Dose of Optimism in A Sea of Dystopia


Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues




October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007



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Chukwuemeka Uche Onuora



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The other day I was watching Amistad for the second time since I first watched it when it hit movie theatres in 1997. After I watched the movie the first time, my passion to embark upon a mission to realize the seemingly unending fantasy of African mental emancipation and physical unity, received a renewed impetus and sense of duty. Not just for selfless or fulfilling reasons but also for selfish reasons. I was consumed by a desire to preclude that magnitude of injustice from ever befalling any of my descendants; no matter how many generations removed they were from me. I wanted to guarantee my children's status as Lions in the jungle of human interrelationships; to never be preys to their predatory environment. And the only way I could see fit to secure their freedom was to channel my efforts toward forging a united front amongst my people in order to prevent such a dastardly calamity from reoccurring. Whether I will ultimately succeed is an entirely different issue. But like I said, that was the first time; this time things were different.

This last time, I felt a different set of emotions, a yearning for home, warts, maladies and all. Besides the obvious discomfort and emotional frenzy that consumed my entire being at Spielberg's vivid scenes of slave capture and the middle passage, I was again overwhelmed by Djimon Hounsou's potent portrayal of Cinque, and the underlying significance of his quest for the freedom to return to his native land. All through their tortuous ordeal, the surviving slaves of the Amistad were united in their unflinching desire, symbolized by Cinque's defiant aura in the face of palpable threat to life, to return to their native lands. This was reinforced on numerous occasions but his passionate demand in the courtroom; "give us free", captured this steadfast sentiment with the depths of its poignancy and its utter conviction in and confirmation of the rights of man (and woman for that matter). At that point, my yearning for home, rigged elections, ravaging armed bandits, non-existent infrastructure, stupendous wealth in the midst of abject poverty, and all, could not have been stronger.

Last Saturday I celebrated with my cousin on his successful completion of the requirements for the MBA degree from a reputable Pennsylvanian university. The shindig at his house afterwards attracted quite a few of his friends and underscored the current reality within the young Nigerian expatriate community in the US. One which has gone relatively unheralded within the mainstream of the Diasporan discourse. When compared with the raging topics of the day such as election 2003 and its aftermath, the insecurity and ethnic strife, the uncertainty paralyzing the polity, and the ever-present fear of the unknown in terms of Nigeria, post-May 29, it receives few remarks and cursory statements if it is at all mentioned.

The gradual but growing reverse brain-drain from the Diaspora to the homeland of young African (especially Nigerian) intellectuals is a departure from what became the norm in the past couple of decades, and mirrors events that occurred just prior to independence in the late fifties and continued into the early sixties, and those that transpired at the outset of Nigeria's second experiment with democracy in 1979. Since those two epochs in our life as a nation, the balance has been in the Diaspora's favor as increasing numbers of young and not so young Nigerian intellectuals and non-intellectuals sought better lives and living conditions abroad, to the detriment of the Nigerian economy and society as a whole.

These Nigerians, who could have lent their expertise and resources to fanning the embers of development in our beloved country, were instead induced to contribute their sweat and labor to another man's land, and reduced to remitting peanuts to the motherland in the form of foreign currency and other forms of material aid to relatives still trapped in the home country. I say peanuts because in comparison to the resources that they were pumping into the western world's economies, their financial aid to their relatives did little more than lend material succor and a possible reprieve from the savage hands of poverty and ultimately death. It did little or nothing to drive entrepreneurial endeavors or private-sector growth (small and large scale) which are the engines driving the dynamics of economic expansion on the road to industrialization and ultimately, economic parity on the international level. This is not to say in any way that these able and determined compatriots were wrong or right in their Diasporan accomplishments or their remittances to their relatives and loved ones, I am simply analyzing the issues from a socio-economic angle.

Africa has suffered tremendously because as an evocative illustration of the slave trade era during which the Amistad debacle occurred, we are living in an age when a great percentage of our able-bodied men and women, a great portion of the crème de la crème of our society, is trapped far away from our motherland, contributing their best and brightest ideas to foreign lands. Instead of our children and society reaping the fruits of our labor; an alien economy and society are enjoying the rewards of our endeavors, this is in addition to the forced labor of our heroes past.

Today's slavery is not bondage of the physical dimension; it is slavery of limitations in the geographical sense. We are damned if we drop everything and go home, (we will be foolish to even try), because though we are damned if we stay here, contradictorily, our infrastructure and our society cannot withstand or even remotely accommodate a general return of all professionals in the Diaspora. Our economy and our society will be shocked into a crash; not because of excess manpower or a drain on scarce resources, but because we have still not gotten our political act together. Before any society can dream of moving forward or advancing in relation to its environment, it must first come to terms with its existence as an articulation of the collective will of its citizens.

If injustice, polarity, and unbridled ethnic jingoism are allowed to prevail, then we can all proceed to our tents like the proverbial children of Israel and completely forget about any semblance of cohesion and unity of thoughts and actions. Of course the misguided and often times inimical policies of the myopic Status Quo, as custodians of African political independence, contributed immensely to this rapid Diasporan initiative. The dispersal of millions of Africans into the Diasporan anomaly, only led to more bleeding of an already anemic situation and an escalating catastrophe in relation to economic and ultimately societal parity with the rest of the world.

The chasm between Africa and the rest of the world can no longer be considered a "gap" or a "divide"; in fact that is not even an issue for discussion, the issue at this late juncture should be whether we are even headed in the same direction. We might as well preclude a possibility of parity in our lifetime; we should instead concern ourselves with attaining some form of alignment in terms of direction so that ultimately our progeny (perhaps a century from now) might stand a remote chance of reducing the divide, forget bridging it for the foreseeable future.

The one thing that has to occur that will ignite our technological revolution is simmering just beneath the surface. The young Nigerians that I met were all united in their determination that development and economic growth had to transpire independent of the largesse of government. I did not see the corrupted notions of Nigerianism in their intelligent faces; instead I saw an amazing disavowal of the idea that government largesse in Nigeria is an orphan, to be raped and pillaged at will in the absence of responsible adult supervision. I saw instead a steadfast belief that the engine for growth lay in their hands and in their know-how. I saw a determination in their demeanor that would make the fanaticism of fundamentalist terrorists seem trivial in comparison.

In all spheres of the economy and society, predominantly in the technological arena, I saw a dream that once was Nigeria, and I believed it because I realized its potency and certainty went beyond mere peppersoup talk. I did not hear any nonsense about national cake and ethnic parochialism, I did not notice any camouflaged machinations or dubious intentions; instead I saw a genuine desire to utilize their acquired knowledge to expedite the process of industrialization in Nigeria. Maybe they were splendid actors and jobmen, but I doubt that.

I suddenly realized that unlike my graduation ceremony some years back at the height of the tech bubble, no one was talking about six and even seven figure offers from blue chip companies and Wall Street tech darlings, nobody hinted at staying on at lucrative careers in the Diaspora while plotting their next move, instead everyone was rushing back home to join in what has become a CIT bonanza. Perhaps it was instigated by the stagnation of the American economy, perhaps it was encouraged by the lay-offs and shrinking opportunities for qualified graduates in God's own country, whatever the case, these young men and women were going back "home". Going to contribute their quota to their country's development, to lend their expertise to a burgeoning (though creaking) growth in the Nigerian IT sector, to add their voices to the liberalizing marketplace of ideas in the Nigerian experience, to increase the diversity of opinions and know-how which the Nigerian economy direly requires.

Though I was apprehensive of the infrastructure that will have to support such a technological growth and skeptical of the government's commitment to creating the enabling environment, I was enamored by the optimism that I saw on the faces of my fellow compatriots. I was buoyed by young, energetic, optimistic, talented Nigerians; fearful of the unknown, skeptical of the current dispensation (political and otherwise), anxious because of the reality; but sanguine enough to stake their Diasporan security and tranquility, on their cautious optimism (perhaps misplaced) and the dream that the rabid chaos and degeneracy of Nigeriana 2003 will not consume them.

The half-fuller will argue that the "Wild Wild West" frontier in America was tamed by prospectors and entrepreneurs willing to stake a claim on their harebrained chances and dreams. The half-emptier will argue that Nigeria is a beast like none other, ravenously devouring all that lies in her way, including optimistic young intellectuals. But despite all the indicators, despite all the indices, despite all the trepidations, I am still hopeful because those same indicators, those same indices, and those same palpitations, suggest that our society should have collapsed decades ago. The durable spirit, the vibrant resilience, the undying belief that we will prevail keeps me going. Perhaps these young hopefuls will fail in their endeavors, but ultimately the sacrifices that they make right now, though some of us might view them as lunatics, will ultimately determine what kind of future we bequeath to succeeding generations. Not only as a testament to our commitment and belief in the anomalous reality of our beloved country, but as a reminder that east or west, home is best.

It is funny how a combination of seemingly disparate events can congeal into the poignant though erratic articulation of an anomaly within Africana. I watched Amistad and then went to a graduation after-party, and all I got was a lousy dose of reality. I watched Cinque, and I understood him completely. Not because I realized the evil of physical bondage, but because I recognized the import of the slavery of my geographical location.

I am getting tired; I have to head home, sooner than later. My father and I had an interesting conversation though; some days back he appealed to me to entertain the idea of coming back home. I laughed out loud, not in derision you see, but because it seems that for once, I was thinking ten steps ahead of him. Perhaps I can use my new found strategic thinking when we sit down to play the next chess match, perhaps I will win, but I must confess that it felt good to be finally beating him to the punch. I told him I would think about it, with the stifled sounds of laughter in my throat, I kept a straight face and told him that we shall see.

My medicinal dosage of the topsy-turvy reality of the trickling reverse brain-drain from Diaspora to homeland has shocked me out of my stupor; I just might pack up my bags and go home to my fatherland. Excuse my explicit words, but to those who still care to remember, Andrew ain't checking-out shit, he is checking-in, in short, he is going back home.



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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.