Lost In Abroad (Part 1)

As an African living abroad, what are you doing about Africa’s problems?

Have you ever been asked this question?  I was recently, and here is my answer.  As with most things in life, I think money is part of the solution.

The most important thing is for me to position myself financially so that I can go there myself and get involved. Many Africans move abroad, but don’t ever go back for more than a few weeks’ vacation.  It seems we become too comfortable with life in the west, and stop feeling homesick.

My Life As A Foreigner.

I grew up watching my family move every few years due to physical safety and to earn more money.  My childhood was spent in Zimbabwe, where I was a foreigner.  We were not citizens, could be sent home at any time, and had limits imposed on how much of our money we could take out of the country.  As a result we felt very unstable, and even though it was the first time my family lived in one city for almost a decade, we were not settled.  We never owned a house there.  We had a very old car that didn’t fit all of us.  Once the Zimbabwean economy began to falter, we had to move on.

When we got to the U.S.A., it was even worse.  We struggled financially because our parents’ credentials were not as marketable.  My mother started a new career that stressed her out, and helped us survive life at a little above U.S. poverty level.  My father was far too experienced in his field outside the U.S. and took jobs that were beneath him, just to keep us moving forward.  My parents were waiting for me to grow up, because once I headed towards my first job out of college they moved back to Nigeria.

My father returned to Nigeria to accept a full-time teaching position with a title and pay that he deserved.  Often when we talk, he tells me that there is a strike or some other interruption of school – but we both know he still takes care of his students.  He tells me that only 27% of people my age have jobs…that I am better off here with student loans.  However, he has no doubt that Nigeria is where he should be.  He can have far more impact there than in the U.S., and considering that he has been traveling out of Nigeria since 1977, it’s good for him to finally go back home.  Recently, he sent me a copy of a book he wrote about the history of Catholicism in my hometown.  I’m told he spent a lot of his own time and money researching the topic.

Returning Home Not The Norm.

Some of my parents’ generation are moving back home, but it is still not common. I wonder why that is – and money always pops up.  I know that most Africans abroad did not ever intend to make a new home in the western world. As mentioned in the film “Lost In Abroad”, we typically left with the intention of someday going back.  Some left to get an education, while others sought wealth – but few ever intended to spend the rest of their lives in  countries where most people don’t look or sound like them.

Today however, there are Africans that cannot or will not ever go home for more than the two weeks of vacation they get each year.  This is unfortunate because I think we who have seen other parts of the world can help things get better back home.  We don’t even need to move back and live in Africa, but we have to be able to go there for many months or years at a time. This is happening with the Chinese, and Indians – and their economies are responding positively.

I think in the long term, we need to create a class of people that move more frequently between the the two worlds. Although this is not easy, it is not particularly difficult if we set our minds to it.  We can’t continue to claim citizenship in places where we spend less than 1% of our lives, can we?

[Look out for the second part of this article.  Coming soon.]

Albert Okagbue is a world travelled and globally educated Certified Public Accountant from Houston, Texas. He is a guest blogger on norushinafrica but mostly writes about finance related issues on http://okagbuecpa.com/