by Yeniva Sisay [See Yeniva’s bio and full Call for Returnee Stories here]
“I am not an African because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me” – Kwame Nkrumah
We have all heard the term Africa Rising. People are finally seeing what I’ve known all along, Africa is a mighty continent full of talent and treasures. I fell in love with Africa at a young age, however being first generation Sierra Leonean -American, it was difficult navigating identity while living in the west.
Over a decade ago when I decided I would move to Sierra Leone, West Africa, most of my friends and family thought it was a brave but risky move that wouldn’t last. Living in Africa to them was backpacking and safaris. They couldn’t see the potential of Lagos, Dakar, Freetown or Accra. It seemed like such a far off idea to actually want to move to a third world country in Africa.
Fast forward to a few months ago my cousin tagged me in a post on Facebook which read: “Yo!! they are playing Davido on the radio!!!” I could feel her excitement beaming through the screen. I was excited too. Another win for us. I have a passion for following Africans doing great things. Today Africa is identified, recognized, and celebrated in media, fashion, music and food. There are cultural icons who are identifiably and proudly African. What a glorious time to be African! From Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” to the multimillion dollar film “Black Panther” ( #WakanadaForever), YES Africa is rising right in front of our eyes.
This kind of pride is a stark contrast to my years of growing up in the West; or even ten years ago. Being African was never celebrated. In fact, it was demeaned. “You are AFRICAN? Kids on the playground would gawk. It was difficult to tell a different story of Africa when combating popular images of naked natives, wildlife, extreme poverty, war and famine. It was not cool to be African.
The complexity of being an African in the Diaspora is only understood by those who have lived the experience. Explored by the documentary “Am I “ by Nadia Sasso, we are constantly being told, you are too African to be American, and too American to be African, or too British, you’re too European, you’re too ____fill in the blank.
2019 is a landmark year marking the 400-year anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the United States. 1619 is widely recognized as the start of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade where millions of Africans were kidnapped and brought to America as free labor slaves. The United States Congress recently passed Act H.R. 1242 – 400 Years of African-American Experience Act – recognizing the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in 1619, thus commencing the beginning of the African American experience.
Africa Rising is not by chance. It is the intentional work of many individuals seeking to share and appreciate the beauty of Africa. There are many of us who have made the commitment to return home. In commemoration of 2019 declared the year of return, it would be my honor to collect and edit a collection of stories entitled: We Will Lead Africa: Returnees.
Despite its many challenges, Africa continues to draw young professionals back to the continent their parents once left. Nations are calling their children and there is an ever-growing number of the African diaspora returning.
Attracted by economic opportunity and a new sense of optimism, Africa has many advantages to attract “returnees” in search of better careers and a better lifestyle. According to research, returnees cite three main reasons for returning: the desire to have an impact on the continent (63%), an interesting professional opportunity (49%), and family and social pressure (22%).
In the last decade there has been cultural resurgence, a movement in which people of African descent are embracing and celebrating their heritage. Now when I tell people I am from Sierra Leone, I either get tons of questions about my life and how I like living there, or someone is trying to make a connection to Africa. Though challenges continue, it’s becoming cool to be African now. There are Instagram pages, videos and vines all dedicated to being African.
We Will Lead Africa would love to hear your stories of returning to the continent to contribute to progress there after being born and/or raised abroad. Our hope is that this collection will build a convincing argument for the huge potential on the continent and to encourage people of African descent to look at opportunities ‘at home’ and encourage those in the diaspora to return on their own terms.
Call to Action
Join #WeWillLeadAfrica to submit your story or tell someone else’s story of action, change and transformation. For submission guidelines more information please visit https://www.wewillleadafrica.com/we-will-lead-africa-returnees
Also please help us share the Call for Submissions. We are seeking to receive a variety of stories from different countries, religions, perspectives, and generations.