"Homegoing" is a complicated project, warns the priest-scholar, Anthony Agbali.
[If I may say something before you read this important piece: As I told two of my colleagues at dinner yesterday, this series is the first time that a "cluster" of contemporary migrant intellectuals are identifying and analyzing their concerns in an open dialogue. I already have enough materials for an MA thesis! When Gates released his Wonders of the African World, he did not anticipate the reaction of this new "cluster")
This is just a quick reply to the ranging issue of returning home. There are notable points here. Going home can be a significantly positive or negative value for different persons and groups. The dilemma of homecoming- or rather homegoing- has been played out significantly at different levels of popular and critical understanding. Ama Ata Aido novels Fragments and the Beautyful Ones are Not yet Born attests to this problematic in the literature, as also the other often forgotten or underanalysed novel of Chinua Achebe, No Longer at Ease. On the other hand the autobiographical texts of Nnamdi Azikiwe and Kwame Nkrumah saliently emphasized the importance of returning home to make valuable contributions. Earlier texts in this dialogue mentioned the critical importance of the memory of Kwegir Aggrey, as an African intellectual and role model. Why this return to Aggrey? Nnamdi Azikiwe and Kwame Nkrumah were greatly influenced by Aggrey, and in following the footsteps of Aggrey pursuit further education in the USA, simply because of the role model and philosophy of Aggrey that only the best is good for Africa. Azikiwe's imagination developed in response to Aggrey when he encountered Aggrey preach at the Tinubi Methodist Church, while he (Azikiwe) was sixteen years old and a student at the Wesleyan Methodist School. Aggrey's encouragement and model engendered a great inspiration in Azikiwe. The same can be said of Nkrumah, who encountered Aggrey at the Achimota college during its opening. Aggrey impressed Nkrumah in everyway, especially as a role model for his own aspiration toward making Africa greater. Aggrey inspired Nkrumah to become a nationalist, and an African nationalist at that. Yet, in spite of this neither Azikiwe and Nkrumah were very pleased about Aggrey's political philosophy of respect and tolerance for the colonialists and their domination. They saw this philosophy to be truncated, and impractical. Nonetheless, their respect for Aggrey did not diminish. Aggrey was a source of inspiration and comparison in trying to decide on their life's choices, paths and track. Azikiwe when he was confronted with the reality of returning or staying in America, compared his situation against that of Aggrey, and decided to return. At another point, he advised another African student to stop his pursuit of the PhD and return to contribute toward Africa's growth, and warned him to beware of the fate of people like Aggrey whom he considered argonaults that focused on seeking the golden fleece. Azikiwe, himself decided to return to Africa, in spite of the palpable difficulties associated with such decision. It was difficult for him to find employment. When eventually he returned to Africa, he went to Gold Coast (now Ghana) to begin and edit the newspaper, African Morning Post, that came to galvanize African opinion and resistance against the political and colonial authorities of the Gold Coast. He came close to being killed, imprisoned, and dispossessed. Yet, his decision to return generated and distributed political consciousness among the colonized. While Aggrey was a model and helped to sanction Africa and African's potentials toward greatness he himself returned in 1924 to the Gold Coast, to become the Vice Principal, the only African on staff, and model to the students at Achimota College, including Nkrumah. Even, when he traveled on leave motivation as recorded by Nkrumah was for him to return from his leave to London and the US to come and feed them with more to quench their academic, and social thirsts. He never returned he died in 1927 of a sudden sickness in New York. Well, the decision of Aggrey met with difficulties, his wife, an American returned to the US with their four children leaving him behind in a lonely state. The decision to return has always been a painful one. The ranks of Azikiwe and Nkrumah saw what they could become in America if only they remained. Their leaving was emotion. For both the sight of leaving the statue of Liberty was emotionally painful and nauseating but they gave up that dream in other to sacrifice and to commit to the cause of building Africa. Azikiwe went to work in another country outside his home country of origin, but his influence impacted a lot of people, especially in generating political consciousness. This decision was risky to his personal survival but he saw a cause for which to live and die, the greatness of Africa. The same was true for Nkrumah, even some of his own denounced him, and were used against him. There is and will continue to be a personal cost to the idea of returning home, especially the price of sacrifice and painful deprivation of certain life's comfort. In rendering these examples, we also note the many other ignonimous Africans who returned to Africa to contribute. In the 17th Century there were two Africans that were sent to Europe to study from the Gold Coast and gained intellectual prominence in Europe, Jacob Captein, and William Amo. At least, of Amo we know that he returned to his native hometown, Axim in the Gold Coast, where he later died, after a renowned career teaching in Universities in Europe, especially in Germany. Earlier, Henrique Afonso (or Henry Afonso), the son of the Mani Kongo Afonso who was sent to the Lisbon, Portugal to study was ordained in 1518 as a Bishop- the Auxiliary Bishop of Funchal- and returned home to the Kongo in 1520, where he died later in 1530, after a period of illness, presumably due to food poisoning associated with royal intrigues.Also, the case of the African prince, Ibrahima or Abdl Rahman, who was sold into slavery in the US, but returned in 1827/8 at the age of sixty-six to Africa but died before reaching his native Madinka homeland remind us of many Africans who left the land of opportunities for the back-woods of their homeland. Often, the motivation was to make their own contribution toward ensuring that their homeland reflect some of their civilizing experiences while in Exile. These contributions was directed and channeled to different spheres- education, politics, religion, healthcare, and other arenas. First, the point of all of these is not to romanticize diaspora as non-essential. In fact, Douglas Massey, a renowned sociologist, as noted the salience between migration, especially international migration and the development of many European national polities. Hence, associatively contemporary African immigration on the long run offers enormous advantages and opportunities in enhancing African potential growth viability and revitalization. Secondly, a significant point is that they need to be some return to also ensure and regulate the nature of the development of their homeland polity. These return does not have to be necessarily spatial and physical. There need to be other forms of returns that are value oriented and directed- spiritual, moral, work ethics, philantropic in nature, among imagined others. Hence, Benedict Anderson "imagined community" must engender some linear relationship that offers a give and take of opportunities within the realities of transnationalism and globalization. Such give and take that are necessary for the development of polities, spaces, and consciousness must also involve the inherent and possible contradictions contained within such processes. Hence, moralizing return as evil, or romanticizing return as the end-points of such discourse only lead to interactive futility that closes other viable options contained in such dialogic vents. In this vein, we must note that they have been persons, of late who have returned to make contributions at home, but it remains to be seen what the impact of these returns have achieved. The Governor of Enugu State, Nigeria, Chimaroke Nnamani, lived in the US for years. Yet upon the assumption of office he was opined in some quarters to be linked to the political murder of one Sunday Ugwu, a brother of a state legislator opposed to the governor. While, we do not know the entire truth, and may never know, if this is proven true, what do we say of someone like, who is very educated, should understand the idea of human and civil rights? Or, again, considering Nigeria again, what would one say of Professor Julius Ihonvbrere, who studies in Toronto, prominent international political science scholar, and who has joined the People's Democratic Party (PDP)? Where is the contribution of such insightful scholars, who with advantages of living and exposed to western political and democratic ideals have become muted? Is this an instance of if "you cannot beat them, join them" syndrome? Does brain power after 'Brain drain' become drained power? Unfortunately, we can replicate numerous instances like this across Africa. Thirdly, while stating this fact, we must note that the Aggrey model of mentoring is essential. Hence, there is comfort in returning. Today's young Africans need mentors who can galvanize them. Aggrey was such model and mentor to Azikiwe and others. If Aggrey had not returned with the Phelps-Stoke Commission to Africa, if he did not join the staff of Achimota, what would have been the history of Africa today devoid of the significant roles played by Azikiwe and Nkrumah. Therefore, it is not often enough to consider personal and subjective comforts- though we have a right to it- but also to task ourselves in giving back to our communities and homeland polities in some critically positive sense, that is not merely material and financial. The entire discourse of "diaspora of the belly" equates with the "politics in the belly" (Jean Bayart) that many of us antagonizes and are antagonized by it. This where the modeling significance of Aggrey invites us to some insightful thinking. Fourth, I detest the fact that the discourse of spatial dislocation essentializes and romanticizes deprivation and negatively paints Africa as the sphere of death and the dungeon of arbitrary disorder. There are more good things happening in Africa. While, many who privileges the West over and above their own aboriginal polities, because of personal conveniences paints all realities in Africa with the brush of horror, tangible successes are recorded there. Today, for instance, using example from one of my familiar turf, many missionary organizations are still going to Africa and building critical institutions and agencies of power such as schools. In recent years, American Jesuits, in collaboration with the Sisters of the Holy Child have built a model and superstandard school in Abuja. Different Catholic dioceses are inviting some of these to collaborate in ensuring the viability of future growth and potential arenas for creating agencies of social change. Yet, while many among us only cast their aspersion and utmost criticism at the missionary enterprise, many religious groups are ensuring the future of Africa's success. Intriguingly, many of those involved in such upward projects are expatriates who see hope where the aboriginals are decrying and labeling as deserts of aridity. Also, included in such planning and its actualization are local clergy, local religious orders, and congregations who utilizes the talents and creativity of some of their members who trained in the West but returned home. Yet, most of these returnee are not yet dead? Unfortunately, while many are not matching with progress in observing some of these subtle realities, they pen venoms that detest these bodies simply to give the dog a bad name. Again, we must critically question ourselves: why is it difficult for us to build something uniquely African through our own energies and brain power? Why must we enjoy always what others put into place? With the resistance associated with returning, how different are many African intellectuals who rape Africa through banking enormous wealth in western financial institutions? If we are similar to the Mobutus, Babangidas, Abachas, and Bokasas of Africa in storing away from the continents potentials useful for its growth, do we have the moral right to challenge these demented tyrannts? Must we depend on government institutions to change Africa? Can we take a clue from the mode by which the African Morning Post and Nkrumah's politics, used other alternative paradigms to engender conscious transformations in today's Africa? Must our return be mere material and or financial, what other alternatives do we have? Can we use the medium of other available opportunities to challenge the powers that structure the failure in governance using our presence abroad? Fifthly, I see the sense in which the pooling of our own resources using civil social tools, intellectual prowess, financial force, and spiritual energies can be utilized to make social changes. I have in mind the Nkrumah idea of a united Africa. But rather than at the level of government or statehood, can Africans abroad organize themselves into entrepreneurial, academic, and other resources across different African spaces. By this I mean that can those living out Africa, for instance, come together to finance one or more giant pan-African media- like an African version of CNN, or Al Jezeera, Bank, and other institutions with a vast presence across African nations. Recently, I was elated to read that a Nigerian businessman and other partners are involved in building the first Nigerian oil refinery. We need more of such ventures and initiatives. This, to me, is one form of existential return to our homeland, even if we are domiciled here.
It is within these contexts that I think that if we do not often put class interest, which includes domination of our people, through overprivileging our western spatiality and conditions, that our different imaginations can be used as resourceful tools of redefining returning home at some critical level toward fostering social change, and making home desirable as a place and value. I intend this to generate more debates and dialogue.