In January 2010, as I sat on a bus riding through the well-developed city of Helsinki – the capital of Finland, I could not help but imagine how much work and commitment the good people of Finland have (and continue to) put into the development of their country. I wondered what would have become of Finland, if a majority of Finns had had the desire to live and work abroad. As I gazed through the streets, I noticed several Africans – Africa’s leaders of tomorrow – hurrying off to their odd jobs, while their continent – Africa – lags behind miserably in every imaginable aspect of development.
You would agree with me that the future of a democratic, entrepreneurial and innovative Africa, lies in the hands of future leaders of high quality and calibre. As the world continues to evolve, Africa increasingly needs leaders who can make a real difference both economically and socially. However, the question remains: who would it be – with all of Africa’s leaders of tomorrow on voluntary exile?
In all my school years back home, teachers often reminded us that we were the leaders of tomorrow, the hope for better days. Our teachers proudly did their utmost best to educate and develop us, the future leaders of tomorrow, instilling in us a love for country and believing that these students they were molding would one day move the continent forward. Personally, I was very excited about the possibilities. Weren’t you? Did you have dreams of making a difference? What happened to those dreams? Were your teachers wrong in regarding you as a leader of tomorrow?
Today, the quest for “greener pastures” has stunted Africa’s growth as prospects of a better tomorrow continue to seem like a far-fetched dream. Most of Africa’s leaders of tomorrow are on a self-imposed exile from the continent. In other words, many innovative, educated and enthusiastic Africans live away from their native countries – voluntarily absent from domestic situations where they are desperately needed. Does this help or hurt the continent?
Recently, I was looking at one of my High School group photos. Out of the 12 boys in the photo, 9 (including me) are on self-imposed absence from the country (Cameroon). I have been in contact with most of them and it might (or might not) surprise you that NONE of them is looking forward to a day when they would return home to be leaders – in business, politics or civic life. When we talk about returning home, their focus is on entertainment, partying and spending money lavishly to show the people back home how they have “arrived”. Is this what Africa needs? Have we misplaced our priorities? Others say they would NEVER return home until “things change”. The question is, who would effect the change we expect to see in the continent?
It is true that circumstances like joblessness and the quest for better education amongst other things have forced youngsters (and others) to travel abroad — and we all have the right to live in any country of our choice. However, it is also true that a continent – like Africa needs leaders with the ability to anticipate, envision and work with others to initiate changes that would create a viable future for the continent. Unfortunately, those with these leadership capabilities often find themselves working hard to further develop ‘developed countries’, while Africa lags behind miserably. It is a good thing to travel abroad – after all, travel is a cure for narrow-mindedness; it educates and empowers us and opens up other horizons. But we should never forget where we come from. Your continent needs you! Make no mistake about it, you don’t have to be a politician or run for President before you can contribute to the betterment of your country.
Being an African, I’m forced to wonder if the continent would ever rise out of the stigmatization, misery and poverty that keeps it from being a major player on the international scene. This would not happen with the continent’s brightest and most learned on voluntary exile. My wish is that Africans abroad would commit to improving the continent for present and future generations. We have the power to change the destiny of our continent and it’s people.
A great American once said, “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country“.
Zuzeeko Abeng, LL.M, Twitter: @Zuzeeko