Just before the blog *finally* gets back to recounting our Africa Clockwise adventures on the east side, I would like to make a direct appeal to the many idealistic young Africans we meet upon the way. As someone who has spent half my life in the UK and half in South Africa, and traveled overland across both continents in the last 5 years, I feel there are some things I should flag for your attention.
In the week of Africa Day, as hundreds more migrants were rescued from sinking boats off the coast of Spain, Italy‘s new populist government vowed that “the good times for illegals are over”, the Hungarian government introduced laws trying to criminalise those who would assist them and the French president revealed that the only guaranteed way for an immigrant African to be accepted as a citizen was to demonstrate the skills of a superhero. (#ThisIsEurope)
In addition, Australia’s infamous holding centre Manus Island reported its third refugee suicide this year, Trump’s zero tolerance policy at the US border with Mexico was shown to be forcibly separating children from their parents and 25 West Africans who set out on small catamaran from Cape Verde and sailed 3000km across the Atlantic were rescued off the coast of Brazil after 35 brutal days at sea.
Migrants are putting themselves at the mercy of a hostile world. At the other end of the scale, the brain drain persists as Africa’s finest young tertiary-educated minds continue to head out to pastures perceived to be greener in the academic and professional fields of US and UK. All too often, however, they find they have to be “ten times better” to be offered equal opportunities or acknowledgement.
Please young Africans hear this: Europe is not the promised land. Europe is a continent of aging people, spent resources and tired ideologies. Their governments increasingly sound like a bunch of pensioners in a cramped old age home squabbling over who gets to hold the remote. Their attitudes are selfish, their vision is narrow and their outlook pessimistic. Their glory years are behind them but it’s all they talk about. They’re too short-sighted even to see the writing on the wall.
By contrast 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25. The vibe here is youthful, enthusiastic and dynamic. There is no greater explosion of the creative spirit anywhere than in Jo’burg, Lagos or Nairobi right now. The innovative intensity of NYC or London may be legendary, but I would testify that Naija’s energy is greater: Lagos is hustling in competition with a population of 21 million compared to 8+ million, so it’s bound to be.
The future lies with Africa. The continent is poised on the brink of harnessing the demographic dividend. It has six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies according to the World Bank – with Ethiopia currently clocking in at 8.5% – and is the second fastest growing economic region behind South Asia.
If the AU were to inspire African nations to invest primarily in upskilling their youth what fourth industrial revolutionary milestones might they achieve? Young Africans may be able to leapfrog ahead into the post-digital age in the way they bypassed landlines and went straight to smartphones. (Addis could start with speeding up delivery of the AU passport please, so we can start sharing knowledge with and of each other and capitalising on it.)
The African spirit is infinitely capable, infinitely resourceful, infinitely adaptable. This is how your ancestors have endured and overcome slavery, colonialism, the Cold War and finally capitalism. Despite great suffering, you remain generous to strangers, mindful of nature and humble before your gods. Generally, you are much nicer people, believe me: genuine, joyful, grateful.
Young African, Europe does not offer the hospitality that Africa prides itself upon. There is no warm welcome for the stranger there, no teranga, no karibu. European cities look good on TV, but the places you would end up living are as often as dirty and crowded as where you are now, plus a lot colder so you have to find money for heating as well as food. However intelligent and hard working you are, you will be treated like a second class citizen or a sponger, marginal at best, criminal at worst. However successful you become, you will be always be viewed with suspicion, as a terminal outsider if not a terrorist.
Young African graduate, by taking yourself on a one way ticket abroad, you are wilfully continuing the deliberate leeching away overseas of the superior strength of this continent that started with slavery. By taking your talent to the developed world, you are leaving the young and old of your extended family, your country, to cope without you. You will be striving to add value to the state and status of ex-colonial masters who will not appreciate your labour or your sacrifice. You will never be first choice for funding or promotion – anything you are granted will be seen as a favour, as ‘token’ or ‘quota‘, never on merit. You are severing yourself from your family, from your culture, from your roots – and for what? You will never enjoy the respect or attain the dignity you deserve. By all means go and get valuable experience – but please bring it back home.
I’m not completely naïve. I know Africa has its challenges, its Big Men, its corruption (although Spain was showing us this week you don’t have the monopoly on that). But right now Africa has resources the rest of the world want. Why is China here building all the new roads? While investing in your infrastructure, they are making deals for your minerals and your oil. Most of all, they’re going to need your people because their population is also ageing rapidly.
There is a bitter irony in this age of fear and loathing of migrants that soon, once again, Europe is going to be desperate for African labour. But it should be sweetened by the understanding that, this time, they’re going to have to pay for it.
Young Africans with brains and bravery and burning ambition: don’t go west where you’re not wanted – stay home and invest your energies here. Band with your peers, pool your ideas and and lift Africa up. Research and invent entrepreneurial strategies to tackle African problems, stop your short-sighted governments selling your resources off cheap and insist that the ex-colonial masters fund these initiatives as reparations. Not as aid, but trade.
Make Africa a continent that the Empires of Mali, of Ashanti, of Kongo, of Kush, of Aksum could be proud of; that Cleopatra and Askia the Great and Queen Njinga and King Shaka could be proud of; that Nkrumah, Lumumba, Sankara, Cabral and Fanon and Biko and Fela and Makeba could be proud of. A continent that can teach the world other ways of being, other ways to do democracy – maybe even some manners.
I know times are hard and sometimes it feels like progress is impossible, but if all the go-getters carry on exporting their gifts, those left behind are condemned to exploitation unto eternity. Collaboration and confidence are what is needed – along with constant civil society pressure on governments to deliver economic power to the people rather than their own pockets.
Please don’t risk losing your life or your dignity. Stay where your skills are sorely needed and will be far more appreciated. Stay home and Make Africa Great Again.
“We must act as if we answer to, and only answer to, our Ancestors, our children and the unborn.” Amilcar Cabral