To Diaspora, Reaspora or Remain Unaspora?
The word “diaspora” is fraught with contested connotations. It is a condition to which some of a country’s most wretched and disillusioned citizens have aspired to, consoled by the thought of escape, of healthier grass in greener territory. And yet in analyses of the state of affairs in their country, many citizens are quick to mention the role the emigrating population has played in the “brain drain”. While the system is usually blamed for driving this skilled class away , many times, this group has been accused of contributing to the problem by leaving the system more and more bereft. To the people in question, the relationship with the homeland is always complex. Life in the diaspora is often coloured by nostalgic memories of childhood, a conscious feeling of distinctness in a foreign territory and despite sometimes high levels of comfort, a constant yearning to connect with the homeland.
Since the talk about Africa’s renaissance surfaced on the scene, the atmosphere has changed and many diasporic individuals have braced themselves for the new dawn and packed their bags for home. And those at home have found themselves in that state of ambivalence; sometimes rejoicing and anticipating a reversal of national fortunes in this classic brain gain fairytale and sometimes, resenting the pompous stuck up group of people who have taken their jobs and their place in the limelight. At other times, this reaspora class has turned out to be the disappointment of the century as they continue to deliver less and less, sometime perpetuating the corrupt system in spite of their training and “exposure” abroad.
But in the diaspora, hearts and consciences will continue to be tugged at as people remain torn between doing the “honourable thing” and going back and being a sellout by enjoying the comfort of the diasporic life. The judgmental voices of certain co-nationals at home constantly haunt them and they are immediately shut down whenever they denounce, from their “their comfort zone”, a new law or an outrageous development back home.
Consider the statements made by a resident of Nigeria on an online platform:
“Going to America is for the selfish and irresponsible. A responsible Nigerian will stay in Nigeria thru thick and thin to contribute to [its] development. After all what is a lifetime of one person in history ? Only 60 or 70 years and I would rather contribute mine to Nigeria than to America. Life is not about 70 years of contort and enjoyment , but about the satisfaction that you too have contributed. You can chose who to contribute to[:] America or Nigeria. We de kamke and we talk as equal stakeholders here and not as parasites”
To cosign that statement, a fellow resident said:
“All the selfish ones can go to America. They will live for 60 years in “comfort” and die in [their seventies or eighties] and so what? I will stay in Nigeria and and try my best and die here. I will urge and advice my children to do the same. In that way my own country will one day develop. I am not a quitter and not a coward. I will sacrifice my lifetime for Nigeria and not for America.”
A few things can be surmised from the above comments:
- One can only contribute to the homeland by staying in the homeland
- Anyone who leaves the homeland for whatever purpose is a traitor and a coward
- By extension of this simple logic, people who stay are contributing whereas people who leave are not. The latter are irresponsible for “enjoying in the new territory” and “contributing instead to the development of that territory.“
While this generalization reeks of bitter self-righteousness and hypocrisy, it is also largely simplistic and false. To unpack the falsities behind these statements, I urge the reader to consider the term engagement. It is a term I have used in a previous, more personal reflection. It refers to an attachment of sorts to a particular entity- an attachment characterized by interest, passion and an active growing process. Engagement can occur anywhere, in the homeland as much as in the diaspora .
At the same time, the opposite process – disengagement- can occur. In the diaspora, it is a process whereby the individual shuts himself/herself off from anything concerning the homeland (because of painful memories and permanent grievances or general apathy) in order to begin anew, as it were. In the homeland, it is a process whereby the individual sees himself/herself only as a consumer- never as a creator. He/she stays in the system and contributes nothing to the development of his/her community. At the end of the engagement- disengagement continuum is what I call destructive engagement. To shed light on this, I juxtapose below, clear instances of engagement and destructive engagement while posing some questions to consider:
(1) A citizen stays in the system for many years but contributes nothing to the system. Instead of creating wealth, once in public office, she multiplies offices that add no value to the system; she continues to rob the state and amass wealth at the expense of development. Furthermore, in order to secure her position within the system, she masterminds several criminal activities to silence or weaken competitors.
Another citizen moves out of the system to take advantage of better career opportunities. Based on the wealth she has acquired in the diaspora, she is better able to improve things back home on micro and macro levels. She is able to see more siblings through school and set up enterprises for her parents and relatives. She uses some of her diaspora-earned wealth to invest in a burgeoning venture which will create more jobs in one sector or another and improve the national economy as a whole.
Which of the two individuals shall we call patriotic?
(2) A citizen moves abroad for educational prospects and has the opportunity to attend some of the finest institutions in the world. Based on the skills he acquires, he is able to leverage various resources (such as the internet) to improve the practices of people back home. He collaborates with local organizations to engage in capacity-building. Sometimes, he is able to return home (alone or with a team of experts) to conduct seminars, workshops etc thus equipping people at home with the skills they need to thrive in the system or take advantage of opportunities elsewhere.
At the same time,
A lecturer remains in the system but does not push for innovation in the classrooms and libraries. He does not seek out ways to improve teaching and learning methods nor does he actively engage students within and beyond the classroom. However, he remains an avid innovator in hotels and bedrooms.
Which of these individuals is selfless?
( 3 ) Certain terrorist groups bomb public spaces while their counterparts terrorize students on campuses, gang-rape innocent girls, and deface public property. They remain in the system and contribute to its rot. But they have not stepped foot outside the country and have thus not enjoyed the comfort of Western development.
Their co-nationals, on the other hand, have been more fortunate. They have lived in Western systems and have benefitted from countless opportunities. As a result of their excellence, they have found themselves in positions of power and have been able to enjoy international credibility. They then spin this fame and reputation into genuine noise for the homeland. They create awareness about issues back home; they influence policy makers to change certain greedy practices and craft better polices. They tell the story of their land in a way that only they can because they have walked those paths before and will not stand and watch the media portray their people in an undignified light.
Which of these groups is cowardly?
An honest answer to these questions will reveal that the honourable-dishonourable dichotomies do not overlap with the already blurry homeland-diaspora ones. Thus, in the final analysis, as progress continues and interests and identities continue to be negotiated and renegotiated, as people on ground work hard to effect change or struggle to physically escape their present realities, one thing is certain: one can be honourable at home and abroad. It is my hope that as diaspora and homeland networks and resources continue to be leveraged for the good of the continent, the question will no longer be “should I go hither or thither?” but “how can I make positive engagement central to my lifestyle in any environment I find myself?”