By Sabella Abidde (Associate Professor of Political Science, Alabama State University, USA)
An accomplished Nigerian author and teacher once told me: “Most of the professors and successful African immigrants you see in this country are sad and depressed…especially the professors…most are angry, and are not respected by their non-Black peers.” From his vantage point, ‘most of these Africans are better read and smarter than most of their counterparts, but they generally are saddled with supporting or subservient roles; they have to defer to their non-black colleagues.’ To make matters worse, ‘even their students complain about their accent and mannerism, and assume they must be less qualified than other professors, especially the whites.’
Faced with such a situation, ‘they are angry at their home government, angry at their colleagues, angry at their students and subordinates, and are also angry at themselves.’ But within their enclaves and between their own people, ‘the African professors are the most pompous, most condescending and most irritating. Most cannot explain simple concepts or simple phenomenon without resorting to antiquated language…they have the need to impress.’
Indeed, the western world – and increasingly, South African universities – are filled with Nigerian and Ghanaian professors. I can’t think of a college or university, anywhere in the United States, without at least two Nigerian and or Ghanaian teachers or administrators. I also doubt if there is a medical establishment, anywhere in the UK, Canada and the United States, without Nigerian and Ghanaian doctors and nurses.
In all these places and beyond, I doubt if the majority of these Africans truly enjoy being there. The financial compensation is good, but my thinking is that they would rather be home: Helping their own people and helping to advance their own countries. But here they are – needed primarily for their skills and services; needed just to help develop and advance a country that is truly not theirs. How terrible it must feel to be just a hired hand.
If you are a South African, your lot in life may be a lot better. The same goes for those from Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, and a few other countries. In the West African sub-region, Ghana is the newest darling, home to quarter of a million or so Nigerians. If you are a Nigerian then you know you are violated. Twice over!
First, you are violated by a government that is utterly incompetent, utterly corrupt, and utterly wayward. You have a government, a succession of governments, which take pleasure in exploiting and brutalizing their citizens. And then you have a citizenry that is too scared and falsely religious to fight back. And so they lie there and take it.
Second, it is not a good time to be a Nigerian anywhere in the world. It has not been a good time to be a Nigerian anytime in the last two decades or so. The world knows you have a well-endowed country that is badly run; the world knows about your soiled reputation (even though it is highly exaggerated and undeserved); and the world also knows you are scared to return home. For more than 30 years, to be a Nigerian was to be respected; in the last 20, it has become a hindrance. So, as an immigrant or as an ‘exile’, you feel it and you know it. How painful to know that people deal and interact with you from the other end of a long rope.
To be an African immigrant in the West or anywhere else is not easy. Within the international political and economic system, Africa is an afterthought; socially and culturally, Africa is also an afterthought. And even at the individual level, most non-blacks do not think much of the African. Sometimes one gets the feeling that non-blacks think of Africans as incapable of complex task; a people incapable of governing themselves without generous assistance from the Western world.
Such attitude and conviction, whether stated or unstated, is condemnable. Even so, there are times when one surveys the continent and the various governments therein and wonder if, if, if – oh well, just take a look at Nigeria and its leaders (and leadership) for the last 30 or so years. If you are educated, enlightened, polished, decent, and with renaissance thinking and living in the West, is that the kind of country and condition you want to return to?
In the end though, if you have been living in the West for much of your productive life, and you are now clocking 55, 60 or 65 and with the urge to return home, you are likely to have a headache or develop insomnia for a few days or weeks. One might even have panic attacks. Long before this period, one may have planned it all out. One may have methodically planned it all out, in which case the transition – assuming the home is where one wants to spend the fourth quarter of one’s life – is as smooth as possible.
However, whether planned or not, several years of exile have a way of making one a stranger in one’s village or community. How well and for how long you’ve planned the transition may determine your place and comfort in your new environment. Planned or not, smooth or not, you will, every now and then, get your bearings wrong, your traction will be shaky, your worldview out of sync, some of your mannerisms alien, and your thought pattern crisscrossed. This is the price you must pay for being in exile.luded