Africans are Emigrating into the Cultural Disconnection & Loneliness that They Can’t Control

Diaspora Africa explores African immigration and gender, education, climate change, refuge politics and LGBTQ+ rights.
Illustration by Zainab Liyasu Bobi for Diaspora Africa

Current realities suggest that better living conditions abound outside the continent, and truly so. But it might not be out of place to simply imagine life outside the continent. Diaspora Africa spoke with some Africans in the diaspora who recount their experiences as detailed in this report.

The continent boasts of resources ranging from oil and natural gas to arable land and wildlife, natural capital accounts for about 50% of her total wealth.

Generally plagued by poor leadership which is characterized by corrupt and visionless individuals, Africa is the most underdeveloped continent, containing over 70% of the least developed countries globally. Aside leadership problems, insurgency, political unrest, and climate-related challenges have dotted the continent’s landscape. Consequently, the underdevelopment in Africa has left her citizens seeking better life outside the continent. A survey by the BBC in 2022 reported that 52% of young people in Africa, aged 18-24 are likely to consider emigration, with economic hardship and better education opportunities cited as reasons. Yet one cannot blame them. The internet has opened up their minds to the endless possibilities outside Africa.

To this end, travelling out of Africa is considered by most people as an upgrade. There are families who seem to be doing well in Africa, and yet sell their properties to finance their dream of living better lives projected as available outside the continent. Ultimately, those who make it out of the continent are considered privileged. Many keep their migration plan private until it clicks. For others, emigration from Africa for a member of the family is seen as a major breakthrough for the family in various ways. They pride themselves as one of the privileged families to have a member overseas and also believe that the member abroad will better their living conditions in no time. Such expectations are sponsored by various beliefs.

While such expectations may not be bad, one wonders if the possible traumas encountered by immigrants in the diaspora are put into consideration before the weights of such expectations are added to them. Internalized trauma is a major issue faced by Africans in the diaspora. Due to historical encounters with colonialism, slavery, and institutional oppression, the trauma can manifest as emotions of inferiority, humiliation, and a sense of alienation. This definitely has a negative effect on their mental health and general wellbeing. Diaspora Africa spoke with some African immigrants in various continents outside Africa.

Goodness, a Nigerian postgraduate student in the UK cited some sort of fear when he discovered that he was the only Black person in his class. In his words, “I felt the need to go over and beyond to prove my worthiness”. This reiterated the stance of Japhace Poncian, a Tanzanian lecturer, who asserted that “Africa has continued to be looked down upon by the Western powers. Negative perceptions and representations such as hunger, corruption, poverty, diseases, and the like have been the defining characters of Africa and Africans in the minds of many Western people”. There are many others like Goodness who due to foreknowledge about constant exposure to negative stereotypes by Africans in the diaspora, feel the need to prove their worthiness based on their descent and skin colour. Monday, another Nigerian in the US, noted that he initially felt empty and unworthy after arrival, but continuous interactions with African-Americans have helped him to settle better and that he feels different and better now than when he first moved.

Many Africans also suffer from code-switching, which is the need to adapt one’s behaviour, language, and appearance to the existing culture. In an online survey carried out by Diaspora Africa, about 70% of respondents noted that while they were initially excited about migrating, they soon became tired as they felt disconnected from the natives, with most of them citing language barrier. Such was the experience of a respondent who remarked “It is one thing to be able to speak English, and it is another thing to be able to communicate”. This has left them isolated, and even depressed. As an adaptation mechanism, Samson, living in Brazil, resorted to befriending and intentionally engaging in conversations with the locals. This has helped him to integrate into the system.

Cultural disconnection is another internalized trauma faced by many Africans in the diaspora. Many find it hard to adjust to the wide gulf between their native beliefs and practices and what obtains in their new location. For Precious, who recently moved to Europe explained how she initially felt out of place and even contemplated returning to her former country. To cope, she stayed indoors and dreaded the thought of going out. Since she worked remotely, she had few reasons to go out. Consequently, loneliness began to set in, until she met some other Africans in a mart, with whom she bonded and now share a blossoming friendship.

Loneliness is an offshoot of the cultural disconnection widely reported among Africans in the diaspora. However, various coping mechanisms have been devised to withstand this. A respondent cited “being in constant communication with friends back home” as a means of escaping. Another shared that spending time on Twitter helps her to cope. It must however be said that the presence of strong African communities in the diaspora, often domiciled in religious bodies or some other associations have, and continue to help many weather the storm of loneliness. However, it must be noted that the problem has not been fully eradicated.

While racism and discrimination have received widespread attention and are being sought to be eliminated, many Africans in the diaspora are still on its receiving end. Adebola, a Nigerian immigrant in the UK reported various instances that had been suffered by her family. She recounted how her 8-year-old daughter was referred to as a “teddy bear” due to her hairstyle. She also mentioned how raw eggs and bananas were thrown at her car at various times. On his part, Ibukun, a senior lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire recalled times when he was called a “black bastard”, referred to as “Ebola”, and stopped by a security officer in his workplace who could not comprehend how he held a role in the university system.

He shared his own story. Looking back, He narrated how his initial sense of excitement at leaving Nigeria quickly turned to disappointment. Arriving in the middle of winter, he struggled to come to terms with the weather and found it tough to adapt. He was also taken aback by the cost of living which was comparatively higher than where he came from. As an executive, he narrated how his self-esteem was affected since he had to settle for menial jobs to make ends meet. He also suffered conflicts within as he tried to reconcile the menial jobs he did with his initial dream and aspiration. He lost orientation of time and soon became a shadow of his former self.

However, he recalled that clarity of purpose, support from his spouse, and fellowship with the community of faith he identified with helped him through those times. According to him, reconciling with reality takes away the hurt. He also suggested African immigrants should be flexible enough to make necessary adjustments as that gives a strong grip against whatever tide, noting that challenges change as circumstances change. On racism, he challenged fellow Africans to call out racism. In his words, “Standing up for yourself is standing up for others”. He also admonished Africans in the diaspora to live as good ambassadors of the continent everywhere they are.

But While Africans scattered in various countries of the world are expected to put the continent in global light for positive reasons, her leaders must also continue to take the initiative. Rather than amassing wealth for themselves, the vast resources of Africa should be put to judicious use to develop the continent. African leaders should also speak up for their citizens during international engagements. Beyond that, good leadership which values citizens should be advocated across the continent. When African governments do not value their citizens, one wonders how governments in the diaspora would treat them.

Almost 20 million Africans are reported to be living outside the continent as of 2020, yet the experiences documented above are only a drop in the ocean of countless others. There are many more who in the quest to make it out of the continent lose their lives in the desert and on the sea. One wonders if Africans would emigrate in this number if the continent worked.

Writer: Ifeoluwa Fatoki
Editors: Chimee Adioha; Amaka Obioji
Art: Zainab Liyasu Bobi

This website stores cookies on your computer. Cookie Policy