Tag: diaspora

‘When are you coming home?’: Being part of the African academic diaspora

When Africans began going to Europe, America and other foreign countries to further their tertiary education, many were sent in the hopes that they’d come back and use those skills to contribute to the upliftment of their communities. Whilst some returned, others remained abroad for one reason or another – some because it made practical sense to do so, and others simply because the pull of their new home yielded more than the places they had left had ever offered them. Now, more than ever, as may African countries face critical brain drains, those who form part of the latter are often criticised for this decision. Zimbabwean-born architect Nicole Moyo, who studied abroad in Canada, details her experiences as an adventure-hungry globetrotter and someone who is part of the African academic diaspora. 

What if we never moved? And we all stayed in our own niches, remaining indigenous? I wonder how many terms we would go our whole lives never having heard: “inter”, “multi”, “dimensional” – these words, to name a few, rely on an “other” or “outer” relationship to give them a purpose. These simple words describe myself, and yourself in the borderless world we live in today.

I never really understood Africa until I left it. I say ‘Africa’ because as I crossed the borders towards the Western shores, my immigrant identity was greater in numbers. I, like countless young individuals, had left home and was on the pursuit of seeking my fortunes abroad. Well, my family has always been on the move – by the age of 19 I was fortunate enough to have visited 23 countries. I wanted more, I was curious to know what exactly was on the other side of the pond, what was this first-world business?

Now, I cannot speak for others, but to be honest I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Other than incredible, unpredictable and gratifying – ‘reverse cultural shock’ would be one way to describe my experience.

There are many advantages to being part of the academic diaspora. This of course all depends on how motivated and dedicated you are to your own personal development. I have continuously learnt the limits are boundless. Individuals you meet from around the world I describe to be the most valuable asset to the development of your perspective on life as a whole. With an international degree you open yourself up to more opportunities, which I believe is needed in a world of unpredictable economies. South Africa for example, like many other counties is being built on an international working class. “If things don’t really work out here I can always go back home” – this is the option my parents have awarded me, however every person that leaves home has the responsibility to reward themselves. Freedom is a utopic expression, the liberation to do whatever you want, whenever you want to may seem ideal until you see people around you using it as a weapon against themselves.

The disadvantages are that you really are on your own. The networks of community and support you have back home are something you always long for. You are an immigrant in an environment where you have to integrate yourself into not forgetting that you have to work far harder than the nationals for who the jobs were created. As an international, my university fees were very expensive. Architecture was a degree that I could have also obtained at home for a tenth of the price so why leave? And why do so many people never return and share their abilities and the knowledge that, if leveraged correctly, becomes a priceless commodity and significant to the development of their home countries? Well I cannot answer that because each case is different. As for myself, “When are you coming home?” is a question I hear far too often and the answer becomes further diluted as I wonder how I will re-engage myself, how will I make a great and meaningful impact? The truth is, really, I don’t know.

At times I feel confused and guilty, but for no good reason. I am a citizen of the world, a woman on a mission. There is no fault in my journey and if anything I get butterflies in my stomach that feel like love because I know I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing: Loving myself so that I can purposefully love others. Limitations are not always easy and present themselves as challenges of faith. As women, we are constantly being reminded of what we cannot do, how we should look but not how we should think and do best. It is our responsibility to absorb and then have a voice to teach others about the “inter”, “multi”, and “dimensional” world we all belong to. I am no longer just a woman, or just an African. Through my education, international experience and multiculturalism as an individual, I am continuously advancing my value to become a useful and purpose-driven globalised citizen.

* This post has been updated to correct the author field. It was first published on The Corporate Canvas, not Dynamic Africa. 

 The brainchild of Zimasa Qolohle and conceptualised by Karabo Ngoatle, The Corporate Canvas is a Careers and Finance online magazine for South African Millennial women.


‘Afro-British’, ‘African American’ – what’s in a name?

(Pic: Reuters)
(Pic: Reuters)

I’ve lived in the United States for over two decades. If I were in my fifties, perhaps that would not mean much. Since I am currently basking in the naïve sunshine of my mid-twenties that means a lot.

I left my country when I was three. After immigrating to the west and having my accent beaten out of me, I opted for a neutral tone, and very big vocabulary. I excelled in school, went to college, then graduate school.

As I venture into the years that will define my life, those marked by career, marriage, and family, I come across identity issues every day.

When my sister calls my hair “nappy” instead of “kinky”, I think of the ever-boiling natural hair debates. (What is good hair anyway?)

When I struggle with some skinny jeans with no interest in going past my exceptionally wide hips, I am sadly reminded that consumer fashion is not made for me.

When I scan the pots and pots of foundation in the drugstore, because let’s be real I can’t afford the good stuff yet, all I see is a sea of peachy, creamy, pale-ish muck.

When I fill out a job application form I bounce back and forth between African-American, and other.

I am not of this country.

Yes, I was raised here, my skin has adjusted to the climate here, I bought my first pair of glasses here, made friends, fell in and out of love here, but I am not of this country.

Everyday I am reminded that as an immigrant I am merely tolerated but not accepted. My presence is monitored, examined, and suspect because I left another country, a place where I was born and deigned to cross onto American shores.

I am told I am not entitled to anything, not just because my skin is dark, but also because my name-sound is unfamiliar.

So, if I am not of this place, and it is not mine by birth, why does my homeland treat me like a second-class citizen? I have been gone so long that my conversation is seasoned by my American accent. My skin can’t figure out why there is so much heat around me, and my complexion looks like I’ve been on vacation my whole life and everybody can tell.

Being a member of the “lost” diaspora, marked by the features of my homeland, driven by the guideposts of culture I have clung to, makes self-identification hard. While I believe to my core that I am African, Africa does not embrace me.

So, if I am not American, and not African, then how can I be African-American?

With so many children being sent, and taken abroad for education, a better life, are they still African?

Is it enough to say that we are African, even though when we go back home we are told that we are western?

What characteristics count as African?

Are there characteristics, no matter how invested you are in your culture, that will revoke your African-ness?

Does being African-American, Afro-British or Afro-Italian mean that we are just not African?

Chinwe Ohanele is a lawyer in training by day, and a writer by night. Born in Nigeria, raised in California, and now living in New York, Chinwe hopes to merge her love of words, an insatiable curiosity, and dedication to the mother continent in a way that challenges the way we experience the world. She writes for Rise Africa, a blog written by a group of individuals who seek to create an atmosphere that encourages conversation between Africans on the continent and in the diaspora. Connect with them on Twitter@riseafrica

5 reasons why you should move back to Africa

I came back to Africa last spring after completing my Masters in DC. It was more a professional move than a personal one: I knew I wanted to work in international development and the new position I was offered was a great way to get on-the-ground experience. I didn’t see it as a permanent move, though. I still liked my life in the States, it was comfortable and secure. I felt very much in control there whereas every time I visited family in my birth home of Abidjan, everything seemed chaotic and difficult. The ATMs didn’t work, the electricity would go out, I was a bit too high maintenance for cold showers.

But as the months go by, I have become very much attached to the idea of moving my whole life back to my home continent. I’ve met many 20-somethings in Africa who are taking advantage of the growing industries and job opportunities on the continent, and the huge potential to fulfill their personal dreams and visions. I’ve also come to realise that as Africans born and bred on the continent, we have a responsibility to it.

Here are 5 reasons why you should move back to Africa:

1. To invest
Living in North America, Australia or Europe has afforded many of us the opportunities to attend prestigious schools, build up impressive resumes and save up some cash for the future. Doesn’t it make sense for us to take these resources and invest them into our home economies? From oil, to infrastructure projects, from fashion and music to restaurants and clubs, Africa is rich with business opportunities. South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia lead the pack in terms of economic growth (think at least 5% to 10% growth consistently). The Economist reported that in the last decade, six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies were African nations. But it’s about more than just opening a restaurant. Investing in our continent can be a philanthropic endeavor as well. This is what Patrick Awuah did when he introduced a new way of educating young West Africans with the creation of Ashesi University in Ghana. With the university’s mission described as a place to “cultivate within [their] students the critical thinking skills, concern for others, and the courage it will take to transform their continent”, Ashesi is moulding Africa’s next wave of conscious leaders and socially responsible innovators. With classes like “African Philosophical Thought” and a new engineering school whose future student body will be made up of 50 percent women, Ashesi is creating a new learning environment focused on personal and academic growth. The university offers an important leadership seminar series that pushes students to address issues like wealth distribution and good governance in Africa, and with 95% of graduates staying on the continent after graduation, Ashesi is shaping tomorrow’s Africa right now.

2. To explore
St. Tropez is nice; Diddy and the crew like to spew champagne on light-skinned women in 35-inch yaki weaves there. And you’ll often see Kimye gallivanting across the Left Bank of Paris hobnobbing with rich white people I don’t recognise. But have you seen the beaches of Zanzibar? CNN has listed Cape Maclear in Malawi, Diani Beach in Kenya, and Nungwi Beach in Zanzibar, Tanzania as the top 100 beaches in the world. What about climbing the mountains of Swaziland, or partying until sunrise in Nairobi? Have you been to a beach cookout on the shores of Dakar? We have the opportunity to see the pyramids, visit ancient schools in Timbuktu, climb Kilimanjaro, go swimming off the shores of Mozambique, learn azonto in Accra, visit the ancient ruins of Lalibela and Axum or Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island. There’s plenty to see from Morocco to Côte d’Ivoire, from the Congo to Namibia, and the world is sitting up and taking note. US News and World Report included Cape Town, Marrakech, and Serengeti National Park on its list of top ten places to visit. On National Geographic’s annual “Best Trips” list, Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rwanda occupies the number one spot.

Cape Maclear, Malawi. (Pic: Flickr / J Luoh)
Cape Maclear, Malawi. (Pic: Flickr / J Luoh)

3. To influence
We know, we know, there are some things about living back home that are less than stellar. Corruption, poor governance, ineffective  law enforcement. But, as the future leaders of the continent, it’s time for us to return and play a role in influencing the direction in which our countries are going. I’m not suggesting we go out there and make ourselves into caricatures of the west; I’m saying that by living on the continent, observing how things are run and meeting and brainstorming with like-minded individuals, we could help to bring about change. Take Ory Okolloh, a Kenyan-born Harvard educated lawyer, who co-founded Mzalendo, a watchdog blog that provides an unprecedented look at the work of Kenya’s Parliament. She and her team are attempting to make accessible to the public information on the voting patterns and governmental activity of their parliamentary leaders;  information that was previously unavailable to citizens. Is this the solution for Kenya or other countries? Maybe not, but its igniting debate and discussion about political and social issues on another level and on other platforms like social media.

According to a Consultancy Africa Intelligence report, “due to the skill shortage in Africa, especially in management and industries that require specialised skills, it is estimated there will be a 75% increase in the use of expatriate staff over the next three years”.  This means that multinational corporations who influence much of Africa’s governmental policies will look to returnees who have both the education and experience they are looking for, along with the “cultural know-how”. There are opportunities within our professions to influence not only our governments, but big oil companies and tech firms that are making deals throughout the continent, deals that are affecting our daily lives, the environment, the economy.

4. To re-introduce Africa
As a 20-something who was born in Abidjan but raised in Washington, DC, I have spent most of my life navigating a very different world, one where many of my black friends had never been to Africa and many of my white colleagues still asked me if there were enough cars in Abidjan to cause traffic jams. It’s a world of ignorance that needed to be shattered and I wanted to do that by introducing my close friends to my continent, its beauty, and reality. I showed them an Africa different from the Dark Continent narrative. We can show off our music, food, amazing weather, beaches, history, and culture – not just to foreigners but other Africans.  How many Africans do you know (with the means) who have never ventured out of their corners of the world? Who have not taken the time to explore their own continent? Who feel more comfortable visiting France than visiting Senegal?

5. Because you have to
You may have a nice life set up in DC, NYC, London or Paris with friends, a job, a car. Should you really leave your comfort for a continent on which some of us have never lived full-time, with unstable governments and electricity that works as much a real housewife of Beverly Hills? Yes, you should. You should try. We are Africans in the diaspora, and we have the potential to influence so much in our nations. It’s not enough to send money orders or bring our cousins clothes during summer vacations back home. We need to become change agents on the ground. As daughters and sons of this continent, I believe it’s our responsibility and we need to take it seriously.

Stephanie A. Kimou was born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire and raised in Washington, DC. She is a blogger by night at A Black Girl in the World and a programme manager at a women’s social enterprise in Tanzania by day. She holds a masters degree in international affairs from Georgetown University in DC, and has studied at the African Gender Institute in Cape Town and the University of Paris in France. Her mother has told her she has two years to get married, or else. Writing is the way she deals with this stress.