A Diaspora Guide To Returning Home

So you wanna go home, you’ve had it up to here!!! Even Africa wasn’t this bad, not another winter!! I remember I said the same thing every year, for 14 years, then I came home in 2007. What I have seen in those six years has made me realise that there are a certain number of ways you can come home.


Prince of Zamunda

I have seen many come home to settle but I saw many more that were fed up and went back. Before you take the plunge, think, what are your reasons? Are you just fed up with life in the West? Or do you want to come home and build something? If you are just fed up with the cold, it won’t work, you have to have a reason to be here or you’ll just be floater. If you want to return like the Prince of Zamunda with petals thrown at your feet everywhere you go, think again. So there are a number of packages a returning African can choose from, from platinum class to economy class, to no frills. Each package has its perks and its downfalls.

Golden Parachute – $30,000

gparachuteThis is the top package on offer, the one we all dream of – the Golden parachute that can absorb your fall from the sky, and land you lightly on the savannahs of Africa. Say you get hold of some money, James got redundancy pay after the company he worked for folded, he got $10,000 and decided to go back home. He got back to see relatives and the expensive lifestyle eating up that money quicker than a cheetah on fire. He had to go back after his money finished in 2 months. Then there is George, he worked at an Airport in Winnipeg, started out on security systems, then eventually did air traffic control. He applied for a job with the Civil Aviation Authority back home and got it, he came back to a good package; $2,000 a month with $1,000 in living allowance, a house with a perfect view over the hills with a slight breeze that kisses your cheek. The job is soon a nightmare, the ethics, work practices, different attitudes make you clash with all the zombies in the office. They soon conspired to make his job untenable and George had the choice of quitting or going mad. Choose the job very carefully, many choose NGO’s because the pay well and have good work environments. The Golden Parachute can turn into the Golden Noose, the chilling words “you don’t know how things are done here.” And you’re gone.

  • Choose your job carefully, more money is more stress, choose a mid-range job.
  • Watch out for an expensive lifestyle, eat natural, shop local, save money to build
  • Have a good work-life balance, hobbies are essential in Africa
  • Integrate with locals, these barbed-wired villas are safe but it becomes a bubble
  • Always read what you sign at work, you can be set up, you will be arrested if things go wrong
  • Be resourceful, always find ways around obstacles, have a problem-solving mindset
  • Stay within the law, money breeds jealousy and any slipup is punished for a price

Left foot in, right foot out – $1,000 per month

Twister-gameThis is the best of both worlds, come here on an extended break, take a month off, when you get to Africa do interviews, try and get a job, then quit the one in the West. The whirlwind gets you, you get here, party, party, party, everyone wants to see you, relatives, school friends, conmen, and you miss the days ticking away, before you know it, you are back on the plane, BROKE. You have to control who you see, treasure time here, be in Africa but on European Time. If you come back and stay with relatives, you can earn less and live well, you need a starter job, even volunteering, just to get in the system. Living with relatives after freedom in the West is hard, like my friend’s dad has to key to the gate and won’t let anyone in after 9pm. Staying with friends is also tricky, coming from the West they think you are rich, it can be a free room but cost you more in beer than renting, as you take him out every night. The best arrangement is a 3-month contract with a local company, enough to see if it works for you. Having one foot in never lets you adjust either way, your mind is there, when you are here, and here when you are there. A time comes when you have to make a choice to go back or stay, like a bungee-jump it can yank you up and back where you came from.

  • Helps you experience it before you commit
  • It is a “soft-landing”
  • Needs real budgeting to extend stay
  • Relies on friendship networks and family
  • Doesn’t allow you to fully integrate
  • The short period allows you to miss “home” in the West lessening the chances of staying
  • It is hard to adjust mentally

Down and dirty – cost $0 + hard sweat

dirtyworkThe problem is adjusting to the life when you get here, many want to keep the same lifestyle they had in the West, shopping in supermarkets, driving a big 4×4, living in a palace, as is befitting a person of their status. You can live in the NGO bubble, I can go to parties with Africans as a tiny minority, where all the Africans speak with an American twang and complain about Africans all day. Many of the locals are on Golden Parachutes but cannot adjust mentally to locals, they speak the language badly on purpose, they never came home mentally. My friend Patrick was called by his uncle to run his farm, he knew nothing of farming but took a chance, took the farm from 15 cows to 50 milking cows and used methods he got from Europe to increase capacity. After a hard struggle he succeeded but few returnees are ready to get down and dirty, to lead by example, he shovels dung along with his workers and sweats equally to them. It is hard, you are dealing with people who live for the day, hand to mouth, you cannot explain long-term goals to the average African as their needs are immediate. This willingness to work hard as a team also helps you integrate better to the local system, and increases your chances of success.

  • Gives you a fuller experience
  • It requires sacrifice, to live humbly and connect with locals
  • It needs patience and adjustment to the local way of thinking
  • You are committed to a project, you will never return or give up until you have achieved your goals. You commit to the project not just the country.
  • You truly understand and can build your country
  • The rewards are great, understanding yourself, the country, your people – you make a difference

Prodigal son/crash and burn – $1,000 plane ticket

prodigalThis can be a curse or a blessing; it is when matters are out of your control. Your visa expires, you lose your job or you have a bad experience that makes living in the West less viable, so the decision makes itself. Returning to Africa is hard, you encounter what we call the “Prodigal Son” complex; you always want to come back like a King, rolling in money to show it was worth it. The truth is; many Africans are too ashamed to come back until they have the money to show for it, so they slave in the pig pens of the West, shovelling shit because it is less embarrassing than having to tell your family that it didn’t work out. The truth is that your family loves you for who you are, not the money you make, they would rather see you at home broke than suffering far away. Eventually you find yourself back here but if you choose to make the best of it then it can work. The effect of this crash and burn is hard, but the biggest problem is solved. The hardest part is to break the mental hold that the West has on people, the lifestyle, the convenience, the order, the variety, and the sense of place. Then you return to a place with a harder lifestyle, total inconvenience, lack of order, lack of variety, and where you feel displaced. Crashing and burning allows you to start from the bottom, to redevelop your humility, reset your life goals, rebuilds your family ties, and teaches you the importance of living. They say “never let a crisis go to waste” so next time you crash and burn, don’t repeat the cycle, try something different and come home. I crashed and burned and 6 years later I’m still here in Africa, it was hard but it had to be, to remove all the mental cobwebs I had in my head and reset my aspirations.

  • Crash and burn can be traumatic, depends on your mental attitude
  • Forget the shame of returning empty-handed, your family loves you
  • Breaks the mental hold of the West, there is no going back
  • Restores African values
  • Rebuilds your humility
  • Teaches the importance of  people over property
  • Resets your life goals
  • You always bounce back and you have lessons to teach others

Like a Bawse – $10,000

likeaboosThis is the Platinum package, but you make it yourself,  it is even better than the Golden Parachute, it is to come back on your time, on your terms, and your own money. It takes years to prepare for it, saving, building, and learning. When done correctly you have 95% success rate, and it is beneficial to all. For Diaspora people with citizenship abroad and access to capital who can help bring their native country up. It is very hard to save money in the West, the cost of living requires expensive choices, and harsh sacrifices. If you have Nationality in a Western country you can get credit at much lower rates than in Africa, here we pay minimum of 12% up to 25% per year, which makes the loans hard to repay, but in the West you pay as little as 3% to 6% on average. There are so many gaps in the market, so many opportunities, for $10,000 you can set up a business that will earn $1,000 a month and with a responsible lifestyle that is plenty in Africa. What a Returnee needs is a “Cash Cow” something to bring in money to furnish the basics while they make the next move. Aim at a small-medium sized business, a T-shirt printing business, a chicken farm, a bar, a restaurant, a consultancy, a cyber-cafe, a shop, any of these could be started for $10,000 and earn money back quickly. This gives you freedom and self-reliance, and eventually you can earn capital to invest in your other ventures. It allows you to become an “Overnight Success” but no one will know the years of planning and hard work to get there.

  • Use your residency or nationality to leverage saving or credit to invest back home
  • Plan and research the sector you want to invest in thoroughly
  • Open a small-medium size company that requires less capital and outlay, Cash Cow
  • Be fully involved with the business, don’t hire managers and sit back
  • Always innovate new things to stay ahead, new business are popular at first but fail to keep customers as they cannot innovate
  • Watch out for copy-cats, your ideas will be copied very quickly by locals, if you open a T-shirt printing shop, another person will open another one next to you
  • Always diversify and reinvest in other sectors, that cash cow will not last forever, you need other cash cows, and slow-earners and prestige investments
  • You get success on your terms and are self-reliant.

The rewards of returning far outweigh the risks, but it requires a lot of planning, patience, and hard work. In Africa you feel like you are making a difference, you don’t have to explain who you are, or justify your being there. You need a strong will, to avoid falling in to the hold of Western guilt, seeing a beggar with no legs can shock you as if you never saw it before.

Then there will be the endless stream of relatives asking for handouts, it will be hard to say no. Always remember that you are no one’s saviour, the same God who kept them alive will keep them alive tomorrow. You can easily blow all your investment money on trivial stuff, or just giving them to drink it away.

You are dealing with societies that live for the minute, from minute to minute, they have hungry bellies and will tell you to eat the seeds you saved for planting. Like once I saw a mother digging in a field, her baby was wrapped up in blankets on the side, crying relentlessly, I said to the mother to stop digging and tend to the child, she said if “I sit and cuddle this kid and he stops crying, who will dig this field? I and the child will starve to death if I don’t dig, let him cry he’ll get tired soon enough.”

Cruel to be kind, and that is the focus, to see the big picture. All Africans live for family, but you cannot let short-term problems of others destroy your long-term future. Africa is rising, come home or you’ll be left behind.

– The Green Frog