Returnees: The People I Just Want to Slap in Town!

It’s not often that I’m moved to violence.

Okay. That’s I lie.

I consistently harbor violent thoughts. But it’s rare that I ever act them out. I fear jail. The closest I’ve come to violent behavior was just last week when Somebody* and I were on the Tema Motorway. There was gridlocked traffic. The air was thick with exhaust and frustration, and every driver was looking around for an “in”. Somebody had just glanced down at her gear box for a split moment when the driver of the car behind us laid into his horn. The trotro in front of us had moved a whole 3 feet and he wanted us to go!

Somebody looked into her review mirror and threw her left hand up.

“And where do you want me to go?” she asked rhetorically.

And that’s when he did it. The old bespectacled sod in the green Peugeot flicked us off. Oh no. We were having NONE of that! Two brown skinned hands shot out of either side of Somebody’s vehicle and gave him an eyeful of the bird for the next three miles.

I was shaking with road rage and fought back the ferocious urge to get out of the car and bang on his hood. Who did he think he was? Argh!! … And then suddenly I recognized his modus operandi. This douche bag was from New York. A “Returnee”. God, how I hate them. I wish I could line them up in a Rawlings’ style firing squad and slap the mess out of each and every one of them, or at least play an extended game of Fronthand/Backhand the 90% of the entire lot.


It’s not fair to lump all Returnees into the same bowl, but doggonit if the majority of them don’t make hard for me not to. In case you’re sitting there scratching your head about 1) what a Returnee is and 2) why I think I could distinguish myself from one, I’ll take a quick second to alleviate your confusion.

A “Returnee” is a Been To, as in someone who has “been to” America/UK/Russia/Greener Pastures. They come back to Ghana bathed in a cloud of Versace (both cologne and clothing) armed with knowledge, a hard won accent, and a gross sense of entitlement. They usually arrive at Kotoka under the auspices of wanting to make their contribution to the national development quota, but generally they are in Accra to find out how big of a slice of the national cake they can get with as little cost as possible.

You can’t miss a Returnee. They are an aberration of a Ghanaian. They are loud, crude, rude and worst of all, condescending. Do I consider myself a Returnee? No. I haven’t yet returned to Ghana from abroad, and the moment I do, I will do my utmost to put off as much of America as I possibly can. No way am I going to be associated with this clan of misfits.

In many ways, Returnees are more annoying than expatriates who have also come to Ghana in search of the 21st century’s version of gold. These people have lived in Ghana in some measure previously. They have grown up without water and electricity. They know what traffic patterns are like. They KNOW that all of our systems are corrupt. But unlike the expatriate, who comes also armed with knowledge of our corroded systems – and say sets up a non-profit restaurant so he doesn’t have to pay taxes on any of his sales – the Returnee spends 80% of his day complaining about the system and trying to punish the ordinary Ghanaian for the circumstances that they find themselves in.

I recently went to dinner at a friend’s house in Cantonments. There was a girl who came breezing in with a pair of Valentino shoes and a Peruvian weave down her back. You couldn’t miss her. She was stunning. Her name was Stella, Sheila, Samantha… I don’t remember. I couldn’t be bothered to remember her name 10 minutes after she began talking. I was so put off.

“The thing that frustrates me about Ghana is that I have to be a proper bitch to get anything done,” she said. “I have to yell and raise my voice to get results. It’s the only way to get things done around here.”

She demonstrated how she got people to move by snapping her fingers and barking commands.

“Bring me this!”

“Go get that!”

“Are you mad, or did you not understand what I said!?!”

I was appalled. How could one so lovely be so UGLY?

“I’ve never found that I have to be domineering to get results in Ghana,” I said (almost)sheepishly. I was trying to keep my irritation in check. “A kind word, a joke and a ‘thank you’ have gotten me everything I need.”

Stella-Sheila disagreed vehemently. At a certain level, she said in very measured tones, being nice doesn’t pay. You have to DEMAND respect from Ghanaians in order to get results.

This was nonsense. Other than getting up and slapping her in the face on behalf of all the people she’d most likely offended in town THAT NIGHT alone, I had to find a way to restore my people’s honor. Dr. Phil came to me in a fog of thought. I asked her a pointed question.

“So tell me. Do you like the person you’ve become?”


I pressed her further. “This angry, yelling, condescending woman. Do you like who you are when you look in the mirror?”

I laughed, as if to make a joke. But we both knew there was no mirth in my query. She was a self-righteous bitch, and she needed to know what she looked like to the rest of the continent. Backhand!

What did she say in reply? I can’t recall, because I was done with the conversation. I left the dinner four minutes or so later. I wanted to spit. Returnee indeed.

Oh! How could I forget. Can I tell you what’s even more annoying? Is when all the Returnees are in a group, trying to assess whether the ordinary, run-of-the-mill Ghanaian is good enough to fraternize with, or what level of courtesy he/she should be afforded based on how many years they’ve lived abroad, if any. Fronthand!

The sadder portion of this is that people like Samantha-Cynthia and the Peugeot driver make it hard for those of us who really want to come home. And I mean come HOME; with all our bad roads and electricity problems and philandering presidents and eco-waste. It’s still home. Unfortunately, it’s this kind of behavior that has Ghanaians looking at ALL of us with a certain measure of contempt and no small amount of defensiveness. I saw it every day.

You! Yes, you reading! Are you guilty of these crimes? Repent! For if I see you in town and I’m with A-Dub on the wrong day you may find yourself cussed out. No one likes that sort of condescension. Small London you’ve lived in and you want to misbehave.

Ghanafour: Have you ever seen a Returnee have a tantrum in town? Did you want to SLAPPPP the mess out of them? Tell your story here. ↓ Don’t be shy.