Written by: David Mwanbari
A few days ago, Sanejo, a small non-profit organization, held a fundraising and networking event in New York City. As one of the managers and co-founders of this small NGO, I was happy to receive feedback that the turnout was good and the program was engaging. The purpose of this piece is not to toot our own horn, but rather to use this event as a reflection on the lack of participation of the African youth in events in the Diaspora. Its purpose is also to question and encourage a new kind of attitude, and in some cases, propose a change in the mentality that informs our behavior.
Two weeks ago, I received a call from the co-founder of Face2Face Africa, a highly esteemed magazine, informing and inviting my contribution to the new initiative. I asked few questions of its potential success. The contact person, Sandra Appiah, had partnered with us on U.S. campuses to produce tangible results for various communities. Hence, I was very intrigued and she was interested to learn about Sanejo as well. We then lobbied our different management teams for a partnership to co-sponsor the Muraho NYC Sanejo fundraising/networking event. From the perspective of Sanejo, it is within the provision of our mission to consciously involve and seek to recruit African youth professionals in whatever we do.
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Thus, Face2Face Africa came not only as a strategic partner, but also as a vehicle to attract the sub-group of African professionals that is its primary audience.
Regrettably, only a few members of the African Diaspora attended the event. The few who came supported Sanejo’s cause to rebuild classrooms in Rwanda. They used their talents, networked and exposed their art and work to a predominantly non-African audience. Both co-founders of Face2Face Africa who were present asked me to comment on the lack of participation from African youth in the Diaspora. Together, as we watched an opportunity go to waste, we questioned why African youth in the Diaspora hardly engage in events.
In my previous analysis and personal reflections, I have realized that there are few organizations and individuals who are willing to get involved in development projects seeking to bring tangible change in their former communities in Africa. It is commendable, of course, to applaud those who work hard to provide opportunities: those who also create a vibrant economy that expand the middle class in our respective home countries.
However, it is sad to note that the majority of African youth in the Diaspora enjoy expressing their opinions on trendy topics—topics on the post colonial realities of Africa, and the corruption of African leaders (at times, who include our own parents or relatives who may have contributed to our expensive school fees in western universities).
A number of us are eloquent and hard working when it comes to writing in English about the status of ‘poor people,’ the need to talk about ‘African renaissance,’ ‘African culture,’ and the need for a forum on ‘advocacy’. We talk about capitalism and its influence on African communities, etcetera, but not about the real issue. Particularly those in the United States; We suffer from a post-American campus activism euphoria that begins on the day of our May graduation.
We quickly check into idealism retirement and quickly pursue our careers. We try to stay in-status, get that green card, swim or drawn in bills, and a times, struggle to pay up that abused credit card, if we were lucky enough to have one. Others have strong fears of returning to their home countries without a monitory value attached to their Facebook-announced academic accomplishments. Even the few of us who get jobs or create business are still venerable to the harshness of a struggling capitalist economy.
Perhaps one can suggest that our frustrations, coupled with the lack of mentorship to navigate these systems lead us directly into a dilemma that possibly forces us to express our frustration to the keyboard and flood the internet with our symptomatic rhetoric.
This therapeutic need to lament, agonize and highlight our very high esteemed opinions can lead one into creating a comfortable psychological comfort that threatens our ability to participate in social initiatives, which can empower us and others. Perhaps one can use this and many other arguments as an analysis for the lack of participation of African youth in the Diaspora. Or we can ask more questions that expose many of us to cuddle with ignorance, and results in mere rhetoric.
Tell me youth of Africa in the Diaspora, when will our poetry put food on the table of a homeless child in a post-Mubarak Egypt or a post-Ali Tunisia? When will the criticism of corruption build a better house for those in the low-income town houses of Cape Town airport? When will our campaign for better capital flow end corruption? When will we provide a realistic source for our relatives’ pockets or bank accounts in Tripoli? When will our hours spent at nightclubs match the creation of small businesses for young entrepreneurs in Maputo? When will the racist or jealous-driven lenses of westerners lead us to a productive partnership? When will this myopic lens of victimhood allow us to partner with our co-workers and provide pro-bono consultancy of efficiency in a local bank in Accra, Yaoundé, or Kinshasa? Will AIDS be cured in our mental libraries and laboratories? Will our politicians and diplomats become more efficient in our academic gossip?
Tell me youth of Africa in the Diaspora, when will the trendy advocate and feminist spirit inspire us to travel to the forests of the DRC, or to the villages of northern Uganda and listen? When will we wipe the tears off our raped cousins, mothers and sisters while investing our spare change in their microfinance projects? When will a small percentage of funds provide school fees for a student in that poorly built primary school where you learned your ABCs?
Tell me youth of Africa in the Diaspora, when will we save the money we spend on expensive shoes or make up and use it to support the girl who misses school in Mangochi town? When will the hypocrisy of fighting AIDS transition to the use of a condom in your ever-changing relationships with strange women or men? When will we use our hard-earned income or vacation time to learn, to help a struggling uncle or aunt to understand accounting and book keeping for their businesses in Bujumbura? When will we spare a minute to train a nurse in Harare via a phone conference and mentor them for a year? When will we navigate our mentality that change is overnight and televised?
We can give many examples of how past African generations did it. Some of us are among lucky ones, whose fathers or mothers went to study in western countries on those rare scholarships. It was and still is a shame in many communities, when in some cases; local communities sacrifice their minimal resources or sell land to fundraise for us to study abroad. They pray for you, they wish you well, they speak blessings, and they invest in us. And they expect returns beyond our infrequent calls. The colonial lenses we uphold allow them to imagine European, American and now Asian education as countries that will enhance their child’s ability to install power stations and build water dams. They expect us to become good doctors to build clinics, volunteer in local hospitals in Abuja, and ensure that there are working Internet connections from Lomé to Bamako.
Arguably, our parents’ generation who became of age in the 1960s, understood that one’s education and career success meant that one was in a position to empower or use their new social status to uplift others, and even act as social security for their elderly parents. Our 1980s and 1990s born generation is failing to actively participate in empowering our own families, villages and countries beyond acquiring political positions or elitist opinions.
Yes let us make our voice heard, let’s improve Africa’s image, lets lament on past mistakes. Let’s also go an extra mile and allow our convictions and criticisms translate into tangible solutions for our people.
Tell me youth of Africa, who else will create a better tomorrow or your people and for yourself? Let’s also remember that globalization is a terrible reality; one that goes beyond our desires to separate people on racial, class and ethnic lines. Let’s also go beyond that, and act on the quotes of the giants of history that we like to think of as our mentors. Let’s heed to their messages. Mentors such as Dr. Martin Luther King, who said,
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
Remember that geographically, we are very well positioned to accomplish a lot. We are young, energetic, and still consume a large dose of idealism that allows us to act on many issues. There is no tomorrow if we don’t work for it today.
The founders of Face2Face Africa and Sanejo are indeed providing a platform to be mentored into action. A platform to take the advantage of, learn and grow to become better global citizens with a local impact. The African renaissance will not be a reality in elitist rhetoric and politicians’ speeches. Africa’s image will not change only in the books of African-born professors. We must not simply talk or write about it: Each one of us has to work hard for it.
***David Mwambari is an activist-scholar and co-founder of www.sanejo.org***