Ghana Immigration's extortion racket
Corruption is often declared a cancer in African States, one which bleeds the official State coffers of much needed funds and lines the pockets of a few nasty elites. That these few nasty elites behaviour then sanctions small fry officers to engage in such practices is something that affects the vast majority of people who have ever tried to get a service rendered in places like Nigeria or Ghana.
For example, I have just fallen to threats that I should buy my ticket and get out of the country as my visa will not be extended for another 2 months. This despite the fact that I have done everything by the book. My project manager received a phone call full of threats from a senior member of the immigration department in Kumasi shouting at him that I should get a flight and leave immediately. But any of us who have been in this game for a while knows what that means. Translated into plain language it could be versed as follows: You son of a bitch, who dare you go offical routes and deny me my bribe. So now I will resort to extortion and make you shit in your pants until you pay up."
Unfortunately the officer in question has met the wrong client. He didn't get a penny, I got my passport back, but I still only have until May 17th then I've gotta find a way to stay and finish my teaching, fundraising work for the students at Edwenase. That's what I came here for, and that is what I intend to do once I don't have to pay off some idiot in a dark green military uniform who bleeds Ghanaians and foreigners alike so he can feed his greed.
Life for those who have ever wanted something from an immigration office can be pretty frustrating at the best of times. In Europe and the US I've been lucky enough. The colour of my skin has prevented me from the harshest treatment. I've had my fair share of bad experiences with officials at borders or checkpoints though. Lots of hassle and violence from Israel border guards during non-violent conflict work in the West Bank, Palestine. More hassle entering and leaving the country. They wanted to know what Arabs I knew and why I was helping muslims! Deportation from the US in 2008 at Chicago airport by Homeland Security officers due to my legal (I was fully acquitted in 2006 by an Irish jury) assistance in disabling a US warplane at Shannon Airport, Ireland prior to the outbreak of the Iraq war. Witnessing heartless Irish immigration cops being bastards to foreign women and children at Dublin port. I'm sure you could add many more to this if you wanted.
Now when it comes to Ghana's immigration, well, Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe hits the nail on the head in his classic novel 'No Longer at Ease', charting the fall of one Nigerian State official to embody a new age of rampant corruption in Nigeria's State services. Ghana appears to be little different, although it would be hard to surpass Nigeria's brutal record of crookedness and bureaucratic multi-coloured tape. An envelope of cash brings an immediate response to an official and kickstarts them to work on your case. The absence of a 'dash' means you will wait, and wait, and fall into a lot of frustration as you are sent from this office to that office only to find that they won't give you what you are legally entitled to. They are a State mafia, extorting money from both professional ex-pats who come to work as either volunteers or business people to do work which, and here I quote one less corrupt junior immigration officer, „will do work for free that Ghanaians won't do even if you pay them”. That is a rough, generalised remark, that I have come to observe to be a half-truth.
To get my final 2 month extension I was expected to pay at least an 80 (50 Euro) cedi bribe, which I refused. Most other vounteers I know of are taken care of by their NGOs, whose representative must depart with a nominal sum depending on how many volunteers passports they want stamped. Due to the fact that I came here independently and am rendering professional services as an experienced teacher and social worker, they are trying to screw me similarly. Whether it is scholarships which have been gained due to academic brilliance, or deserved promotion due to hard graft, nothing will transpire in Ghana unless you pay some extra money to feed the greed of the lecturer, immigration official, administrator, etc.
Even when I lend an extra basin here at our centre from the kitchen staff, a basin which belongs to the centre, I am asked to bring them something in return. Handouts and back-scratching are the name of the game, but the true essence of mutual aid is one lap behind when it comes to some people's greed.
It's a frustrating process, one which drives most people to pay up and just get what they need and deserve. So when I go to Accra to try another avenue for my visa to be extended, I expect to asked for a 'dash' in a white envelope again. I already paid a futile 20 cedi sum to try and get a previous extension. It didn't work and I did it against my better judgement. In fact I did it as that is what my centre manager told me was the only option. We know know that they thought it was too little and even very big sums were rejected by them - so many volunteers have had to leave Ghana ansd re-enter through Togo to continue their projects.
If I am expected to give 'a little extra' yes, they can stick it up their holes. I'll leave the country and try and get back in by land rather than paying these corrupt wasters anything so they can sit on their arses and play all day with a hi-tech mobile phone purchased from the profits of their racketeering.
Is there any solution to this racket? I doubt it will change for a very long time, if it ever does.