Over the past few weeks, I’ve been interviewing young Africans of the diaspora that have moved to the continent for a new life. As part of a project for my Masters, I’ve been exploring this topic as it’s one I’m very much invested in, having been born and raised in the UK, but with a strong desire to make the move to Nigeria one day. Filled with lots of optimism and excitement for life on the continent, these conversations have taken me on journeys to Harare, Accra, Cairo, Freetown and Abuja.
Each individual that I’ve spoken to lists different reasons for their move and has shared what they’ve been up to in their respective countries. As I’ve delved into the conversation, one commonality I’ve found among all those that I’ve spoken to is a distance and lack of belonging that they feel to the UK, the land they’ve called home all their lives.
How can this be, you may ask? After all, if you’ve lived somewhere all your life, shouldn’t you feel some sort of attachment? Plus…it’s the UK we’re talking about here. Well, that’s the problem. The West can present itself as some sort of utopia when in actual fact it has just as many problems. Corruption, nepotism that only serves the elite, a north/south divide. You name it, it’s got it. Just because the white man is in charge, it doesn’t make things any better. Just because the Western world is put on a pedestal, it doesn’t mean it deserves it. Countries like the USA and UK are seen as beacons of hope and as places where anyone can be what they want to be. However for those of us that have grown up here, we can tell you that these countries are not all they’re cracked up to be.
Just last year, the world was exposed to the sheer amount of structural racism that exists in western society. Whether it’s police brutality or the institutional racism that exists in many spheres, the odds are stacked up against you. The system is not built for those of us that look like me and you. So, when you grow up in a country that continuously puts a strike against you simply because of the colour of your skin, naturally you’re not going to feel welcomed or feel like you fit in. And that’s what’s happening with the growing number of young Africans in the diaspora, and it’s making some follow the opposite move our parents made decades ago.
For me and many friends that are thinking about or have made the move to the continent, the move gives us hope. We see the likes of Nigeria as places where we can be anything and do anything unlike the UK that we’re currently in. We definitely have a great amount of privilege growing up in the places that we did, we’d be wrong to deny that. But there exists an exhaustion of the mind and the soul that comes with being and living in a society that is continuously prejudiced against your very existence and one that tries to deny you of your lived experience as a Black person in the minority. To live in a country that tries to make you feel grateful for doing the bare minimum is not a country that many want to be in.
I know some Nigerians think that those of us in the diaspora romanticise the country and don’t know the real problems that are going on. Trust me, we are very much aware. We may not have the full knowledge and experience of those problems and challenges, but with the likes of social media and conversations with our parents, we are aware. But that doesn’t change things for some people. They would rather struggle in a country where they aren’t judged by the colour of their skin, where people look like them and they are going to feel fully accepted. If and when we make that return to Nigeria, we definitely have to acknowledge our privilege and return with the correct attitude and mindset. Otherwise, we too could become guilty of operating with a white saviour complex, something we often accuse white people of doing when they come to Africa.
As for Nigeria’s future, this may seem idealistic, but I hope we can reach a stage where we focus more on how we can come together to improve things. We need to join hands with those of us at home and in the diaspora instead of always looking outwards, thinking other countries are doing it better, and trying to replicate systems that don’t work in our own society.