Ernest Owusu wants to get his hands dirty. “I have nothing to work on,” the Ghanaian mechanic complains, looking around at his roadside garage which is littered with rusted cars and vans.
If he had the money, he said, he would spend it on trying to go to Libya, and from there to potentially seek a new life in Europe.
Owusu, who lives in Dormaa-Ahenkro in Ghana’s Brong-Ahafo region, is oblivious to the acclaimed speech that the country’s President Nana Akufo-Addo gave in December last year.
He told his visiting French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that he wanted to unshackle Ghanaians from a mentality dependent on overseas “aid and charity”.
Instead, he aims to harness the “resilience and ingenuity” of those who make the perilous journey across the Sahara Desert to help build a country for the future.
Owusu, 38, is one of those people. But the fact he wants to go back to Libya is an indication that he and many others feel there are precious few options at home.
Dormaa-Ahenkro, near the border with Ivory Coast and some 450 km by road from the capital Accra, is a hotbed of irregular migration — travelling without proper documents such as a passport and visa.
Owusu, who has three children, spent 20 years working as a mason in Libya until he was deported in 2011 when police intercepted the boat he was on in an attempt to get to Italy.
Ghana’s economy is expected to grow by 8.3 per cent this year — the fastest in the world. But unemployment is still a major issue.
Two years ago, the World Bank said nearly half (48 per cent) of people aged 15 to 24 were jobless.
The government is trying to get 100,000 university graduates into work, but Owusu never finished school and doesn’t believe there are opportunities for the likes of him.
“It’s a lie,” he said about economic growth. “You can’t come here and say it’s good. Look at my hands, there are no cars.”
Farming tomatoes up the road is another Libya returnee, Kwame Amadu Haruna. He also worked as a mason and is struggling to make ends meet in Ghana. He tried to start a poultry farm but ran out of money. The structure is built but there are no birds inside.
A friend calls him daily to try to convince him to return to Libya.
Unlike Owusu he has vowed never to go back after having a gun pulled on him and his wages withheld. Haruna, 43, instead tries to tell people not to go. Those he talks to are unaware of the harsh realities of the journey and the often slave-like conditions that await. — AFP