When it came to patriotism, no American citizen was as determined to scream his allegiance to the States as much as Eddy. Originally from Nigeria, he had come to the USA, a wide-eyed, overzealous foreign student; a sponge, willing to soak up everything about the much disseminated and celebrated American culture. It didn’t take long before he dropped his birth-name in favor of an English one; one that lacked the clicks and clangs that came with stringing together native phrases to produce the esoteric rhythm of an African name. He learnt to pronounce his words the American way, dropping his t’s and inculcating as many Ebonics in his sentences as he possibly could because it made it easier for him to fit in with the African- American crowd. But sounding American wasn’t good enough; he needed something more, he needed to BE American, Literally. Money exchanged palms and a phony marriage was arranged. His wishes were granted as he became a full-fledged American citizen with the bragging rights that came along with his new classification. He basked in this new citizenship status, flaunting his dark blue passport to less-fortunate African friends. A month after he became an American citizen, he was pulled over by a cop for driving above the speed limit. The punishment for this offence is usually a slap-on-the-wrist sort of reprimand, or at worst, a ticket. Unfortunately for our hero, the confrontation became a little heated, climaxing when the officer threatened him with jail time. Eddy who had never read the Nigerian constitution, who only knew the first stanza of the Nigerian anthem and couldn’t name all thirty-six states in Nigeria without skipping either Taraba or Jigawa, was quick to tell the officer that taking him to jail would be violating the eighth amendment to the US constitution against cruel and unusual punishments. He raged and puffed, using biting phrases full of conviction like “as an American citizen…” and “…goes against the very principles this country was founded on”. The officer, a middle-aged conservative took one look at Eddy’s driver’s license, at the unfamiliar syllables that made up his name, words he couldn’t even dare attempt to pronounce, and shooting Eddy a cold piercing stare, he mechanically delivered these chilling words – “You may be a citizen, but you will never be an American”. Two months later, Ifesinachi Okadigbo aka Eddy broke the leasing contract he had with his apartment office, and relocated back to Nigeria, leaving behind not even a single item.
Eddy, my beloved uncle, is quick to recount this tale to anyone who cares to listen, describing the blatant racism of the officer with much gusto and alacrity, with the larger-than- life antagonistic persona of the cop seeming more exaggerated as time goes by. There are not many occurrences of such in-your-face racism nowadays; it is more subtle, more underground, covered up in the garnishes of “political correctness”…but yes, it still exists. The time has come for Africans in the diaspora, from Japan to the UK, Australia to Malaysia, to stop hustling from one port to the other, in search of ways to obtain citizenship status in these distant lands with cultures and principles so alien to that which raised you. Illegally sneaking across borders in search of the so-called greener pastures, paying huge sums of money to get your “papers”, giving impassioned and somewhat pathetic testimonies in church when you receive your green card like you’re some unwanted apparition with no origin, nowhere you can truly call home. We are children of Africa, we are citizens of our respective countries, why do we beg and scuffle for these second class citizenships from other nations, plead for their sloppy seconds, only remembering our native lands during African Student Organization parties at colleges or to display the facade of cultural depth during those few occasions when showing some kind of diversity in the substance you’re made of could yield benefits when you’re in the midst of a certain group of people.
Then there are those of us who convince ourselves that acquiring some random nation’s citizenship automatically gives us the right, no the audacity, to tear down our homeland, moaning and grumbling in what seems a lot like scornful glee when news of some disaster strikes our countries. We sit on our couches, tearing down the bad governments in Africa one dictator at a time, the non-existent infrastructure, exclaiming ecstatically about how Africa is doomed, throwing around one or two solutions that fade away as quickly as our lips stop moving, not once thinking we need to actively get involved by contributing our own quotas towards the overall quality of life in Africa. We convince ourselves that we are comfortable with our new life, a life of picket fences and neighbors we hardly ever see, a life of mortgages and high taxes, and health insurance, and a complex, uncompromising, faceless system that lacks the personal touch and feeling of communality that is a pertinent factor of life in Africa. We praise the superficial ease of life in these foreign lands, the booming economies and solid infrastructures which, from the sentimental point of view of a ranting African female, are the results of years of hard labor by our ancestors that were sold during the slave trade.
Maya Angelou once said: “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” These things that cause us to gravitate towards other continents – the good health care system, the political stability, and the quality education, none of them were there from the very beginning. They are a result of hard work, of visions and brain power, and there is no reason why the countries that make up our beautiful continent, each so diverse in language and culture, can’t be even better than technology power-houses like Japan. Unfortunately, if we sit on the couches in our rented apartments, grumbling about the situation back home while basking in the safety net of our second class citizenship, the change we all await will take a long time coming. The solution to our problems doesn’t lie in the life lines thrown at us by the IMF or World Bank, it doesn’t lie in the propaganda advertisement images of starving African children in the western media, or “generous” international celebrities shopping for new children in the orphanages of our nations. People, what we really need is an exodus. Can we infiltrate the hallways of these top of the crop citadels of education in foreign lands, take advantage of the resources at our disposal to imbibe as much knowledge as possible, and then help our mother land attain the greatness it rightly deserves? The real solution lies in a Mauritanian heart surgeon in France opening up a hospital back in his native land where he can perform complex routines with the help of a few of his colleagues and maybe even train younger Mauritanian surgeons with the technological know- how they need to be at par with their counterparts in more developed countries, It lies in a Zambian engineer leaving his life back in Canada to help develop street lights and red light cameras in Lusaka. We need to stop this brain-drain, there are so many super talented Africans working for fortune 500 companies while their home countries are hungry for a slice of what they have to offer. We need our children to come back home and make a difference in the lives of our people, regardless of how insignificant their contribution may seem. We don’t want to leave behind a war-torn, third world, poverty-ridden continent for our future generation. There is a lot of room for development in Africa making it the most attractive continent for large-scale investments that are almost 100% guaranteed
While most of us will not have the sort of epiphany my uncle Eddy had to make him relocate back home, I hope I have at the very least given you something to think about. In the words of Obama: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek”.