Ghanaians in Germany – transnational social fields and social status

Ghanaians in Germany – transnational social fields and social status

Enfolding the Paradox (I): Localising 'Long Distance Nationalism'

The Ghana Union started in Berlin in the 1980s as a support and advocacy organisation for Ghanaians, who were suffering under an increase of police activity against asylum seekers and illegal migrants in Berlin. In the second half of the 1990s the Ghana Union stopped its work, partly because more and more migrants were successful in securing their legal position. When the Ghana Union was re-established in 2001, its orientation was significantly different.

One important reason to reactivate the Union was to provide a contact organisation for the representatives of the Ghanaian nation-state, who became, within the framework of their policy of incorporation, increasingly active among Ghanaian migrants world-wide. The Ghanaian embassy in Germany expressed its wish for an organisation which would be able to link them up with migrants in Berlin. The new government wanted to display its democratic and transparent attitude to the ‘Ghanaian diaspora’. By doing so, it tried to connect the attachment of the migrants to their families and their home-contexts with the interests of the nation-state. The paradoxical status link that bridges the two lifeworlds should become discursively ‘nationalised’. In a time of decreasing development aid, migrants and their remittances are becoming more and more important for the financial well-being of many so-called ‘Economically less Developed Countries’. This is well noticed by the Ghanaian government and transferred into political practices. In Berlin, many migrants are interested in participating in meetings with Ghanaian officials because they are gaining symbolic recognition and promoting migrant specific interests (i.e. customs regulation, double citizenship, etc.). Additionally, by reinforcing their national identity, their individual projects are reintegrated into a collective project of national development. Within this discourse it is possible to overcome the implicit accusation of leaving their country and the people at home in the lurch. Meeting the president or the ambassador conveys the impression that these migrants are well respected people whose project of migration is individually and collectively successful. Inside this transnational social field, the status ascriptions are rearranged in a way which temporarily factors out the described paradox of migration.

Enfolding the Paradox (II): Charismatic Christianity and the Construction of Identity

The denominational structure of Ghanaian-initiated churches in Germany is very heterogeneous. Quantitatively, Charismatic churches are the most important churches among Ghanaians in Berlin. One reason for this is their significance in the context of the construction of identity. Within these churches a strong emphasis is placed on a practical and rhetorical modernist discourse that deals with central experiences of migration, reflects them religiously and empowers the believer to further action. On the one hand, the Charismatic churches stabilise migrants' identities, because they construct a symbolic background against which migrants can experience themselves as 'modern' and 'successful' and communicate this to relevant others.

Church Service of a Charismatic Church

On the other hand, the empowerment and prosperity discourse of these churches promises to provide believers with the spiritual means to overcome the symbolic, material and legal obstacles to the affirmation of the constructed self-image. The ambivalence of this discourse - caught between the individual claim of participation in a symbolically constituted modernity and the reality of not having achieved this completely - reflects the Ghanaian paradox of migration - being a 'successful migrant-entrepreneur' and a 'marginalised poverty-migrant' at the same time - and promises to overcome it.

Religious and national identities provide possibilities for the construction of self for the migrants, with which they are able to reinterpret themselves in the context of migration. Although these religious and national sets of identities provide "a field of situational identification to an intelligent actor" (Schlee 2000: 5) in everyday life, on an organisational level, Charismatic Christianity competes with national identity discourses under the condition of migration for the same resources (i.e. membership, money, dominance in the local arena). The success of Charismatic Churches among Ghanaian migrants may also be linked to the process of becoming disenchanted with the Ghanaian nation-state as the agent of the development and modernity Ghana has experienced over the last decades.


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FOOTNOTES in the text

1 Bundesamt für Statistik (2002).

2 Corporate Ghana. The pulse of the Nation (2001), July/August, 9, p.18.

3 In fact the relevance of the migrants is probably even bigger, because not all of the remittances may be covered by the official figures and a large part of what is declared as tourism are migrants returning for home visits.

4 Normally these events are connected with fund-raising activities.

5 It explains also why deportation is such a large social catastrophe. It is not only because people get humiliated or hurt by the violent procedure, but also because they are not able save their face at home

6 Because of the disparities of wages and currencies the migrants in fact are acquiring wealth according to the Ghanaian standard by doing menial jobs in Europe. A secondary school teacher in Ghana, for instance, earns, converted into Euro, about 60 € and he is not perceived as poor.

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