Dr. Esi Dogbe-Bani broadens the issue of exiles and home journeys, posing questions of relevance, location, ideology and self worth:
It seems to me that some of the solutions proposed to cure Africa's ills are often exercises in wishful thinking that bear little promise when measured against historical reality. The political, economic and social dilemmas of our African countries have not remained perennial because of a lack of capable "brains". To the contrary, the "brilliant" students of "Ivy League" institutions in the Western world from Harvard, to Sorbonne, to West Point, to Cambridge etc., variously sponsored by external and internal funding bodies, have occupied the helm of institutions and ruling bodies as presidents/heads of state, ministers, parliamentarians, military officers, technocrats, bureaucrats, legal professionals, academics etc. In my own country, Ghana, we have had these intellectuals and professionals of all ideological stripes swooping in at various times in our history (Nkrumah himself, Busia, J.B. Danquah etc) to occupy leadership positions. Some made a mark, others didn't, while others swam in scandal after scandal.
Professor Odhiembo mentioned the "work-ethic" that many African sojourners in the US have developed which is often at odds with reality in our African countries. Likewise, Prof. Assensoh notes the possibility of becoming "idle" because the returnee professional does not belong to the "right" ethnic or partisan group. Good points, but they miss the crux of the issue. Our productivity while living in Western societies is sharpened and heightened precisely because there is a "compulsion/sanction factor" that squeezes out every ounce, and then some, of our labor for the economic and other rewards that we get. The vertically and horizontally segmented structures into which we are slotted (even when we think we possess significant amounts of agency to decide our fate) are fundamentally unyielding. We cannot but compete fiercely, produce X amount of work, and remain on the Sisyphean "never-ending stair," if we intend to survive and thrive. I believe we do this not because of inherent virtue, but because we are held accountable legally, institutionally etc (which is not to say that western institutions work like clockwork and are free of corruption * the recent US political cycle exposed that mirage).
That being the case, it is not strange that many who have returned to "contribute" to Africa's development have traded in whatever ethic they arrived with for the "culture" on the ground. Some retool their minds to expect nothing and apply their talents to whatever enterprise they pursue amidst all odds. Others become ineffectual, incompetent, power hungry, corrupt, scandal-ridden because they can get away with it. The degree to which either direction prevails depends on the systemic controls and structures of accountability that have been fashioned. The question therefore is: what will we do differently even if every wandering African returns home today and has a slot in their respective society? What will this new critical mass of been-to and home-grown brains (including those proficient in indigenous knowledge systems) do to articulate and operationalize a bolder vision for the continent?
But above all, I believe the fundamental question that we must broach is this: Exactly what is our overriding Common Interest as nations, as a continent, as individuals? Acting in behalf of a Common Interest is not about sheepishly towing one line or holding the same ideological positions, or even being positioned in one location. Even when we steal, plunder, embezzle, I believe we don't even have clearly defined BOLD STRATEGIC reasons for doing so. We do so only for immediate belly-filling gratification. And so the thievery is often counter-productive and self-destructive. In general, stolen assets rarely become launching pads for serious capital accumulation and capitalist productivity (assuming that is the direction we anticipate). Or when we go advocating for the continent's cause, we are timid in leveraging our strategic assets. A clear example is the way in which Jews all over the world, regardless of ideological stripe, religious inclination, or location fight for "greater Israel," and never cease to remind the rest of the world about the Holocaust * using the danger of anti-Semitism to win all the concessions they can get wherever they are located globally. No, it is not simply because they have perfected the art of memorializing their collective trauma and exceptionalism. It is because somewhere along the line Jews forged a Common Interest that overrides all else.
The idea here is not to extend the "afro-pessimistic" tone of recent literature. I am optimistic, which is why I believe the brains we speak of need to fashion some shrewd strategy to work with. The world is not going to listen to whiners. Showing up at home alone is not going to cut it, neither will staying here in our tiny cubicles.
I'd appreciate your thoughts.