In September, 2014, a New York Times report highlighted how the influx of African immigrants is shifting the demographics of New York and the USA at large. The article’s author, Sam Roberts wrote:
“Between 2000 and 2010, the number of legal black African immigrants in the United States about doubled, to around one million. During that single decade, according to the most reliable estimates, more black Africans arrived in this country on their own than were imported directly to North America during the more than three centuries of the slave trade.”
It is inevitable that immigration of any population will bring change. Migration patterns not only affect the immigrant’s destination, but also have a profound impact on the point of emigration. One of the greatest laments of African governments in the 1990s and early 2000s was the rapid Brain Drain that many countries were experiencing as citizens with skilled labor went abroad to settle and work in search of “greener pastures”. Some people have described this as an act of betrayal, particularly in instances where the emigrant was the recipient of a robust education made possible by government/national funds. During Ghana’s CPP administration for example, primary school education for every child of school going age was free and compulsory. Under the Cocoa Marketing Board Scholarship Scheme, bright kids from lower income homes, could pursue secondary education thanks to scholarships provided from profits from the sale of cocoa, the country’s main export.
Many of these scholarship recipients took their expertise and work ethic abroad and never looked back, save to come home and retire after their best years and service were given to their host nations. This is only one of numerous scenarios and circumstances that have been replicated across the continent and serve as the seeds of resentment and division we see between Africans in the diaspora and on the continent today.
Like the Continent itself, the African Diaspora is multifaceted and made up of diverse people and varying experiences. The singular element that unifies these people is an identifiable connection to Africa. They are either recent immigrants, the children of immigrants who have themselves done relatively short jaunts to the motherland, political or economic refugees, or perhaps are a hybrid result of African and non-African parentage. Diasporans come from a variety of cultural, religious and economic backgrounds, however there is one thing that virtually everyone who is a member of this group has heard from their counterparts on the Continent: You do not matter.
This message is not often conveyed so bluntly of course, but there is no mistaking that it is sent. Some common phrases that Africans living in the Diaspora – such as myself – frequently hear are that we are not allowed to comment or form opinions on social or political events in our country of birth or ancestral heritage because “we do not live there”. We are denied the privilege of fully commiserating with tragedies that take place as a result of failed government policy because either we or our parents “ran away” from the country. While interrogating why Africans on the continent feel that Diasporans should be excluded from discourses, I was flatly told that it is because Diasporans are only imagining the conditions and therefore it is none of their business.
“You are clueless and you simply can’t relate,” the responder said.
It is these sorts of pronouncements that have made Diasporans feel as though they have been orphaned by Mother Africa. The knowledge that although you care enough to think about – and in many instances finance endeavors to promote commerce on the Continent – it is not enough to earn you a place of acceptance. For some, this sense of abandonment runs deep.
“I am stuck in the worst kind of quandary there is, proudly Nigerian, proudly African, proudly British. I was born in the UK, it has been my home, not always a kind one but I still love it and yet I love my heritage, despite having never lived in Nigeria we went there frequently. If anyone walked into our flat growing up you would think you were in Lagos, all the music, the food, the bucket in the bath. Yet my friends laugh at me when I try to speak with them in Yoruba, even pidgin English…their laughter silences me. I stick to just speaking English now, I’m too grown to be laughed at…
They stare at me with admiration whenever I wear my gele and traditional attire more often than they do, the people who I love the most have been the most unkind. Dismissing my “African-ness” because my accent gives it away or the fact that I because I have not lived on the continent for longer than 2 months I do not have a right to speak on it and yet people I know who have never been back (and do not want to go back) since leaving can still claim to be connected. Whereas there are entire communities, Indian, Bengali, Turkish, Italian, who thrive on their diasporas, who support and encourage them, even those who have never lived in their countries of origin. It pains and saddens me though…to think I will have nowhere to really call my “own” if left up to the will of others…” – Ronke
The sense of belonging to two cultures/countries and being fully accepted by neither is one that many Diasporan Africans face. Some deal with the rejection by choosing to fully assimilate into their adopted culture. This is a loss for all.
The suggestion that geography determines one’s right to an opinion or to proffer suggestions or solutions to Africa’s problems is one that is quickly gaining ground. However, what cannot go unnoticed is that this limitation is one that is uniquely thrust upon people of African descent.
“A 44 year old Ghanaian born bank executive who migrated to the states at 6 years and who works for perhaps JP MORGAN CHASE and has done so for 20 years of his life (never came home during that period ) cannot give accurate opinions on the risk and difficulties of starting a financial institution in Ghana. He cannot judge a system he doesn’t understand. But more often than not that is what happens.
African Entrepreneurs who have in-depth knowledge about our socio economic climate are adapting to “Africapitalsm”…. A form of capitalism only those living on the continent will appreciate and understand.” – Sarpei
“Some African’s immigrants should not be voicing opinions on what happens back home and think to be taken seriously. Sure free your mind, but they should know they can be hushed.”– Monique
Ahwi is a Ghanaian who has oscillated between living on the continent and America his whole life. He currently resides on the East Coast and holds a differing view of this limitation.
“If you can ‘sell’ your raw materials/ resources for pennies on the dollar, import foreign cars, or Jasmine rice; you got Chinese building Stadiums , mines… how can you make a straight face and tell people living in the Diaspora not to comment? YOU [are] taking instructions on How To Govern From The IMF and the World Bank, but I can’t comment?”
At the end of the day, it serves no one but the masters of the imperialist agenda for Africans wherever they find themselves to feel and BE divided. We need to embrace each other as allies and one body who are willing to work for the progress of the continent at large, rather than severing limbs and relationships. It is my intent to discuss how we can do that in my next post.