~Returning home; Your five options
So you want to go home, you’ve had it!!! Even Africa wasn’t this bad, not another winter!! I remember I said the same thing every year, for 14 years, until I went home in 2007. Still at home (Rwanda) ever since, I have seen a lot in the past 6 years that has made me realise that there are a certain number of options you can use to come home. In that period of time, I have seen many come home to settle but I saw many more that were fed up with the differences and went back [to their respective Diaspora’s]. Before you take the plunge, think; what are your reasons? Are you just fed up with life in the West? Or do you want to come home and build something? If you are just fed up with the cold, it won’t work, you have to have a reason to be here or you’ll just be a floater. If you want to return like the Prince of Zamunda with petals thrown at your feet everywhere you go, THINK AGAIN.
There are 5 ways/avenues upon which you can pursue in your quest to return home. Each way has its own advantages, disadvantages and requirements that you will need to fulfill if your journey is to succeed. Enjoy
1. Like a ‘Bawse’
This is the Self-made individual. This is when you come back on your time, on your terms, and full of your own money. It takes years to prepare for it, saving, building, and learning. When done correctly you have 95% success rate, and it is beneficial to all. For diaspora people with citizenship abroad and access to capital who can help bring their native country up. It can be very challenging to save money while abroad considering the influx of bills each month and the desire to have a social life which leads to lots spent and little saved. If you have citizenship in a western country you can get credit at much lower rates than in Africa, with as little as 3% to 6% on average as opposed to the rates in most African countries hovering between a minimum of 12% up to as high as 25% per year, -which makes the loans harder to repay. There are gaps in the market, leading to a number of opportunities. For instance, with $10,000 you can set up a business (with the needed research that it will work, demand vs supply etc) and could possibly earn $1,000 a month; and with a responsible lifestyle that is plenty in Africa. What a returnee needs is a “Cash Cow” something to bring in money to furnish the basics while they make the next move. Aim at a small-medium sized business (a T-shirt printing business, a chicken farm, a bar, a restaurant, a consultancy, a cyber-cafe, a shop); any that requires start-up costs of approximately $10,000 and can earn money back quickly. This gives you freedom and self-reliance, and eventually you can earn capital to invest in your other ventures. It allows you to become an “Overnight Success” but no one will know the years of planning and hard work to get there.
Advantages are that:
- You are fully involved with the business, don’t need to hire managers and sit back
- You get success on your terms and are self-reliant.
- You can always innovate new things to stay ahead (new business are popular at first but fail to keep customers when they cannot innovate)
Disadvantages/points to note are:
- Watch out for copy-cats, your ideas will be copied very quickly by locals, if you open a T-shirt printing shop, another person will open another one next to you. Competition can get tough especially in a market that does not have clear abided by laws regarding competition.
- Always diversify and reinvest in other sectors, that cash cow will not last forever, you need other cash cows, and slow-earners and prestige investments
2. Prodigal son/daughter (crash and burn)
This can be a curse or a blessing; it is when matters are out of your control. Your visa expires, you lose your job or you have a bad experience that makes living in the West less viable, so the decision makes itself. Returning to Africa is hard, you encounter what we call the “Prodigal Son/daughter” complex; you always want to come back like a King/Queen, rolling in money to show it was worth it. The truth is; many Africans are too ashamed to come back until they have the money to show for it, so they slave in the pig pens of the West, shovelling dirt because it is less embarrassing than having to tell your family that it didn’t work out. The truth is that your family loves you for who you are, not the money you make, they would rather see you at home broke than suffering far away. Eventually you find yourself back home but if you choose to make the best of it then it can work. The effect of this crash and burn is hard, but the biggest problem is solved. The hardest part is to break the mental hold that the West has on people, the lifestyle, the convenience, the order, the variety, and the sense of place. Then you return to a place with a harder lifestyle, total inconvenience, lack of order and variety. Crashing and burning allows you to start from the bottom, to redevelop your humility, reset your life goals, it rebuilds your family ties, and teaches you the importance of living. They say “never let a crisis go to waste” so next time you crash and burn, don’t repeat the cycle. I crashed and burned and 6 years later I’m still here in (Rwanda) Africa. It was hard but it had to be, to remove all the mental cobwebs I had in my head and reset my aspirations.
Advantages are that:
- It breaks the mental hold of the West, since there is no going back.
- Restores African values and resets your life goals at the same time rebuilds your humility
- Teaches the importance of people over property
- You always bounce back and you have lessons to teach others
Disadvantages/points to note are:
- Crash and burn can be traumatic, depends on your mental attitude.
- Forget the shame of returning empty-handed, your family loves you
3. 1 foot here 1 foot there (Left foot in, right foot out)
This is the best of both worlds, come home (Africa) but still go back to your western ‘home’. You think you’ll “I’ll take a month off, come home on an extended break, when you get to Africa do interviews, try and get a job, then quit the one in the West”. But then you get here and the whirlwind gets you, you get here, party, party, party, everyone wants to see you, relatives, school friends, conmen, and you miss the days ticking away. Before you know it, you are back on the plane, BROKE. When your here, you have to control who you see, treasure time here, be in Africa but on European time. If you come back and stay with relatives, it is possible to earn less and still live well; you need a starter job, even volunteering, just to get in the system. Living with relatives after freedom in the West can be hard depending on your home situation (like my friend’s dad has the keys to the gate and won’t let anyone in after 9pm). Staying with friends can also be tricky, as they think you are rich. It can be a free room but cost you more in beer than renting, as you take him out every night. The best arrangement is a 3-month contract with a local company, enough to see if it works for you. Having one foot in never lets you adjust either way, your mind is there, when you are here, and here when you are there. A time comes when you have to make a choice to go back or stay, like a bungee-jump it can yank you up and back where you came from.
- Helps you experience home before you commit
- It is a “soft-landing”
- Relies on friendship, networks and family which can be an advantage if you have the necessary connections.
- Doesn’t allow you to fully integrate can be an advantage in the sense that you will always be on your game and careful as you may have to return.
Disadvantages/points to note are:
- Needs real budgeting to extend stay.
- Relies on friendship, networks and family can be a disadvantage as well due to the fact that it is these same people that you might find to be unsupportive in your business ventures and that can be demoralizing.
- There is a thin line between their support and your disappointment.
- Doesn’t allow you to fully integrate which can be a hindrance to business or the depth of the networks created.It is hard to adjust mentally.
- The short period allows you to miss “home” in the West lessening the chances of staying
4. Golden (expatriate) Parachute
This is the one we all dream of – the golden parachute that can absorb your fall from the sky, and land you lightly on the savannahs of Africa. Say you get hold of some money; James got redundancy (severance) pay after the company he worked for folded. He got $10,000 and decided to move back home. He got back to see relatives but his expensive lifestyle eat up that money thick and fast. He had to run back abroad after all his money was gone in 2 months. Then there is George, he worked at an airport in Winnipeg, started out in security systems, then eventually air traffic control. He applied for a job with the Civil Aviation Authority back home and got it, he came back to a good package; $2,000 a month with $1,000 in living allowance, a house with a perfect view over the hills with a slight breeze that kisses your cheek. The job was soon a nightmare, the ethics, work practices, and the different attitudes made him clash with all the zombies in the office. They soon conspired to make his job unbearable and George had the choice to quit or continue with the madness. Lesson: if your going to follow this option, choose the job very carefully, many choose NGO’s because they pay well and have good work environments. The Golden Parachute can quickly turn into the Golden Noose, with the chilling words “you don’t know how things are done here.” And you’re gone.
Advantages are that:
You make the money you so desire (although the disadvantage is usually the loss of peace of mind) Points to note are:
- Choose your job carefully, more money is more stress in unfamiliar work environment, choose a mid-range job.
- Watch out for an expensive lifestyle, eat natural, shop local, save money to build
- Have a good work-life balance, hobbies are essential even in Africa
- Integrate with locals, these barbed-wired villas are safe but it becomes a bubble
- Always read what you sign at work, you can be set up, you can be arrested if things go wrong
- Be resourceful, always find ways around obstacles, have a problem-solving mindset
- Bide by the laws; money breeds jealousy and any slip-ups can cost you
5. Like a local/regular Joe (Get down and dirty)
Adjusting to life when you get here is a real problem, many people want to keep the same lifestyle they had in the West, shopping in supermarkets, driving a big 4×4, living in a ‘palace’, as is befitting a person of their [diaspora]status. You can live in the NGO bubble, can go to parties with Africans as a tiny minority, where all the Africans speak with an American twang and complain about fellow Africans all day. Many of these people are on the golden (expatriate) parachutes but cannot adjust mentally to locals, they speak the language badly on purpose and they never really mentally come home. For others, they take full advantage and dive fully in. For example, my friend Patrick was called by his uncle to run his farm, he knew nothing about farming but took a chance, took the farm from 15 cows to 50 milking cows and used methods he got from Europe to increase that capacity. After a hard struggle he succeeded but few returnees are ready to get down and dirty and be a regular Joe (like the locals). He chose to lead by example; he shovels dung along with his workers and sweats equally with them. It is hard, you are dealing with people who live for the day and hand to mouth. It challenges you. You cannot make long-term goals because they dont make sense to the average African as their needs are immediate. Nonetheless, these willingness to work hard as a team helps you integrate better to the local system, and increases your chances of success.
Advantages are that:
- It gives you a fuller experience
- You truly understand and can build your country
- The rewards are great, understanding yourself, the country, your people – you make a difference
Points to note are:
- It requires sacrifice, to live humbly and connect with locals
- It needs patience and adjustment to the local way of thinking
- You are committed to a project; you will never return or give up until you have achieved your goals.
- You commit to the project not just the country.
The rewards of returning can far outweigh the risks, but it requires a lot of planning, patience, and hard work. In Africa, you always feel like you are making a difference, you don’t have to explain who you are, or justify your being there. You need a strong will, to avoid falling in to the hold of western guilt, seeing a beggar with no legs can shock you if you never saw it before. Then there will be the endless stream of relatives asking for handouts, it will be hard to say no. Always remember that you are no one’s saviour, the same God who kept them alive without you will keep them alive tomorrow. You can easily blow all your investment money on trivial stuff, or just giving it to them to drink away.
You are dealing with societies that live for the minute, from minute to minute; they have hungry bellies and will tell you to eat the seeds you saved for planting. Once I saw a mother digging in a field, her baby wrapped up in blankets on the side, crying relentlessly, I was forced to stop and mentioned she stop digging and tend to the child. Her answer, “I sit and cuddle this kid and he stops crying, who will dig this field? The child and I will starve to death if I don’t dig, let him cry he’ll get tired soon enough.” Cruel to be kind and that is the focus, to see thebig picture. All Africans live for family, but you cannot let short-term problems of others destroy your long-term future. Africa is rising, come home or you’ll be left behind.
By~ Rama Isibo
Editing by Brenda Kaye
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