Friday, 12 March 2010

Afropolitans – a new breed of Africans

I’m not sure who can take credit for this label which is said to define ‘internationally mobile young people of African descent, making their mark in the world’ but I believe its more relevant today than ever before. This tag can be said to apply to returnees who have completed their first degrees, Masters, Phds and returned to Uganda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Ghana and other countries that show promise. What makes this young, well-spoken, multilingual African unique is that she or he is not running away from something or somewhere but rather towards a better Africa

Get rid of all your preconceived notions about the African in the Western World – whilst some people may still have a rough time, having to work two jobs a day or live a life in fear of deportation; a number of Africans in Europe, the USA and beyond not only hold good jobs, they define and influence certain sectors. Working as directors in the City, IT consultants, Financial Analysts, Business Owners, Solicitors, Politicians, Designers…the list is endless. They are living well, earning good salaries and getting on with their lives in their adopted countries.
So why go back?
That I would argue is the difference between the Westernised African and the Afropolitan, the latter still has a passion for the African continent, even when in many cases she/he has never lived there. I have friends who have moved back to Tanzania, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Uganda, only to learn their would-be mother tongue when they got there. Many have set up charitable organisations, private business, joined promising governments, not just earning a living but making a difference. Gone are the carefree days of living as a nuclear family; they’ve come to understand the importance of community and that their community’s success is theirs too.

Afropolitans are equally at home in Africa and in the Diaspora, they can inhabit either culture just as effortlessly but it is their dynamism that makes them able to switch between New York brownstone and the Bugolobi flat. They are just as happy eating sushi as they are eating bitter leaves (bittas) and fufu or matooke and binyebwa. Some people may say that the African language they speak is flawed, foreign sounding, yet having decided to immerse in the African continent, they will speak it all the same and over-exaggerate the intonations when they have to hit the market, or negotiate with the taxi driver. They rightly believe that speaking luganda, kiswahili, chichewa, tswana, twi or krio is part of who they are. Don’t get me wrong, they will just as easily roll the Queen’s English off their tongue or the Cali twang or better still French comme les Français – like I said these people are without limitations and that is what makes them such a formidable force.

Africa stands to benefit tremendously from Afropolitans in the form of her returnees, should she choose to. Afropolitans are raring to go and excited about making a significant contribution to their country, there are those who are paving the way to head back home. Others are keeping one foot in the Diaspora and the other in the continent.
I recently received a very impassioned email from a friend who is about to start a business in Sierra Leone, his sense of hope and promise was inspirational. His words translated to the belief that he could move mountains, if he put his mind to it. Knowing that he would at some point no doubt be faced with all types of obstacles, bureaucracy, naysayers and criticisms from those who'd rather sit and watch, I felt proud that at this point in time he was so energized about joining in the efforts to make his country better.

It would no doubt be simpler for the Afropolitan to stay in his or her adopted country; engaging in consumerism, acquiring things that are supposed to translate to happiness, making money and contributing towards the all powerful Capitalism. By choosing not to do this he sets himself apart and demonstrates a deep commitment to Africa as a continent. In spite of all its problems, the Afropolitan sees hope and promise and a bright future ahead.

This dreamer, believer and doer has a tremendous amount to bring to the table, acting as the peaceful diplomat, negotiating between the continent and its former colonial masters. Understanding how both worlds operate and viewing Africa not as a subject, or case study but as a place where he or she has a vested interest.

With their limitless dreams and unending ambitions, there is little the Afropolitan cannot achieve when he puts his mind to it.

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