They came in a rush - in a human tidal wave. When an estimated 1 million workers poured back into Ghana from Nigeria three months ago, many wondered whether the beleaguered West African country might simply collapse.
It hasn't. In fact, according to Merrick Poznansky, who recently returned from Ghana, and Naomi Chazan - two Western analysts on Ghana - several of the short-term effects of this mass reverse migration have been surprisingly positive.
These analysts caution that the long-range prospects are still on the downside. Mr. Pozanasky says, ''The country (on the whole) is in a worse state than I have ever seen before.'' But he and Ms. Chazan say that the Ghanaian returnees - who were given two weeks to leave Nigeria in a surprise government move last Jan. 17 - have brought several temporary glimmers of hope to Ghana's otherwise gloomy situation:
* The country's crumbling transportation system has been revived. ''Many of the returnees came with their own vehicles,'' says Poznansky, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles who was in Accra, Ghana's capital, when the first returning Ghanaians arrived. In a subsequent trip upcountry, he counted a 38 percent increase in the number of vehicles on the road.
Naomi Chazan, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, says the trucks and minibuses they brought back provide a desperately needed supply of spare parts.
* Most Ghanaians outside Accra are again able to get news and information. Chazan explains that a shortage of paper has caused the country's major newspapers to print only 10,000 copies daily; thus radios are the only source of information for a majority of the populace. Recently Ghana has been plagued by a shortage of batteries, making most radios unusable. When returnees arrived carrying large supplies of batteries and radios, news could once more be heard throughout the country.
Says Poznansky, ''Because they (the returnees) didn't want to carry cash, they brought goods.'' One girl who rode with him to a rural town carried a trunk full of soap, another commodity in short supply.
* National pride has been given a boost. In Accra, Poznansky says, people went to greet and wave to the trucks as they rolled in. ''They wanted to show solidarity with the returnees,'' he says.
As a result, the shaky rule of Ghanaian leader Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings has been stabilized somewhat, say these two analysts. After a period of growing dissatisfaction over government inability to improve a feeble economy, ''The expulsion somehow rallied support around the government and many felt they handled it quite well,'' he says.
* The government succeeded in shuttling most of the returnees out of the cities. Some 60 to 70 percent, Chazan says, returned to rural areas. This is remarkable, he says, considering that an estimated 80 percent of the returnees were young and single, and most were male - a group that generally spurns life on the farm. The small percentage who did stay behind in Accra caused an increase in the crime rate, Chazan says.
On the whole, though, the operation went so smoothly that by late February Poznansky saw ''earnest-looking Swedes and Germans'' wandering around Accra looking for people to aid. In fact, he says, a special meeting was called by aid agencies in Accra to determine how to distribute monies that poured in after Ghana appealed for help.
The estimated cost of the operation was around $15 million. Chazan says that figure was fully met by international goodwill.
But these are just glimmers of good news. Ghanaians call themselves ''a nation of magicians,'' says Chazan, because urban dwellers spend 70 to 80 percent of their day just acquiring basic needs. And the returnees - approximately 10 percent of Ghana's entire population - have put ''an enormous strain on an economy already in shambles.''
Poznansky explains that the expulsion came during the dry season and, although most were absorbed back into the rural areas, there is little work for them. If this season's rains are plentiful, many returnees could be employed and fed. If there is a shortfall, as there was last year, widespread hunger could result.
With little to do in the rural areas, many returnees have drifted into small towns. Some are slipping back to Nigeria.
Meanwhile, recent negotiation of a $300 million loan from the International Monetary Fund, falling oil prices, and reopened borders are all ''favorable signs.''