Repatriation: Is Going Back to Africa the Solution?



This is something red-faced bigots used to scream (now they can conveniently type it on a keypad) whenever a person of color has the audacity to point out/complain about/ponder over America’s dismal race record and erratic application of justice. “Hey darkie! If you don’t like it, you can just go back to Africa.”

But how can you go back to a place you have never been to?

Black/African-Americans are Americans first and only. They speak English. They were born in one of its 50 states. If they were to be issued a passport for travel, it would not bear the seal ‘The Republic of Africa America’ on its shiny black coated cover. There is no ‘going back’.

That’s not to say Black Americans would not be welcome in Africa. Quite the contrary, in fact! Many of us want you to come back home. (Pause: I just realized this blog is going to be hard for me to write because of my hybrid birth status. Using the terms “us” and “you” feels so strange. Nevertheless, let’s carry on!) There is a place for you in Africa if you want it; and after the grand jury’s decision not to indict the killers of Mike Brown and now Eric Garner, many people are seriously considering repatriating to the Motherland and being more vocal about it.

wadeSenegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade has proven that he understands the diaspora’s connection to Africa, how slavery and colonization ripped apart families and the destruction of Black people, globally, has been systematic. When the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, he offered free land to any Haitian who wanted to return “home” in the wake of the devastation. I have no idea how many people took up the offer, because of course, it never became a major news story. The news was dominated by images of rape, hunger, suffering and the incompetence of western powers as they smugly distributed Monsanto grain instead of food rations. Showing Africa in a position of giving would destroy the Western media’s agenda, and could not be (and therefore was not)  tolerated. The story was buried.

I would love to see an exodus of the diaspora back to Africa. A good friend of mine has two canvases that hang in her living room of Black families on either side of the Atlantic. They are clad in white, waving to each other. They each have their arms stretched out, as if trying to reconnect after having been separated. It’s a beautiful image, but every time I gaze upon it I have to ask myself how practical it is? How easy or difficult would it be for Africans in the Diaspora to return to their roots? Is either side ready for that? For example, Don Lemon just discovered that he has roots in Ghana…but does Ghana really want Don Lemon – a self-serving tool who functions under the benefit and banner of white supremacy – operating within our borders? As pretty as his face may be, the answer is no. America can keep Don Lemon.

american-colonization-society-wallpaperSending Blacks in the Americas “back” to Africa as a solution for America’s racial problem is not a novel idea. It is one that is 150 years old, at least, and was championed by President Lincoln, who in today’s terms would be described as a well-meaning liberal, but a racist nevertheless.

For much of his career, Lincoln believed that colonization—or the idea that a majority of the African-American population should leave the United States and settle in Africa or Central America—was the best way to confront the problem of slavery. His two great political heroes, Henry Clay and Thomas Jefferson, had both favored colonization; both were slave owners who took issue with aspects of slavery but saw no way that blacks and whites could live together peaceably. Lincoln first publicly advocated for colonization in 1852, and in 1854 said that his first instinct would be “to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia” (the African state founded by the American Colonization Society in 1821). *

Liberia itself has proven to us what can go wrong when repatriation is executed poorly. When freed Black Americans formed Liberia, they brought with them ideas of racial supremacy and intentionally set about the creation of a divisive, minority ruled government, blocking the natives’ access to privilege and hoarding the spoils of trade with the US to themselves. Firestone tires were made with Liberian rubber, for example. Little of that money was invested outside of the capitol. The result a century later was a war that ripped the country apart. It is still trying to heal today.

It would be a dream-come-true of many a Black nationalist for the Exodus to occur – and soon – but there are some ground rules that need to be laid before anybody goes anywhere.

First we have to recognize that we on the continent have not healed our old divisions before we go about importing new ones. These ethnic divisions/differences are the same ones that Europeans exacerbated and used as tool for our eventual demise. We became suspicious of each other, while the Dutch and English were raping our children and stealing our land. Even today in modern politics, the remnants of those ancient reservations remain. We castigate Ewes for voting NDC, but fully accept Ashantis voting NPP, while nobody can fathom CPP coming to power because the party is essentially “tribeless”. Can you imagine what a mess it would be if we added our  feelings about Black Americans into the mix? Africans have to be honest with themselves and with our cousins abroad. We look down on them because they have borne the trial of slavery, and they feel haughty in our presence because we can’t figure out how to get running water into our homes.

There are only four possible things that can happen if there is a mass return to Africa:

  • Black Americans will try to rule over us
  • Black Africans will try to swindle and frustrate them
  • We will all kill each other (i.e. Liberia)
  • We can sit down together, figure this thing out, and become a continental superpower, flush in resources and intellectual property

Despite all that is going on in the US, with its public lynchings every 28 hours, redlining, underfunding inner city schools and denying water to the inhabitants of an entire city (Detroit), it is important for each individual to examine what “home” means to them. At the end of the day, you should live where you feel at home – i.e. where you feel safe, loved and have the best chance at living a prosperous life. I would never begrudge any Black American for never wanting to live in Africa. There are many Ghanaians, for example, who have left the country because Ghana wasn’t/isn’t equipped to help them become the person they felt destined to be. Misogyny, poor education, high unemployment and rickety infrastructure are very real hurdles to individual and national development, and too few of our politicians seem serious about tackling any of them. This is frustrating for intelligent Ghanaians, many of whom – regardless of their education level – choose to emigrate in search of ‘greener pastures’ despite the racism and social scorn they may face abroad. A green pasture isn’t just earning potential: it’s also the confidence that your government and social institutions are capable… and functioning as such.

Take Nelson Baani for example. Here’s a man who went on parliament floor and later on national radio to suggest stoning or hanging women who cheat on their husbands. To the shock and chagrin of all, our government has yet to act and reprimand this mad man properly. He remains unchecked. Yet this is the same government that sends its president around the globe begging for loans and touting Ghana’s pristine human rights record. This is the same Ghana whose current sitting president  said that by the end of his first year of his first term as president load shedding (cutting your power on and off every 24 hours, or getting 6 hours of electricity a day in some cases) would “be a thing of the past”. He’s almost 3 years in and load shedding is at its worst.


You’ll have to pick your poison. Are Africans in the Diaspora ready for this level of incompetence?  If so, Akwaaba! Come on home.