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Stories of Homecoming: Africa's young diaspora returns

August 11, 2020

More young Africans are leaving behind their lives in the West and breaking barriers in their countries of origin. Filmmaker Ras Mutabaruka takes us through the development of his new Homecoming series, exclusive to DW.

Homecoming director and producer Ras Mutabaruka
Image: DW/R. Mutabaruka

For the past decade, migration has been one of the leading political issues across the Western world. The current president of the United States was elected in part because he promised to ban Muslims from entering the US and build a wall along the Mexican border. Meanwhile in Europe, many people live in fear of African migrants swimming onto their shores and taking over their towns, cities and countries — and even their jobs and way of life. 

This fear has led to the resurgence of extreme far-right groups. They are taking this opportunity to incite division and hatred amongst the doubtful masses. The media has also played a role in fueling this fear, continuously driving a narrative that implies that Africans want to move to Europe. The press coverage on this issue and the multiple new strategies being drafted to ensure that Europeans feel protected from the imminent African invasion is beyond staggering to say the least.

But contrary to popular belief, the share of Africans living abroad has barely increased since the 1960s. When they do move, half of all Africans who leave their countries of origin settle in another African country — not in Europe, Asia or North America.

Still, it's hard to ignore the increasingly long queues at the gates of foreign embassies across the continent. Or the hundreds of lives lost each year in the Mediterranean Sea. It is indeed true that a large number of the continent's educated young people seek greener pastures abroad.

The Homecoming producing team in Nairobi, Kenya
The Homecoming producing team in Nairobi, Kenya. From left to right: Ignacio Hennings (cinematography), Ras Mutabaruka (producer/director), George Mwangangi (production manager), Paul Kidero (photographer and assistant manager), Reuben Besa (sound).Image: DW/R. Mutabaruka

But an important and significant story that is often missed in this conversation is just how many people want to come back home. Hundreds of thousands of young Africans living in the diaspora are regularly choosing to leave their "comforts" in the West to return to Africa. In fact, in of all my time living and working in the West, I have yet to meet a young African professional who doesn't dream of one day moving back to the continent.

The African Union (AU) defines the African diaspora as "people of native African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union."

So why are more and more young Africans choosing to leave the West? Besides systemic barriers that prevent many from fully realizing their potential abroad, this generation doesn't just want to work for a paycheck. They want to know that what they are doing is valuable and has a real impact on real people. They want to be a part of the continent's rebirth.

Homecoming is born

At the beginning of last year, I moved back to Kenya to work with a pan-African start-up publication, which aims to change how the world sees Africa. Throughout the year, my team and I had the pleasure of following eight brilliant and enterprising young African women who had recently moved back to the continent. We interviewed them and documented their stories in an 8-episode docu-series called Homecoming.

These mini-profile episodes — filmed in Somaliland, Kenya, Sudan, Rwanda and Ghana —highlight how these women are breaking barriers, challenging their communities and creating new industries and markets — all while making their own rules in unfamiliar surroundings.

Christal Beeko and Ras Mutabaruka while filming her Homecoming report in Accra, Ghana.
Director Ras Mutabaruka with Christal Beeko while filming her Homecoming episode in Ghana. After living and working in Canada for a few years, she decided to move back home to be part of the change in her countryImage: DW/R. Mutabaruka

For example, Navalayo Osembo resigned from her United Nations (UN) job in New York to move back to Kenya and start Enda: Africa's first running shoe company. Sahar Arrayer left her job in the UK as a doctor to move back to Sudan to start a fashion brand that pays homage to the diversity and beauty of Sudanese women. Nathalie Munyampenda gave up a well-paying job with the Canadian government and moved back to Rwanda to work with the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS). 

While the involvement of the African diaspora in the continent's development has significantly increased over the past decade, very few of these stories have been documented. We hope that the Homecoming series will spark a broader conversation around those who return to Africa. We also hope to help inform those in the diaspora thinking about moving back to the continent and those already in Africa on how they can help re-integrate their brothers and sisters. Ultimately, the mission of these series is to provide a counter-narrative to the singular story of Africa and migration. The notion that Africans only move out of Africa and not vice versa.

DW is currently broadcasting all eight episodes as well as sharing them on The 77 Percent homepage and YouTube channel. My team and I would love to hear your thoughts! Please watch, comment, and share!

Rediscovering her roots

Ras Mutabaruka is a filmmaker at TAP Filmz and editor of TAP Magazine, a pan-African platform that tells African stories from an African perspective and whose mission is to rebrand Africa, one story at a time. His Twitter handle is @RasMutabaruka.