Selling Ghana Greener Pastures, Journal of Social History, Fall 2019



Since 1994, people in Ghana have eagerly registered for the United States Diversity Visa lottery, an annual program that makes immigrant visas available to residents of countries that historically sent few immigrants to the United States. Although the green card lottery was not created to facilitate immigration from Africa, Ghanaians embraced the lottery enthusiastically. The program dovetailed with the growing popularity of international migration—framed as seeking “greener pastures”—since the country’s adoption of neoliberal economic reforms beginning in the 1980s. In particular, the lottery in Ghana was amplified by urban visa entrepreneurs whose self-interested efforts marketing the program drove demand for diversity visas and related migration services. Examining how and why visa entrepreneurs disseminated information about the lottery and found paying customers eager for assistance, this article historicizes how Ghanaians thought about citizenship, mobility, and their place in the world, illuminating how people navigated structural adjustment and neoliberal logic in Ghana in the 1990s and 2000s. The United States became a prime destination for contingent reasons related to transformations of Ghana’s economy and politics that made permanent emigration more desirable and spurred urban residents to set up and expand small-scale enterprises. In a context of heightened global migration restrictions in the 1990s and 2000s, the visa lottery, a migration program that operated as a game of chance, took root in Ghanaians’ imaginations.

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