Back to Africa Part 2 – The Returnees

Posted: October 7, 2012 in Blogs
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In my previous posting Back To Africa Part 1 – Elmina Castle, Cultural Tourism and the Psychological Scars of Slavery, I related my harrowing visit to the slave fort on Ghana’s Cape coast, and the long-lasting damage that the Transatlantic Slave Trade visited on Blacks in the diaspora.  I also recalled how far removed from Africans born on the continent I felt on that day.

But that traumatic day has not put me off from returning to Africa.  It has merely modified my perspective.  What I hope readers gain from the previous posting, is that we Blacks in the diaspora cannot go back to Africa with some romantic notion of returning to the motherland to be reunited with our long lost brothers, like Rastafarians ‘returning’ to Ethopia.  We cannot regain what we lost 400 years ago.  What I am advocating is a return to Africa for economic not romantic motives.

Black soldiers from America and the Caribbean travelled to Europe to fight for the Allies in WWII.

We Blacks in the diaspora are spread all over the globe for economic reasons.  We were taken from Africa to work on plantations in the Caribbean and North America.  Many of us got our first taste of Europe when we dutiful fought for our masters in the Second World War, and were bitterly disappointed when after the war ended we returned home to America and the Caribbean to resume lives as second-class citizens. My own forefathers left the Caribbean in the 1950’s answering the call from the ‘mother country’ to help rebuild Britain after the war.  Caribbean immigrants helped to rebuild cities devastated by the Blitz, helped to staff the newly conceived National Health Service, and found jobs on public transport, and in the Post Office.  But that was a long time ago.

The pioneer Windrush generation came to ‘mother country’ to seek work.

Our parents and grandparents of the Windrush generation had accepted the menial jobs and daily humiliations of life in Britain with the hope of giving their children a better life.  They believed that if their children had the benefit of an English education they would enjoy the same life chances as the indigenous English.  Sadly it didn’t turn out that way.  Caribbean immigrants coming to Britain in the 50s and 60s were coming to a buoyant labour market, to take up jobs in an expanding economy that had recruited them for jobs for which there was no local competition.  But the recession of the early 1980s reduced our prospects to no better than those of whites, and the recession of the early 1990s reduced our rate to well below that of whites.  Despite what our parents and grandparents had hoped, prospects for the second and third generation are actually worse than they were for their pioneer immigrant generation.    In short the immigrant bubble has burst and this, once desperately needed foreign workforce, is now surplus to requirements.  We now have two generations of Black people born in Britain with the benefit of a English education, often to University level,  but still unable to find employment.  The unemployment rate for young Black males in the UK is now 55%, a figure which has almost doubled since 2008. This wasted generation now fill the British prisons and psychiatric hospitals, or run wild on the streets murdering other Black boys, or rioting and looting  because they feel they have no hope for advancement and no stake in the country of their birth.

Young Black men in Britain and America feel betrayed and abandoned and are lashing out in anger and frustration.

But it needn’t be this way.  Though the opportunities may have dried up in the UK, opportunities abound in Africa.  This lost generation could be directing their energies to building up the economies of the land of their forefathers, rather than turning their hurt, alienation and anger inwards or lashing out at everything around them.   In short, rather than sitting down wasting your life growing old and bitter in Britain, go West young man and grow rich in Africa.

In a previous blog entitled The Fall of the West and the Rise of the Rest, I contrasted the financial crisis in the Eurozone with the rise of African economies. In September of this year I went on a one week fact finding mission to Ghana to see for myself.  This was not my first time on the continent, but it was the first time I had gone looking for economic opportunities.  Below are the results of my reconnaissance mission.

First of all it is important for any potential returnees to realise that this is not the same scenario as when our Grandparents came to Britain in the 50s.  Don’t go to Africa looking for a job,  go looking for a business opportunity.

The other thing that all entrepreneurs must consider wherever they set up business is, ‘who are my customers?

To answer this I will breakdown modern Ghanian society.  As it was explained to me there are five different communities in Accra.

Africa’s growing middle class.

  1. the Ghanian elite (the political class, the super-rich, gold traders etc.)  who run the country.
  2. The ex-pat community (which consists of foreign business people, aid workers, NGOs, charity workers, people at the  IMF, World Bank etc) who really have no interest in the country and are here merely to do a job for a few years and then leave.
  3. The Ghanian professional class –the doctors, lawyers etc,
  4. the everyday working Ghanian people,
  5.  the returnees –  Black people from across diaspora who have chosen to settle here.

From my quick assessment, the client base of any returnee must be the elites, the ex-pats and the returnees.  These groups are most likely to have spent time in the West, and in this time they will have developed a taste for goods and services that we take for granted here, but are simply not available over there. Take for example Tracey.

Abena is of Ghanian parentage, but grew up in the US where she worked in finance. That’s what she’s been doing since she returned to Ghana, but like so many returnees, once settling here she has seen a gap in the market – Laundromats!  Very few people have washing machines in Ghana.  The poor wash their clothes by hand, and the rich pay the poor to wash their clothes by hand.  Young professionals have neither the time nor the inclination to wash all their dirty laundry by hand, but may not have staff to do it for them, but there are no laundrettes that they can go to.  Hence Abena plans to quit her job in finance later in the year and open the first in what she hopes will be a chain of laundrettes. A very simple idea that would have no hope of success in the UK or US, but apparently can be a major money-spinner in developing Ghana.

Laundrettes – an untapped market in Ghana.

What follows are more stories of some of the returnees I met whilst out there.

Giles is half Ghanian and used to work in finance and media in London, but couldn’t stand the weather, and the stress, and the 15 hour work days, so when holidaying here he looked for business opportunities, and eventually decided on Pest control.  Not at all glamorous, but apparently very lucrative.

Kofi is, Ghanian born, English educated, who was involved in the music business in the UK and the States for many years before returning to Ghana to help run his father’s now successful consultancy firm. With his music industry experience Kofi revealed to me another business opportunity.  Apparently there is no organised collection of music royalties in Africa – a job that is done in the UK by the PRS.  All those clubs, bars, and hotels playing western music are not paying for the privilege, as they would have to in the West.  Kofi is also actively trying to encourage more Black UK and American music stars to come to Ghana to perform, and if the money they would make from performing in one country is not enough, then why not do a continent wide tour – Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa etc. in order to keep the prices of the tickets down, get sponsorship from those Western companies who are trying to expand into Africa.

US rapper Ludacris recently perfromed in Ghana.

George was born in Ghana and lived there until he was 15.  As his father was an Ambassador in Libya he completed  his education in Malta. In the 90’s he ended up working in the hospitality industry in London for , managing upmarket joints like Smollenskys, China House, and finally Hakkasan – a high pressure job with long hours and big expectations from bosses and big monied investors who would not tolerate failure. But the pressure became intolerable and he decided to quit, sold all his suits, gave away his shoes and moved back to Ghana to set up a guest house.  He now wears t-shirts and sandals to work everyday, earns considerably less money than he did back then, but has a much better quality of life.

As you will have no doubt noticed all of the case studies I have related have family links in Ghana.  What about those who have no family links with the country?  If you are going to go to Africa why choose Ghana in preference to any other African country?   As it was explained to me, there are other thriving economies in Africa, such as South Africa and Nigeria, but they are racked with political instability and crime.  Just this year we’ve seen the terrorist attacks of Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Lomin Mine massacre in South Africa.  Meanwhile, after the death of the Ghanian president, power was handled over peacefully and without incident to his V.P. If you’re rich in South Africa or Nigeria, you can’t leave your house without bodyguards and your children must be driven to school for fear of kidnapping. Ghana by comparison is relatively crime free.  Here you are free to grown rich, and enjoy your money without fear of someone trying to take it or your life from you.

I also met Americans Richard and Cassandra who have set up an aqua-ponic farm.  Under specially constructed tents kept constantly watered by the over-flow from a fish-tank and fertilised with fish waste, they  grow cherry tomatoes. Apparently tomatoes are hard to get in Ghana, and this farm is set to make them millionaires.  It seems strange to think that one could become a millionaire from something that looks like little more than a high tech allotment plot, but this is Africa, it is still a developing continent with many opportunities still available.

A aquaponic farm – grow rich by growing vegetables in Africa.

A successful returnee I met on my last night, was Ghanian-born Kwaku.  Kwaku had been working as a Gold trader in Europe, when he then thought ‘why not set up shop in the country of his birth, where the resource he was trading in is mined from in the first place.  Apparently at first it was a struggle, but after seven hard years, he had built up a successful business and considerable fortune.  We talked for most of the evening on the pros and cons of living in Ghana. The inefficient police force, the inadequate health care system, the political corruption etc, but none of this put me off.  After all, this softly spoken, mild mannered Black man that I was sitting next to is a millionaire, who has made his fortune in Ghana.  To me, that fact speaks louder than any of his words.

Are you inspired yet?  Throw away that X-box controller, dash ‘way the TV remote, tell you’re slave driver boss that you’ve got somewhere he can  kiss, tell the Job Centre to stick their job Seekers Allowance!  Rise up my mighty people, awake from your coma – opportunity awaits in Africa!

Opportunity awaits in Africa!

  1. Devon DVD says:

    Having recently made a similar trip to Ghana ,I can confirm and concur with the sentiments outlined here for those feeling unfulfilled in the uk or us. One area with scope for business development is sorting out the drains ! Excellent blog lee

  2. Yemzi says:

    It’s interesting that you say visiting Africans are seen as walking ATM’s in your previous post, yet in reverse you are doing the same thing. I’m not saying this is wrong I just wanted to note the similarity. I guess most people are looking for someone of something to exploit to make money.

    • leepinkerton says:

      good point Yemzi. But i am encouraging Black people to return to Africa to start up a business, create a product or service, to add value to make their money, rather than to hustle or exploit anyone. But duly noted.

  3. Abhayam says:

    Peace! What a great thing you got goin here –theblakwatch , bro!

  4. Olly says:

    Totally true. Our prospects in the U.K. are bleak despite the hopes and efforts of our parents and grandparents. Even with higher education, middle England’s doors remain closed to us. With the economic times as they are, ethnic minorities are hardly at the front of the queue to any arena which is massively oversubscribed and competitive.

    Young black kids coming through now need to seriously look abroad and definitely check out what’s going on in Africa, and as you say, no ‘back to motherland’ romanticism.

    The world is definitely changing. The old powers are in decline. The U.K. for example has far too many people chasing an ever shrinking puddle. It has been overtaken in numerous arenas by other countries in the world. We therefore need to change and adapt accordingly and broaden our horizons.

  5. Tawanda Moyo says:

    I totally agree, Africa is becoming a very good place to invest.

    As a young man who has lived all my life in Zimbabwe, I have seen first hand what black people from ‘the diaspora’ have achieved here.

  6. Ethelrene Percy says:

    It was Albert Einstein who said:
    ‘If you always do the same thing, then you will always get the same result’.
    Therefore in order to effect change, one has to do somethings differently!
    So I have some sympathy with your view Lee, that Black diasporans need to do something different, but NOT drastic or foolish.

    First, they need to change their ‘mind set’. They have to: upskill, retrain and stop feeling sorry for themselves, for living in Europe, the Caribbean or North America. Would they really like to have been born or live in Africa?? (The grass always looks greener on the other side.)
    You have already experienced and acknowledged that, psychologically we are very different. We have different value systems. Therefore, how can you expect to do business with someone with whom you do not share the same perspectives or ‘speak the same language’?
    You would simply be viewed as ‘a westerner’ come to exploit Africa’s resources; and instead it is you that will be exploited.

    Second, this life is not perfect, it is a series of ‘trade-offs’.
    That means that one has to ‘make the best of whatever hand or opportunity one is dealt’.
    ‘Opportunity favours a prepared mind’. Therefore, just as our black psyche has been irrevocably changed, we need to be: positive, bold, and self-empowered into thinking differently and not expecting someone to give us a job. But to think the unthinkable and become self employed and employers.

    For example, instead of being a ‘blue collar’ worker or Public Sector worker; we should become: Entrepreneurs, Designers, Fashion Designers (Taylors & Dressmakers), Retailers, Building Contractors, Owners of Property/ Property Developers, Owners of Nurseries, Owners of Nursing Homes. (In other words, provide everything that black communities need, instead of being merely content to be passive consumers of commodities and services.)
    Instead of complaining and blaming others – upskill, retrain, study finances, make a business plan and develop strategies for survival in the global milieu of the 21st Century.

    • leepinkerton says:

      I quite agree. We need to become employers rather than employees, always begging for a job. What I am suggesting in this blog post is that Africa, despite the negative portrayal in the western media, may be a more fertile market than here in the UK.

  7. wpdiaspora says:

    Good post, good blog! When are you moving? 😉

  8. Aba says:

    I have only just come across this article and found it quite interesting. I totally agree with Lee that Africa may provide an alternative for black people looking to explore other avenues for employment and businesses. The only thing I would add to that is that those seeking employment must be very well educated and preferably have good qualifications in the financial and communication sector because, believe it or not Africa has it’s fair share of very well educated people with degrees from ivy leagues. The other thing I wanted to touch on ,is an assertion made by one of the commentators that black people in the western world had a different upbringing and mentality to those in Africa and so could not see how it could work for them to go to Africa. My question for that person is this: If that is the case, then how do you explaine how well Indians, Chinese,Lebanese and other nationalities are doing in Africa? By the time black people wake up to opportunities in Africa, it will be too late! What infuriated me more than anything is that same person asking if people would have wanted to be born in Africa rather than America Europe or the Carribean . First of all , I was born in Ghana and would n’t change it for the world. Secondly, it’s not about where you were born,but what you do with the opportunities that you are blessed with . It’s no use being born in UK if you don’t educate yourself and live a decent life whereas somebody could be born in a poor country but against all odds works hard to succeed in life. The other thing I wish black people would do more would be to travel to Africa and not rely solely on the western media, because there is so much more to the continent than what they see on tv.

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