To my African Friends in Foreign Lands

african hands

To my African* friends perched in foreign lands:

I am a fan of globalization. It makes the world stronger, more integrated, and colorful. It allows for the flow of ideas and resources in ways that create more possibilities for us all. I am a Nigerian-raised-outside-of-Nigeria. I moved to Nigeria in 2014 after spending most of my life in the Middle East, USA, and Europe. I’d been trying to find a way to come here for some time, and I was ecstatic when I finally got the opportunity to do so. I’ve never been one to urge others to move back home. My attitude has always been: nobody’s begging you. If you feel you’re better off somewhere else, please stay there and make the most of it. We’ll celebrate you from afar. If you want to come home, do so humbly and without a “savior complex”, and you’ll be embraced.

But, my friends, the world is changing. And in 10-20 years, we may find ourselves in a world that is not as global as we expect it to have become. The countries that have historically been melting pots may no longer be as welcoming to foreigners. The trends that are emerging now are rippling quickly across the globe, and they will not go away overnight.

I know you may feel despair. But for many of you**, please don’t forget that there is another place you can exist that will appreciate your talents, full stop. You do have another home, deeply buried in your memory though it may be. When they say “go back to your country”, I know it hurts. I know how hard you, or your parents, or their parents, worked to leave. I know you’ve spent years establishing yourself and perhaps putting down roots. When they say “go back to your country”, let the pain settle. Hold it right where it is-we’re coming back to address it. But then think, just for a second-what if you did exactly that? What if you went back? Things are changing every day, and you may be surprised that the place you left has expanded and evolved in unrecognizable ways. There are more opportunities than ever before, and there is more openness to the idea of creating new opportunities. If nothing else, no one at home will insult you for being colored, or Muslim, or whichever “other” you are in whichever place you happen to be. You can focus on the normal challenges of life without also layering on the worry of “how to exist in this place”.

We are already underdogs, and this is unlikely to change anytime soon without an intentional and concerted effort. In the midst of upcoming regime changes and new philosophies on how to interact with other members of our world, we need to start guarding against this. We need to start strengthening our countries and our economies so that home is no longer a place to run away from. So that we’re not at the mercy of other countries’ immigration policies and trade laws. So that people are dying to do business with us, and not the other way around.

Time is running out. Judging from 2016 alone, it’s clear that the world can change in an instant. Building systems that are robust to such changes takes decades (maybe even centuries), and we don’t have many decades left. I don’t want to wake up one morning at age 65 and wonder what happened to our generation.

Let’s put our heads together. We all have (or are building) skills in different areas. Person A doesn’t know much about politics, but he’s a damned good architect. Person B is a musician. Person C can re-shape our education system. Person D has spent years perfecting his skills as a surgeon. Person E is an athlete. Person F sells rice, and can devise a means of feeding the nation and the region for years to come. Person G can coordinate and lead us all. Put together, we likely have it takes to help our countries start building some muscle and, eventually, be able to stand in the ring eye to eye with those on whom we currently depend for survival. I’m not saying you should change your focus to any specific area. Do whatever you’re doing now. Just let it count on Africa’s scorecard.

I’ll say it once and only once: come home. I know we have plenty of issues of our own. The journey will be not be easy or fun, but when we’re done, we’ll have something that nobody can take away from us. Once again-we’re not begging anybody. Moreover, I know that such a move is not feasible or right for everybody. But if you’re so inclined and the thought has ever crossed your mind, this is a very good time to act on it. From what I can see based on recent events, it could be a win-win situation.

Written by: Olumurejiwa Fatunde

* This likely applies quite broadly to people who have roots in developing countries.

**I know that not everyone has the privilege of calling multiple countries home, and that for some of those who do, they don’t have the option of going back. I sympathize with you, and would love to discuss the implications of recent world events on your sense of “home”. But this piece is mostly targeted at those in a different group.