Although the majority of Africans migrate between countries on the continent, Europe and North America continue to be highly attractive destinations, with an estimated 8.8 million documented African immigrants living between the two. Within the last couple of years, however, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of Africans buying one-way tickets to their home countries and voluntarily saying goodbye to America, Canada, or Europe.
The vast majority of Africans in the west are either working or studying; many of them enjoy a satisfactory quality of life. They are indeed an important economic force for Africa: in 2012 alone, remittances from the African diaspora were put at an estimated $60.4 billion.
Many of them made the journey abroad against all odds and can tell gripping narratives of the challenges they surmounted along the way: raising enough cash to proceed with the journey; the “soap opera” of getting on a waiting list to process an international passport and travel visa; and finally, the nervous prayers that they have enough charm and luck to sway the foreign embassy officials even after meeting basic visa requirements.
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After going through so much trouble to get there, it’s natural to wonder why some Africans would leave the higher standard of living in the Diaspora and voluntarily come home, but there are several reasons for this trend.
Some returnees point to the opportunities available in the newly emerging economies of several African nations. The education, training, and experience they have acquired in their time abroad makes these returnees confident that they can contribute meaningfully to their country’s development. They come home with a head start on the latest frontiers in industry and business. For example, many African IT professionals returned home during the explosion of mobile telephony across the continent.
Others cite patriotism as the reason for their return. Like the previous group, many of these returnees are skilled professionals – surgeons, university professors, etc. – with the necessary skills to impact the lives of their community almost singlehandedly. Many of them have gone on to do social work or join the civil service.
A few confess that they just couldn’t help feeling nostalgic about their home country, friends, family, and loved ones they had left behind. They simply woke up one day and decided they had had enough, gathered whatever they could ship and made the journey back home. They may have never really enjoyed their immigrant status or had no intention to move away forever, considering their time abroad as a period spent doing some migrant work before moving back home to retire or start a better life with the resources they gained in the west.
While many returnees go on to become eminent members and strong contributors within their home countries, re-integrating with the community back home is not always smooth sailing. Some complain about the undue expectations from people back home who believe they must have returned with lots of money to throw around. Others simply cannot cope with the near system failure of government institutions in many African countries after spending several years in a developed country. A few find it so difficult to fit in that they eventually decide to migrate back to the west once again.