[Op Ed] Go Back To Africa "Why the African Diaspora Must Take This Advice"
The diaspora is needed in Africa says writer who returned to her homeland.
The views expressed in this Op-Ed do not reflect that of Loop 21.
If you’re a person of African descent, you’ve been more than once acquainted with the phrase’ go back to Africa’. The phrase is usually uttered by an outrageously aggressive person who intends to encourage a perceived outsider to return to their indigenous homeland and away from the barrier of this message’s land. As a Canadian-Somali, I remember hearing this phrase and feeling a sudden rush of cognitive dissonance kick in, with one part of my being in solidarity with this message; and the other shocked at the assertion that I belong to a place, and region I’ve never experienced as a sentient, thinking, and sovereign adult.
It took 20 years, but I did it. I returned to Africa. After 20 years of living in Canada, I arrived at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport with luggage filled with malaria pills, insecurity, orientalist ideas about this place, identity politics, and a sense of humor. The custom officer warmly greeted me and softly uttered, ‘welcome home’. Home? How was I home? Here I am, a Mogadishu born refugee, sheltered and clothed by Canada, and educated by the University of Alberta, Woody Allen, and Sidney Bechet home in Addis Ababa? I was bewildered, but a part of me betrayed that bewilderment and yielded to her welcome, and from that moment, Ethiopia was home.
[ALSO READ: [Op-Ed] Don't Blame Eva Hoeke. Blame Us]
My plan was simple, a trip through the Horn of Africa region, with a final stop in the city of my birth, Mogadishu, the place many refer to as the new heart of darkness. Africa in general is often a place depicted as a region void of ingenuity, humanity, and sentient beings. My time in the Horn of Africa has painted an image of a region in development, a region filled with innovation and creativity. From the streets of Addis Ababa to the small villages in Somaliland, one can witness the wealth and creativity of the Diaspora communities in cooperation with the locals in rebuilding their respective regions.
The bee’s knee was the moment I bought my cell phone and received a text message from Somtel, the leading provider of mobile communication in Somaliland region in the Somali language. There were billboards with Somali faces and in my native tongue. All the supposed comforts of western living were here, and packaged for local consumers. I’ve never felt more at home and out of place.
[ALSO READ: [Op-Ed] The Fatal Attraction of Whitney Houston Dead]
As I spend more time in the Horn of Africa, immersing myself in local traditions, and engaging in media from this region, I’m learning that the Diaspora is needed here. We’re in a unique position to rebuild and dissect our respective nations as an integral piece in a bigger picture that is Africa. As I sit here and type this, I’m asked by the waiter if I’ll return to Canada, and tell wild stories about the uncivilized locals, and I’m rendered speechless. What this water fails to realize is that the Diaspora is the community in need of an education, and an introduction to a life and place forgotten. The narrative of returning home is nothing new to the human condition, and my testimony does little to add to the rich cultural narratives about the conflict one feels when one is caught between civilizations, societies, and has a mind that places a question mark around the notion of ‘Home’. This is nothing new.
What is new is Africa. Africa is not what you imagine it to be. It is more than the headlines, the famines, the corruption, and the poverty. It is all those things, yes, but that to render these social ills as half the story is to do a disservice to this region. The locals are ready to regain control of their nations. , And the Diaspora must follow suit. I will always be Canadian, but right now, Africa needs me, and I need her.. So the next time some disgruntled xenophobe shouts at you in the streets of London, Chicago, Vancouver to ‘go back to Africa’, stop for a moment, and allow yourself to entertain that genius idea wrapped in a sandwich of racism and irony.
Idil Holif is a blogger (www.afrolens.com) based in the horn of Africa, and traveling through this region to document the narratives of the locals.