The Ghanaian diaspora is large, with an estimated 3 million Ghanaians spread across Nigeria, the United States, the United Kingdom and many other nations around the world. Despite the global dispersion, individual Ghanaian diaspora communities, especially those in large cities, are close and tight-knit. They are held together by organisations and institutions created by Ghanaian immigrants.
In the early days of the formation of the Ghanaian diaspora, engagement within diaspora communities focused on creating hometown associations, ethnic group associations, religious institutions, and replicating Ghanaian cultural practices. Diaspora-homeland engagement was done through in-person visits, remittance-sending, and communicating through writing letters or phone calls. As digital media evolved, so did Ghanaian diaspora engagement. Ghanaians in the diaspora are now using fintech apps like WorldRemit to send remittances, while popular social media apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram now play an integral role in maintaining connections between people in Ghana and in the diaspora. The pandemic created a greater demand for digital connection in the diaspora, since opportunities to travel to Ghana and engage in-person in diaspora communities were limited. A new social media app, Clubhouse, has become popular with the younger segment of the Ghanaian diaspora and appears to be helping them meet their increased need to engage with each other digitally.
Launched in March 2020, Clubhouse is an audio-only app with over 10 million subscribers that allows users to listen to conversations on different topics in real time. Clubhouse allows users to join or follow clubs that are aligned with their interests, as well as to both listen to and participate in discussions between club moderators and guests on different topics, such as music, politics and current events. The app has become popular with the Ghanaian diaspora because it enables them to communicate in real time and to connect in ways that other social media apps do not allow. One Ghanaian diaspora Clubhouse user I spoke with said it felt ‘miraculous’ to meet and have conversations with members of the Ghanaian diaspora in different time zones about their shared diasporic experiences. Other Ghanaian diaspora users I spoke with said the app’s real-time connection feature made it easy to network and make connections with other users across the diaspora. By shrinking the distance between people in the global Ghanaian diaspora, Clubhouse has been able to help create and maintain connections in a time where in-person interactions were limited.
Searching ‘Ghana’ on Clubhouse will bring up over 50 clubs, which reflect a broad range of engagement needs and demographics within the diasporic community. For example, many clubs frequented by young diasporans tend to mirror real-world diaspora youth organisations by operating using a pan-Ghanaian identity, and include rooms focusing on learning Ghanaian languages, heritage, and culture, understanding what is needed to relocate to Ghana, networking with like-minded young Ghanaians, and learning how they can use their time and skills to support Ghana’s development. There are also clubs that serve as interest groups by connecting Ghanaians who share an interest in particular topics, such as the Ghanaian Music Lounge, clubs for Ghanaians who belong to the same age group or gender, such as Ghana Girls We Dey, and clubs for Ghanaians from the same ethnic community, such as Ewe Vibes or Ga Language University.
The largest and most notable Ghanaian club, Ghanaian Lounge, is a pan-Ghanaian club that has 16,900 members and 10,500 followers. As the most prominent Ghanaian club, the Ghanaian Lounge has become a microcosm of Ghanaian Clubhouse usage and shows how Ghanaians are using Clubhouse to meet their diasporic engagement needs digitally. The Ghanaian Lounge hosts several rooms on a weekly basis including speaking rooms for seven Ghanaian languages to help young Ghanaians learn their mother languages, rooms to discuss Ghanaian current events, rooms for networking, and matchmaking rooms for those looking for that special someone. In addition to their weekly events, the Ghanaian Lounge also hosts special event rooms which are held on a one-off basis. These rooms have hosted a wide variety of guests, from Ghanaian dancehall artist Shatta Wale to Ghana’s Minister for Information.
Some of the rooms in the Ghanaian Lounge have had a specific emphasis on diaspora-homeland relations, including conversations on diaspora privilege and whether citizenship is a birthright for Ghanaians in the diaspora. In 2019, the Ghanaian government launched the Year of Return, a year-long tourism initiative targeted at the Ghanaian diaspora and wider African diaspora. The Year of Return received a significant amount of media attention which increased interest in Ghana and its relationship to the Ghanaian and African diasporas. Clubhouse has become a place to continue political conversations that the Year of Return created, especially around citizenship, belonging, and return.
The Ghanaian diaspora’s use of Clubhouse shows how digital methods can be used to strengthen and maintain diaspora-homeland relations. The diversity of discussions that take place in the Ghanaian Clubhouse space illustrates the variety of interests the Ghanaian diaspora has and how they are using Clubhouse as a digital space to engage these interests. In addition, Ghanaian Clubhouse use reveals the importance of three key elements in digital diasporic engagement. Firstly, it clarifies the importance of paying attention to which social media platforms are popular in the diaspora community of interest, in order to best engage with them. Secondly, it shows the importance of social media in engaging younger generations of diasporans. Engaging younger diasporans can help them feel connected to their country of ancestry, which will give them more incentive to create their own unique connections to their homeland that are distinct from their parents’ connection. Lastly, Clubhouse shows the importance of understanding diaspora needs in order to use social media as an effective tool for diaspora engagement. This will make it easier for diasporas to engage, as they know their concerns will be taken seriously.
Time will tell if Clubhouse remains an integral part of Ghanaian digital diaspora engagement after the pandemic, but in the meantime, the Ghanaian Clubhouse space will continue to serve as an example of diasporic engagement in the digital age.
Kirstie Kwarteng is a storyteller and curator of stories. She is currently a doctoral candidate at SOAS, University of London in the Department of Development Studies and is a recipient of the Royal Geographical Society Dudley Stamp Memorial Award. She is also the founder of The Nana Project, an online platform dedicated to preserving Ghana's history through firsthand accounts of Ghana's history.
This article is part of the issue ‘Empowering global diasporas in the digital era’, a collaboration between Routed Magazine and iDiaspora. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) or Routed Magazine.