Food for Thought

Good Reads: “Nigeria: The Repats who have Returned”

January 17, 2016

I’ve had the idea for this series for a bit, but like most ideas I come up with, it gets backburnered for a while. But once a month or so, I want to share with you all some interesting books and articles that I’m reading in hopes of disseminating interesting information and igniting interesting conversations.

So this week, the reading that got my cogs moving was a piece by Ingigo Gilmore of Channel 4 News. (I have a picture of their office). It talked about Nigerians who moved abroad (specifically to the UK) when they were young and have now chosen to return to Nigeria as educated young adults. It highlights some of the people within this movement: their businesses, lifestyles and reasons for returning.

I’ve been aware of this trend for a while, so the information in the article wasn’t news to me, but it had me thinking about my own future goals and plans. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll be joining the droves of people settling down in Nigeria and calling it their zipcode for years to come. But I have decided to spend next year (2016-2017) in Nigeria doing the NYSC year of service. NYSC is the National Youth Service Corps, a mandatory year of service that all Nigerians participate in after attaining a higher education degree. For those of you in the U.S., think of it like AmeriCorps, but mandatory. If you live outside of Nigeria though, no one will come looking for you to fulfill your service. My friend Chineme, who also grew up in the states, is doing NYSC this year and you can read about her experience here.

While doing NYSC for a year might not necessarily qualify me as a complete repat, it is that same mentality of wanting to live in the place you’ve called home for your whole life. For me, I’m seeing it partly as a mini-trail as a repatriate. Meanwhile, I’ll be learning more about my beautiful country and particularly how I can contribute to its growth and development. I know my year in Nigeria will open up more doors for me and give me better direction and focus along my journey.

Going back to the article, while it was interesting to read about the contributions that the repats they interviewed were doing in Nigeria, there were a few lines that made me raise my eyebrows. “They also argue that it is skilled, educated Nigerians with vision, like themselves, who could be best placed to contribute towards changing the country – and in turn persuade others with skills and resources to come back. They believe they can blaze a trail for others.”
In and of itself, and even in the context of the article, this line makes sense. But my overly critical mind couldn’t help but think about who was left out of this phrase and the underlying implications of that. While I believe that repats and members of the diaspora would be great catalysts for change in Nigeria and around Africa, I have a problem with the idea that they would be the “best placed.” This is a conversation I’ve had with a few friends before. Particularly for those of us who grew up outside of our countries, there are many things we simply don’t know.
The core of my issue with the above phrase is that there are plenty of people throughout Africa that were born and raised there that are also “best placed” to contribute towards changing the various countries. Perhaps my fear is that we as repats could hi-jack the development of Africa and recreate little Londons and little New Yorks, instead of allowing the Dakars or Conakrys to grow into a force in and of themselves. While the things we have learned from our Western education will definitely be advantageous as Africa continues to grow and develop, it is important that we also take the time to stop, listen and collaborate with our brothers and sisters that have stayed. In some ways, they are better placed and it is important for we repats to recognize that.

Africa will develop beyond our wildest imaginations when repats, expats and those who have stayed home charge forward in a symbiotic relationship that recognizes, celebrates and utilizes the values, skillsets and knowledge of all those involved.

What do you all think? Are repats what Africa is waiting for?
Yours,

Omolayo Nkem

 

P.S. For further reading/viewing on this topic, check out:

Goodbye Europe, Hello Africa

My friend Nana shared this article with me from The Voice, ‘Britain’s Best Black Newspaper.’ The article does a great job of going in-debt about the trend of African repats. It talks about the pull and push factors that have set this trend in motion and the opportunities that are emerging throughout Africa.

Americanah

If you haven’t already read this book, you need to. In one beautiful novel, Chimamanda Adiche takes us through the challenges and beauties of growing up in Nigeria, migrating to a western nation (as a student and illegally) and then returning home. Many of the conversations and situations that Afropolitans discuss and face around the world are highlighted in this novel. I felt like I was reading about my own life. I also think that Americanah is a book that anyone who doesn’t necessarily identify as African can truly enjoy and identify with. Adiche candidly discusses issues and race and immigration as we see them in the US and UK today. A beautiful and worthwhile read all around. I wrote a super short thought piece about it here that might not be understood unless you’ve read the book.

An African City

african city

This YouTube series is beautiful. The show has been described as an African Sex and the City. For me, I see a show with strong, beautiful and relatable African woman chasing their dreams and building their lives upon returning back to the motherland. It follows five friends who have recently returned to Accra, Ghana. Season 1 was the bomb.com and I eagerly await Season 2! If you can’t find me Jan. 24th, you know why! Eeeeek!!!

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4 Comments

  • Reply Deanroy Mbabazi January 18, 2016 at 12:27

    I agree with you on this. I don’t think people who live outside their home countries are necessarily best placed , they might have additional skills or be able to transfer skills from other countries they live in, but they just don’t have the numbers to influence all decisions starting from the grassroots or the areas at the last mile. It would be much easier to collaborate with those who have lived home all this time to achieve development goals since they too want this but only on their terms , not on terms and or principles adopted from other areas that may largely clash with ideas of locals. Interestingly, most African countries have done fine and are developing steadily without so much help from “repats” even with the challenge of the highest percentage of some country’s populations being under 24 ( close to 70% for Uganda).

    • Reply Omolayo Nkem January 26, 2016 at 18:24

      Hi Deanroy! I always enjoy your comments. Thanks for reading the post and I’m glad you agree. That’s an interesting point about how lots of countries are already advancing even without the ‘repats’ and if we think about it, that’s the reason that repats are able to return – the economies in their home nations are expanding. But I also wonder how much of that was due to remittances from those that are abroad. Regardless, the most advancement will definitely come from collaboration. That’s why I also included the expats in my groups of people that need to collaborate, because even those who decide to not return can play an important part in Africa’s development.

  • Reply Michelle January 27, 2016 at 02:51

    Hey!
    I watched that same interview that Channel 4 did on expats moving to Nigeria. Definitely not a new trend but I’ll be joining you on doing NYSC this year too!

    • Reply Omolayo Nkem January 27, 2016 at 03:16

      Yeah! I’m glad they did that report because even though it’s not a new trend, people weren’t really talking about it. Eeek, that’s so exciting that you are doing NYSC too. Shoot me an email so maybe we can link up! omolayonkem@gmail.com

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