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I came back to Africa last spring after completing my Masters in DC. It was more a professional move than a personal one. I knew I wanted to work in international development and the new position I was offered was a great way to get on-the-ground experience.
I didn’t see it as a permanent move, though. I still liked my life in the States, it was comfortable and secure. I felt very much in control there whereas every time I visited family in my birth home of Abidjan, everything seemed chaotic and difficult. The ATMs didn’t work, the electricity would go out, I was a bit too high maintenance for cold showers.
But as the months go by, I have become very much attached to the idea of moving my whole life back to my home continent. I’ve met many 20-somethings in Africa who are taking advantage of the growing industries and job opportunities on the continent, and the huge potential to fulfill their personal dreams and visions. I’ve also come to realise that as Africans born and bred on the continent, we have a responsibility to it.
Here are 5 reasons why you should move back to Africa:
1. To invest
Living in North America, Australia or Europe has afforded many of us the opportunities to attend prestigious schools, build up impressive resumes and save up some cash for the future. Doesn’t it make sense for us to take these resources and invest them into our home economies? From oil, to infrastructure projects, from fashion and music to restaurants and clubs, Africa is rich with business opportunities. South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia lead the pack in terms of economic growth (think at least 5% to 10% growth consistently). The Economist reported that in the last decade, six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies were African nations.
But it’s about more than just opening a restaurant. Investing in our continent can be a philanthropic endeavor as well. This is what Patrick Awuah did when he introduced a new way of educating young West Africans with the creation of Ashesi University in Ghana. With the university’s mission described as a place to “cultivate within [their] students the critical thinking skills, concern for others, and the courage it will take to transform their continent”, Ashesi is moulding Africa’s next wave of conscious leaders and socially responsible innovators. With classes like “African Philosophical Thought” and a new engineering school whose future student body will be made up of 50 percent women, Ashesi is creating a new learning environment focused on personal and academic growth.
The university offers an important leadership seminar series that pushes students to address issues like wealth distribution and good governance in Africa, and with 95% of graduates staying on the continent after graduation, Ashesi is shaping tomorrow’s Africa right now.
2. To explore
St. Tropez is nice; Diddy and the crew like to spew champagne on light-skinned women in 35-inch yaki weaves there. And you’ll often see Kimye gallivanting across the Left Bank of Paris hobnobbing with rich white people I don’t recognise. But have you seen the beaches of Zanzibar?
CNN has listed Cape Maclear in Malawi, Diani Beach in Kenya, and Nungwi Beach in Zanzibar, Tanzania as the top 100 beaches in the world. What about climbing the mountains of Swaziland, or partying until sunrise in Nairobi? Have you been to a beach cookout on the shores of Dakar?
We have the opportunity to see the pyramids, visit ancient schools in Timbuktu, climb Kilimanjaro, go swimming off the shores of Mozambique, learn azonto in Accra, visit the ancient ruins of Lalibela and Axum or Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island.
There’s plenty to see from Morocco to Côte d’Ivoire, from the Congo to Namibia, and the world is sitting up and taking note. US News and World Report included Cape Town, Marrakech, and Serengeti National Park on its list of top ten places to visit. On National Geographic’s annual “Best Trips” list, Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rwanda occupies the number one spot.
3. To influence
We know, we know, there are some things about living back home that are less than stellar. Corruption, poor governance, ineffective law enforcement. But, as the future leaders of the continent, it’s time for us to return and play a role in influencing the direction in which our countries are going. I’m not suggesting we go out there and make ourselves into caricatures of the west; I’m saying that by living on the continent, observing how things are run and meeting and brainstorming with like-minded individuals, we could help to bring about change. Take Ory Okolloh, a Kenyan-born Harvard educated lawyer, who co-founded Mzalendo, a watchdog blog that provides an unprecedented look at the work of Kenya’s Parliament. She and her team are attempting to make accessible to the public information on the voting patterns and governmental activity of their parliamentary leaders; information that was previously unavailable to citizens. Is this the solution for Kenya or other countries? Maybe not, but its igniting debate and discussion about political and social issues on another level and on other platforms like social media.
According to a Consultancy Africa Intelligence report, “due to the skill shortage in Africa, especially in management and industries that require specialised skills, it is estimated there will be a 75% increase in the use of expatriate staff over the next three years”. This means that multinational corporations who influence much of Africa’s governmental policies will look to returnees who have both the education and experience they are looking for, along with the “cultural know-how”. There are opportunities within our professions to influence not only our governments, but big oil companies and tech firms that are making deals throughout the continent, deals that are affecting our daily lives, the environment, the economy.
4. To re-introduce Africa
As a 20-something who was born in Abidjan but raised in Washington, DC, I have spent most of my life navigating a very different world, one where many of my black friends had never been to Africa and many of my white colleagues still asked me if there were enough cars in Abidjan to cause traffic jams. It’s a world of ignorance that needed to be shattered and I wanted to do that by introducing my close friends to my continent, its beauty, and reality. I showed them an Africa different from the Dark Continent narrative. We can show off our music, food, amazing weather, beaches, history, and culture – not just to foreigners but other Africans. How many Africans do you know (with the means) who have never ventured out of their corners of the world? Who have not taken the time to explore their own continent? Who feel more comfortable visiting France than visiting Senegal?
5. Because you have to
You may have a nice life set up in DC, NYC, London or Paris with friends, a job, a car. Should you really leave your comfort for a continent on which some of us have never lived full-time, with unstable governments and electricity that works as much a real housewife of Beverly Hills? Yes, you should. You should try. We are Africans in the diaspora, and we have the potential to influence so much in our nations. It’s not enough to send money orders or bring our cousins clothes during summer vacations back home. We need to become change agents on the ground. As daughters and sons of this continent, I believe it’s our responsibility and we need to take it seriously.
Stephanie A. Kimou was born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire and raised in Washington, DC. She is a blogger by night and a programme manager at a women’s social enterprise in Tanzania by day. She holds a masters degree in international affairs from Georgetown University in DC, and has studied at the African Gender Institute in Cape Town and the University of Paris in France. Her mother has told her she has two years to get married, or else. Writing is the way she deals with this stress.
– Stephanie Kimou