This must be the most pessimistic article on this blog, but I’ll indulge you to share your thoughts on it.
The continent may be rising but don’t fool yourself that going back will help anyone other than yourself
Another day, another “Africa rising” type e-zine pings its way into my inbox. Just as my mouse picks it up and places it in its proper place in junk, my phone lights up with yet another Facebook picture post of some hideous Kitenge covered pair of trainers. The picture is subtitled with a few thousand feverish Afro-diaspora likes. I immediately unsubscribe from the person who posted it.
I continue my routine and browse my favourite newspapers online, carefully averting my eyes from a number of articles detailing the lives of young “Formally of The Afro-Diaspora but Now Returned Home Professionals”. I succeed for all of 12 minutes. I plunge in, the waves of nausea and anger building as I read.
The offending piece in question starts the usual way. The difficulty of life in the adopted country – the unaffordability of western cities, cold climes, the lack of recognition or professional opportunity and the racism – increasingly implicit but occasionally overt, all of which make life in the adopted country unbearable. Then comes the epiphany, delete as appropriate – after recent vacations/conversations with friends and dad; Afro diaspora member decides to hop it back home to opportunity, sunshine, eating out a lot, cheap childcare and finally, professional recognition of their genius. Glaring inequalities are often ignored.
Case in point; a couple, describe their weekly eating out night sessions and the luxury of having a lovely driver. My interest was piqued when I detected a rare note of guilt. The husband notes that when they eat out, the bill is sometimes more than they pay their driver for the whole month. This makes them feel bad. That is all. Before one can recover from this very common utopian ode, the piece de résistance is always the conclusion. The move is of course much more than simply economic migration – albeit back home; it is in reality a patriotic move. An assertion of identity and pride in Africa’s progress; the Diaspora is going back, to build and, well to lead.
There are other variants of this fine tale. You may have also come across other popular versions which speak more to the fact that everyone, yes everyone (so why not you too?) is thriving in Africa. One very popular tale is the one in which poverty; raging inequalities are all being wiped out With Just a Mobile Phone. With Just a Mobile Phone, even the most humble pastoralist is able to partake in the world of e-finance, zinging his meagre shillings across the country to relatives wherever they may be. Poverty Over. With Just a Mobile Phone.
It seems not all politicians back home have quite got the With Just a Mobile Phone revolution. A few have been heard complaining that they still cannot see Poverty Over. A few more pesky ones (who, I have been assured don’t really understand how economics works); have had the audacity to suggest that the mobile operators behind the revolution have been a bit tax shy, arguing that some more tax in the public coffers may be a useful way to help along Poverty Over. It seems the humble pastoralist and his family, despite possession of the latest iPhone, have not been able to increase their income and are a bit a hungry save for receiving some seasonal nibbles from those self-serving INGOs, who never want Africa to develop but wish to push their colonial mentality “hungry African girl on rubbish heap” marketing campaigns.
In the New Rising Africa, no one is apparently hungry. Hunger is a road stop on the journey to infinite riches. The girl on the rubbish heap is actually a budding entrepreneur searching for plastic bags to sell which in less than a generation will transform her “business” into a recycling plant. She is not unique, as in this new African place everyone can succeed. She is on her way to becoming one of the richest women in the world. Just.You.Wait. You go see her rise. No capital, education, equality measures, wealth distribution policies or useless aid. Sister is doing it for herself.
The story goes on. Africa is rising. No dark continent. No begging bowl continent. Home is on the up. Entrepreneurship is on the rise, malls are on the rise, as are Nigerian banks, the Black Stars, and Afro-European infused fashion. Don’t forget Azonto! Go Afrobeat! There is also supposedly an “African green revolution” on the way; just around the corner in fact. Well, turn left after that and walk down a few thousand miles, then viola – an Africa that can feed herself and easily most of the world too. At apparently virtually no cost to herself or even more conveniently; anybody else. Because land is going cheap. Everyone wants a piece of our land pie; name it- the west, Brazil, India, China, etc. and etc. Oh China, China. She is giving us something for our lovely pie. We are not quite sure what this something is; but boy, it is so nice to stick two fingers to the old west and their hypocritical neo-colonial, stupid aid ways. All hail China. No one is going to cheat us ever again.
With all this action; it is no surprise the Afro diaspora is now getting involved. As we are the anointed brain drain of the continent; its essential grey matter; it is startling indeed that the continent has managed to grow thus far without our concerted influence and guidance.
Still, rather late than never. Growth has finally come and we must go back to eat the food the leftover bits of the African brain cooked as we drained away to the west. We must show pride and return to lead. And we are wanted back. A few African leaders have done the diaspora “come home” tour circuit in New York, London, Paris, urging us to come out, come out, come home wherever we may be. I found myself back home recently on a work trip listening on the radio to the president’s address to group of diaspora folk in New York. The great leader spoke about how wonderful home was, especially in the capital city, where the commercial hub is operating efficiently and is now free of the hawkers who have a knack of thrusting their wares into the faces of exhausted drivers in the city’s lumbering traffic jams. By coincidence, I was sitting in traffic in the very area our great leader was exalting. I was at that moment buying some oranges from a very tired 13-going-onto-50 year old hawker boy. It was a confusing and painful moment for us both to realise our dear leader was spinning a little bit of a yarn.
My “home” city, like many others across the continent, pulsates with such undesired hawker activity. Supermarket on the street. Lines and lines of poor and increasingly angry young boys, selling anything from toilet roll to world maps. Refugees from rural areas where the green revolution has not arrived or is taking it’s time in getting to the Poverty Over stage. Tired of waiting, the boys come to the city in the hope of a bit of the Africa rising pie. To become an entrepreneurs with no capital, aid, wealth distribution or equality policies. Just arriving should be enough in the new Africa. They hustle, hustle, and hustle some more. Still Poverty Over no come. Yet Africa is apparently rising.
Well, for some, back home it is. And it is rising for those of us who have had enough of this cold place and have a little money tucked away or have connections with those back home holding the knife that slices the pie. So we are starting to return and to reclaim our proper place – at the top of the pile. A place we have always occupied anyway. We have always been the elite. Yes, Africa is rising but let’s not kid ourselves that everyone, indeed that most Africans, are able to ride this rising wave. We are not anti-poverty fighters who are going back to help translate the new growth into meaningful redistribution. We are New Africa’s rich and upper middle class. Let’s not insult anyone or ourselves by pretending otherwise.
The author is a good woman not in Africa.