Throughout the world, Africans are converging, settling and migrating into different cities to make the Diaspora their home. Every day Africans leave in search of opportunities in other countries. Africans who have successfully settled and taken on new citizenships usually meet on the weekends to reminisce, celebrate new births, or congregate to contribute to burials at home or in the Diaspora. Most times Africans gather abroad, just for the festivity of sharing group identity and comradeship. The point is, regardless of how far away Africans migrate, life in Africa stays within us as we try to create a home away from home.
Walking the streets of London, Beijing, New York, Paris or Dubai, an observant African notices fellow Africans striving, struggling, aspiring, engaging, working and yet aware of the sense of alienation as immigrants, settlers, invisible expatriate aliens on the periphery of society. There is a sense of displacement and feelings of being outsiders in a world where the language of race is both subtle and obvious in defining the identity or status of people around the world.
People are viewed within the context of their racial or national origins. Depending on the individual temperament or consciousness, being African away from Africa makes one clearly aware of what Africa is not and yet, what Africa can become. The achievements of other nations stand in stark contrast from the Africa we have left behind. Politically, Africans of the Diaspora follow with keen interest whatever is going on in their respective countries – whether it is about the elections in Ghana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, or Kenya; civil war in Sudan or Mali, death of a President, a coup or assassination plot in an African country, Arab Spring, economic or poverty indexes or the health of Mandela. Africans are compelled like all immigrants to pay attention to what goes on in Africa. The documentaries on programs such as BBC, CNN or Al Jazeera; on mental health cases in Liberia or Ghana, animal or human sacrifices in African cultures, the lives of urban scavengers, the plight of women accused of witchcraft or the ruthless exploitation of Africa by Chinese companies and other oil conglomerates; become part of the dinner table discussions in the homes of Africans in the Diaspora.
Economically, one is confronted with the stark difference in the standard of living between Africa and the developed world. The level of material comforts in developed countries compared to Africa has become not just the grounds for many Africans seeking to migrate overseas. But the evidence of better housing, hospitals, sewage systems, infrastructure, social and administrative organization, efficiency of public systems and social services, good roads, access to public libraries, schools and of course the affluence that is on display in Malls, shopping centers, hotels and at various airports are more than just attractions to the African eye seeking greener pastures away from home. There is a secret sense of awe in coming to terms with the skyscrapers, architectural grandeur, and magnificent bridges, the palatial museums, aesthetically inviting galleries, and perfumed boutique stores; the abundance of consumer goods, banquet of grocery items on the shelves of shops, the excellent highways, railways and water transportation networks. The surrounding public parks, gardens, open pavements, tree lined streets, plush restaurants, public artworks, statues of historic figures, monuments and fashionably dressed pedestrians enjoying the summer breeze are very enticing to watch. These material beauties are alluring indeed.
Personally, I am compelled to ask myself, studying the cities of Dubai, London, Paris, Melbourne, Kyoto or Shanghai; why has Africa not managed to modernize? What is preventing Africa from fulfilling the promises of independence and achieving the goals of national development? So that African countries would become attractive places for its people to feel the need to stay and work at home and become proud citizens of their own continent? This is an agonizing question that permeates every conversation amongst Africans living overseas. We are confronted by the reality that something might have gone wrong within the African psyche. Probably, we have inherited a legacy of self-defeat; failure and infamy which we refuse to critically look at within ourselves; in order to change the direction of the destiny of Africa.
Diaspora Africans seem to be at a loss as to why Africa has not accomplished what other nations have achieved, economically. Many wish to return home, but there is the reminder that the home we left behind is not the home we want to return to. Africa continues to change, not for the better but towards a complex inter-tribal social structure that is not just corrupt, but ambiguous. In essence many Africans, who can afford it, choose to visit but would hesitate to return and resettle. And even if they return, they become disillusioned and find their way back to the Diaspora.
One wonders where is the hope and the ingredients necessary to trigger within the African mind a new sense of perception that would change the socio-economic direction of Africa from what we know it to be, to what we want it to become? Living in the African Diaspora, makes you aware of the fact that the future of nations will no longer be determined by the narratives of tribal ancestral past, but how nations are able to translate their heritage within the global present into new narratives of prosperity and opportunity for posterity. Africa haunts the minds of its Diaspora. Something delicate is amiss in the narrative of African culture.
Africans in the Diaspora are seeking to fulfill in Africa what they are experiencing in the developed countries where they now call their home away from home. In the Diaspora one becomes acutely aware that knowing about inherited African cultures from our forefathers is not enough. Africans are realizing that they must learn how to transform African heritage, ideas and culture into new economic stories about human achievement and advancement, social accomplishments, architectural and infrastructural development and agricultural abundance to be able to manage our own affairs without depending on others to build our roads.
The dilemma of being in the Diaspora places the African in a quandary of human ambiguity. We love the experience of living in Paris, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Sydney, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Toronto or Geneva. But in the end one wonders what if Monrovia, Accra, Nairobi, Cairo, Dakar or Lagos where cosmopolitan hubs of urban excellence and fashionable beauty. What if African cities are also places of grandeur, magnificence and wonder?
At dinner tables, Diaspora Africans wonder – African politicians, tribal chiefs and national leaders travel all over the world to attend conferences, many have been to schools and trained in developed nations, have private homes overseas, and visit for State and personal reasons, yet Africans ask: Do the politicians see or ask themselves how they can change Africa? How can they fix and unite African countries, clean Africa of its filth, build Africa and emancipate our people from the curse of backwardness and underdevelopment? Do they care? It is a known fact that European and Japanese travelers studied the technologies and advancements of other cultures and used that knowledge to develop their nations. Why has Africa failed to learn from the world to use universal knowledge to transform the destiny of the continent?
The dilemma of the African Diaspora is not simple. It reflects a metaphor of something fractured in the existential condition of our African being. Africa is endowed with all the resources, yet Africa is divided, politically corrupt and economically mendicant. How do we unravel this riddle and find new parables to redefine the destiny of this continent? What legacy do we leave our children both at home and abroad? So that they can say to themselves, “We are African and proud.”
Kabu Okai-Davies, PhD, Ghanaian Novelist
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