries of origin. I am therefore investigating collective engagements of migrant associations with their hometowns, villages and communities to find out their roles in welfare developments of these communities. Welfare in this context relates to provision of basic needs such as amenities, utilities and its by-products that sustains the wellbeing of the people living in these communities and its potential spill over effect on the meso-level welfare development in Ghana. I am investigating the motivation for migrants to undertake welfare projects for their hometown and the channels they adopt. I am also looking at the perspectives of projects beneficiaries and policy makers in relation to the diaspora’s contribution to meso-level welfare development in Ghana.

Social issues such as migration have become dominant within the corridors of power today and is of course in the near future going to change the course of government policies in both sending and receiving countries. Hence the need for scientific research in these areas to help policy makers understand the reality on the ground. I believe that after I have completed my PhD, I would have contributed some scientific findings to the migration-development nexus debate.

PhD student Kwaku

Responses to my research

Response to my research work has been very encouraging. I conducted case studies in five Ghanaian hometown associations in the UK and followed their engagements with their hometowns. I used qualitative interviews, participants observation, documentary sources and visual observation of project sites to collect my data. My preliminary findings have shown strong welfare engagements. There is also a strong perspective that, the Ghanaian diaspora are a reliable and stable partner in providing social amenities in the area of education, health, sports as well as basic utilities such as water and electricity to their villages, towns and communities which has being neglected by their national governments. In addition to these infrastructural projects which contributes immensely to the welfare of the people back home, there was a strong evidence of transfer of new ideas and ways of life also called social remittances alongside these projects.

The possible real-world applications of my research

In many countries the drafting of migration policy especially in both sending and receiving countries are bereft of qualitative research findings which tells how migrants and the diaspora are of much importance in terms of rural or meso-level development. I believe my findings would add to other qualitative research currently being undertaken by other scholars to give policy makers and governments primary data and information about the role migrants and the diaspora play in welfare development back home.

What I want to achieve

In the larger picture I hope to make a case and contribute to both the migration-development nexus debate in the academia and also influence policy makers with my findings and how the Ghanaian diaspora or migrants are pivotal stakeholders on meso-level welfare development in Ghana.