Look Who’s Coming to Dinner: The Caribbean Diaspora
Lester C. Facey, Ph.D.
(25 April 2021) — Many would assume that with the title of this article, the author would be discussing many of the culinary cuisines of the Caribbean and hopefully your island’s main dish will be highlighted so that you can have bragging rights to your peers and associates. My apologies, but I am sure that after you read what I have been observing over the last several years, you will find the love in your heart to forgive me.
Globally, we are at an incredibly unique period. In the middle of a pandemic, there is a great sense of uncertainty due to the job loss, financial challenges within certain communities, increased anxiety about the future, and a myriad of issues that must be handled daily. Traditionally, a large section of the middle class would be shielded but covid-19 has no respect nor boundaries. Many individuals are re-evaluating life and their purpose in it. In addition, I find that young professionals are increasingly becoming stressed about their prospects in the future, especially in relation to career advancement opportunities. This sense of unease is not limited to young folk, there are also older individuals in the community (late 40’s – 50’s) who are deeply disturbed about what the future holds for them also. Whether we are talking about discrimination in society or police brutality, many have come to the realization that on a day-to-day basis, there is no sense of peace of mind. We all long to have a fruitful and prosperous life, but we are starting to see another side of the coin; the side that is not so prosperous.
Caribbean Diaspora moving to Africa
But there is always hope with that light shining at the end of the tunnel. I have observed (within my circles) that there is a growing, underground movement; many in the Caribbean diaspora living in America and Britain are moving to African countries. I predict that this is going to be a huge trend that not even Africa will be fully prepared for but will be welcomed with open arms. The move back to the motherland started happening long before Ghana’s Year of Return in 2019. Whether we are talking about Edward Wilmot Blyden’s move to Liberia and his personal success that came with it, Henry Sylvester Williams being instrumental in organizing the first Pan-African Congress of 1900, and the Rastafari movement call for a return to Africa beginning in the 1930’s with Leonard Howell continuing to today with the bredren and sistren’s call to the diaspora that Africa is still there waiting for her children to return home.
Those who have decided to make a leap of faith and move are not fully grounded in pan-African ideology nor the Rastafarian faith, but more aligned with the circumstances of the day. Just as our forefathers/mothers left the Caribbean to move to England, Canada, and America for greater opportunities, there is now a generation who are doing the same; but, instead, are looking to Africa. Why is the continent so alluring to those who are exploring their options? Let us just put it all into perspective based on a fictional couple called the Richardsons.
The Richardsons are from the Caribbean residing in America who are in their late 30’s. The husband has a degree in business administration but decided to follow his love of plumbing and is a licensed plumber owning a plumbing business. His wife is a registered nurse with 12 years of experience and has a master’s degree in nursing. The couple have two small children 6 and 8. Financially the couple are pretty secure because the student loans have been paid off and the only debt they have is their mortgage and small balances on 2 credit cards. With their moderate success, they have always thought about moving to Africa, but their challenge is to pick one of the 54 sovereign countries on the continent.
In the years prior to COVID, they were advocates of saving their money for vacations and travelled to Ghana, Togo, Benin, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania over the last 12 years. They were strategic by not staying in all-inclusive resorts but opted to reside in short stay apartments in the community. They lived like locals so they went to the supermarket for groceries and when dining out, they ate at the restaurants where locals ate, so the menu prices were not over inflated as they would be in tourist locations. The Richardsons would ask questions about monthly rent and would be shocked that a two bedroom in Nairobi goes for $350/month! In Togo, while travelling to the northern country, they saw ackee being sold on the side of the road and bread that looked and tasted like Jamaican hard-dough bread being sold.
In every country visited, produce was inexpensive, and they could not believe the price differences compared to living in America. There is also a reminder of “home”, meaning the Caribbean. The marketing on billboards and on TV are Africans and there is a sense of peace as they walked around each country because everyone around them looked like them and there was no fear of police brutality or being killed by them. In fact, the family had peace of mind wrapped in this sense of safety and security.
Since the pandemic, they have been faced with the duality of Mr. Richardson’s business customer base dropping significantly because business has been slow and Mrs. Richardson working endlessly because she was assigned to the covid unit at the hospital. Over many discussions, they conclude that life cannot go on like this because now they feel like hamsters on a wheel and life should be better than the reality they are living. Since they watch African news daily, they are aware of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement – many have emphasized that this is the largest free trade agreement in the world. With an entrepreneurial mind, one can take advantage of the developing trade opportunities. Markets are open and with minimal capitol, one can start their own business in many countries (not necessarily in relation to trade).
The Ghana attraction
With further research, the Richards found two Caribbean organizations, (1) the Caribbean Residents Association in Uganda and (2) the Ghana Caribbean Association. They started contacted the organizations and asked questions to Caribbean nationals living in these respective countries. The Richardsons have been following the development strategy of the music artist and entrepreneur Akon who is planning to build his $6 billion USD smart city in Senegal and recently announced that there will be a sister city in Uganda. He also has another business titled Akon Lighting African in which he is providing solar power to 14 African countries!
Caribbean Brain Drain is Africa Brain Gain
The African strategy to tap into the African diaspora was strategically constructed by Ghana and their 2019 Year of Return campaign. There are some estimates that the west African country brought in nearly $2 US billion dollars in revenue, in one year, from those who visited the homeland of their ancestors. The question I ask is how many of those tourists were of the Caribbean diaspora and how many within that subset are planning to relocate to Ghana.
How does this relate to the Caribbean? Over the last century there has been a brain drain from the Caribbean to western countries. Often the best and brightest move to countries where there are perceived to be greater opportunities and as a result, have helped to develop the countries in which they now call home. Now we are on the dawn of a Brain Gain, in which the best and the brightest will be moving to African countries from the before mentioned western countries where their fore-parents moved to. With the Caribbean diaspora’s knowledge, skills, abilities, trades, degrees and most importantly capital; Africa is a calling, and we are answering. The table is the continent of Africa and the food placed upon it are the opportunities that await those who are willing to make the move. The motherland is smiling with welcoming arms and we yearn for the embrace of acceptance. This is not to say that the Caribbean is not welcoming to our people.
Caribbean Governments diaspora engagement deficit
What does all this have to do with the Caribbean you ask?
Caribbean leaders must realize that there is a large segment of Caribbean nationals who equally long to return home, but there are minimal mechanisms, strategies, or agendas for repatriation. I understand the importance of foreign direct investment, tourism, agriculture, etc., when looking at Caribbean economies but there needs to be a call to arms when looking at human capital of those in the diaspora and how we can also contribute to the islands/countries we choose to relocate to. For example, if you take 20 families from the cities of London, Birmingham, New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, and Miami and each one sells their homes and brings $500,000 USD worth of capital to one island, that is $10 million USD. If they create businesses, they provide jobs and a tax base for their country/island and community.
But the political structure in the Caribbean Basin must examine what are the structural barriers that are preventing those in the diaspora from moving home. Whether it is crime, the potential of being targeted as a “returnee”, etc., there is a wealth of opportunities to create a new short- and long-term development model. Without a vision in the Caribbean, many African countries will be the benefactors of what many of us in the diaspora have to offer.
© 2021 The Ward Post/Lester W. Facey
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