We Left Africa- But We Will Be Coming Back Home
This is inspired by Afua Hirsch’s article for The Guardian: Our Parents Left Africa- Now We Are Coming Home. This article is not meant to be a direct response to the one named above but to merely offer a different perspective on the issue of the economic migration of Africans to the west and the return home- from the perspective of one born and raised in Africa but living in the west.
I was born and raised in Ghana, but I have been in and out of the UK since I was about 17 years old. I therefore did not have to go through the topsy-turvy period of trying to discover my cultural identity as do many children of African descent growing up in the west. Though I am embarrassed by stories like the one that appeared on the cover of the Economist in 2000, I am not affected as much as my cousins who have been born and raised in the UK and whose knowledge of Africa is largely shaped by what they see in the media. Unlike them, I know of a different Africa- an African where the roads are just as good as those in the west and people drive around in Range Rovers. Consequently, I did not go through that excruciating experience of denying ones own roots and disassociating oneself from Africa and anything African. Many like me, who relocate to the west at an older age, have different kinds of issues to deal with; you get white Europeans looking at us like we all speak in clicks and have come from war ravaged countries where we walked 10miles every morning just to fetch water from the same river our livestock drink from. I remember I was once sat in a predominantly white church where the vicar had just returned from an evangelism trip to Uganda. Before his sermon that morning, he decided to show the congregation photos from his trip on the projector screen. He had visited a church branch in one of the shanty towns. The flick showed images of living accommodations constructed from scrap metal, plywood and plastic sheets-one on top of the other and situated right in next to a massive refuse site. As I sat there lost in my thought wondering what becomes of children born in such an environment, I had a gentle tap on my shoulder. It was the vicar’s wife and her words were; “Does this remind you of home?” I was dumbstruck and could not utter a word, so she obviously took my silence to mean a “yes” in response to her question. I could not help but think the whole congregation had the same question on their minds. The vicar had no other photos of Uganda other than that of the shanty town. So a congregation of about 20 went home that Sunday with one image of Africa in their heads. This is our battle; constantly battling the stereotypical image of the African. And we battle these stories and images not because we deny Africa faces issues of the poverty, famine and senseless wars, we do so because we know there is another Africa whose story never makes the headlines. Because we are aware that the constant reproduction this negative image does nothing but rob us of our dignity as a people.
Though it may still be true that life abroad means “access to a stable income, reliable healthcare and a credible education”, unlike the Africans from Afua’s mother’s era, leaving for this breed of African migrants is not permanent. Not only are flights home more frequent and comparatively cheaper, we are starkly aware of the changing fortunes of Africa and the many economic opportunities its offering. So when we have had the education, the work experience and managed to pull enough resources together, we find our way back home. And we do go back with good experience, having traveled the world and observed and engaged with many other cultures. That is why whenever I go back to Ghana to see the family, I scream if I have to queue up for hours and be played like a ping pong between different customer service desks just to get my own money from a bank; because I have lived in a society where customer service is excellent most of the time. And in the same vain, whenever I visit Ghana, my heart warms with pride when I see my neighbour admonishing my niece and nephews when they are being mischievous because I have lived in a society that has a broken family and societal system and experienced the consequences.
I do not hold our experiences to be richer and better than those who have lived on the continent all their lives, but our experience however offers a different perspective which can be harnessed for our common good. The African migrant of today has the ability to negotiate both worlds with relative ease. We can put on a British or an American accent if the need rises or switch to our local African languages so we do not get swindled by people back home who may mistake us to be foreigners.
Year after year, several Africans resident in Europe and America make that final journey back home. It was several years ago they begun that sojourn- they carried not just their luggage and passports bearing a much sort after visa, they also carried within them a dream. A dream that some day they can come back home and build economic empires so big that their children would not have to make this journey ever again. But as one group gets off the plane at the Kotoka International Airport, another jumps on, back to Europe and America beginning their sojourn. It has become something of a cycle. But this cycle is losing its momentum. For a long time bad press has sucked away belief in us as a people and in the continent. But somehow there is a new sense of optimism within Africans – on and off the continent, returnees and “stayees”. Africa is on the surge and it is no longer so uncool to be African or to be associated with anything African. I tune the radio to Kiss Fm in London and I hear D’banj singing Oliver Twist, I go to a club in Dortmund and I see people dancing azonto, I drive through Brussels and I see someone in African prints. Africa is on the rise.
On my last visit to Ghana in April 2012, I sat watching telly with my mother. It was a children’s rap competition and what struck me was the fact that none of these children performed lines by Drake or J. Cole, they were spitting the lyrics of Sarkodie, Kwaw Kesse and EL. I sat with a grin across my face. The change has finally begun. When I was growing up our rap icons were all American. We wanted to speak and dress like them, so we longed to be American. Now this generation of Ghanaian children have their heroes in Ghana. Just like their icons, these children now believe they can live in Ghana and be whatever they wish to be.
By Maclean Arthur