Diaspora man home in Africa and doing the right thing

John Otim
John Otim follows Diaspora Man as he returns to Africa and struggles to cope in a new place



Africa was home and Ahmed recently returned but encountering multiple difficulties was determined he would not be a foreigner in Africa. He was tired of the tag of foreigner that abroad trailed him like an evil shadow.

It was true that twenty years of study and work in America had made of him an American and a stranger to Africa. America was good and America had been generous to him but still he was leaving. At the arrival hall officials could and did mark him out as one who was in their own words an alien. Intelligence agents began at once shadowing him. Who is this guy and why is he here?

Customs and Immigration officials checked him more thoroughly than they did most people but all his things were in order and they let him go. A pair of young agents followed him but they kept their distance. One of them was the woman he had fallen in love with the moment his plane landed and he saw her on the tarmac. She was the most perfectly endowed piece of womanhood he had ever seen, he swore, but now he let her be. In a new city where you were already under suspicion there was no need courting trouble.

The arrival hall was packed with folks expecting friends and relatives, although some he suspected were merely government agents simply lost for what to do and looking out how they score points with the boss. In this type of none descript democracy that abounds in Africa there were always busy bodies. Little men with huge ambition and ruthless in its pursuits. 

The airport was one of the busiest in Africa. Planes came in from all over the world. Every brief interval a plane was landing or leaving. It was by no means on that same scale but it reminded him of Kennedy airport.

Since he left Africa 20 years ago his country had changed out of all proportion. Highways crisscross the land, bridges span the rivers, new cities had emerged where none existed and there was even a brand new capital. In the USA, media reports were wildly off the mark. In the Western imagination Africa was still the land of the Tarzan, bush country, where the white man was king.

But here in Africa his plane had touched down in one of the largest cities in the world at a brand new airport that could have been anywhere else in the world. Officials were all Black so were most of the passengers. Ahmed was glad to observe that. There were a fair number of European, American, Japanese, Chinese and Indian travelers. It is a global world.

Ahmed had slipped into the country unannounced at exactly midnight local time and checked in at one of the middle income hotels that abound in the city. Wasn’t bad, was clean, service good, the girls attractive and friendly. Who knows may be in future something can be arranged. His timing was no accident; he could have arrived in broad daylight if he chose to. As it turned out he had made his firsr mistake, doing the right thing in Africa can be tricky.

The next morning when he called Omotala, his dear sister, and told her he had spent the night in town and would soon be home, he expected her to jump with excitement. Omotola was that kind of girl, by nature loud and exuberant, but now on the line she was muted and sounded disappointed. Was something wrong?

It turned out Ahmed had by his action denied his family, especially his showy mother, the chance to advertize themselves. Among African elites self promotion is a big thing. You see it all the time on television. When Ahmed emailed his family to tell them he was coming home for good, the family was elated and planned for a fitting welcome ceremony at the airport. Everything would be on camera, later a local station would be persuaded to air it for a fee. What else?

After the ceremony the company would drive in a convoy through town to the suburb at the other end of town where the family had a home. Never mind traffic jams, a notorious aspect of city life here. Again everything would be filmed as a matter of course. But now Ahmed had stolen himself into town. He had come home like a thief in the night? Just like him, he had to ruin it, Omotola said.

But his generous family soon forgot and forgave him. The family spent the next three days feasting and reveling in his honor.  There was music and dancing, each evening a large banquet was laid out on the huge balcony overlooking the city’s football stadium. The scene resembled that of the Return of King Odysseus. Ahmed was amazed but he enjoyed the food though he detested the extravagance which he knew his people could ill afford.

Visitors came and went in robs, fineries and jewelries. It was open house. It was clear the family meant to recover lost grounds. Ahmed was prepared to let it be. No need to fight every fight.

He was not yet three weeks old but he was getting tired and bored to death. He longed for moments of quite reflections alone by himself, such as he had enjoyed on the small American campus where he taught. Here nearly all his waking hours he was surrounded by people, some of them perfect strangers. He could not take it anymore and he told his mother so. But she rebuked him. Omotola took him aside and urged him: bro take things easy.

The next day at the bank Omotola was dismayed again. It was a hot day; they had been on the queue for a while, now mercifully it was their turn. A man, all pomp and ceremony with a train of followers, walks in and demands to be served.  He was obviously what they refer to in Nigeria as a local champ. The cashier moves to serve him. Ahmed kicks the counter, overturns assorted customer forms, and shatters the flower pot. His sister who detested controversies was horrified.

“Woman what do you think you are doing?”  Ahmed shoved his and his sister’s papers through the slit and demanded his rights as the next on the line.

The cashier woman opened her mouth wide enough to swallow a small hut but no words came. Other customers mutely stared. The manager came out to see what was happening. The local champ, obviously stunned, offered to explain.

“I thought they were just standing there” the man said.

Ahmed ignored him. He ignored the manager for failing to promote at his bank simple basic rules of decency. Right now his quarrel was with the cashier, tthe fat woman he now confronted. How dare she! The awkward moment passed. Omotola who like many others of her countrymen, prefers to bury her head in the sand, could now breathe again.

How could democracy hope to take root in a country like this when people will not stand on their rights? Those dumb customers! Ahmed was disgusted. He repented the day he returned to Africa. As always with him at such moments the words of the poet came back to him.

Mother oh Mother why was I born Black?

Ahmed got to learn that in Africa the principle of first come first served may count for little. It was the mighty and the powerful that got their way. You see this on the road every day. Official cars, with lights flashing and sirens blaring, shove off other vehicles from the road. People calmly and quietly surrender as his sister and the others at the bank had wanted him to do.

A few days later Ahmed attended a public lecture at the university.  Professor Sinbad Kalule would address the hot subject of youth unemployment in the country. Massive youth unemployment was crippling the economy.

Ahmed made it a point to attend. Though a Muslim Ahmed knew about the story of the Pharisees, now to his surprise here in this lecture hall was a Pharisee.

I am no ordinary professor, Kalule’s very first words as the lecture began. In my days I was not like you the youth of today, was Kalule’s next sentence. His red eyes combed the auditorium filled with youthful students, the ones that would soon be on the streets without jobs upon graduating. The rest of the lecture went something like this.

In my days I attended the best school in this country. I passed my exams with flying colors and went to Oxford. I earned the PhD. As an eminent intellectual and a renowned scholar I have traveled and lectured around the world. I am the proud owner of a flat in central London and a string of properties in this country. Madam Chairperson, may I present my humble self, as an example to the youths of this great Country.

Question time came. Madam Chairperson smiled and pointed at the raised hand in the front rows. The student thanked the speaker for a lecture rich in information about the speaker. But how, he asked, may this help us to resolve the very real problem of youth unemployment that confronts us.

The chairperson was like a man stung by bees. Before the speaker could respond she was on her feet. This will be last question, she announced. Students rose as a body and left the auditorium. It brought the evening unceremoniously to a close.

As Ahmed drove home he pondered the evening. He came to the thought that there was some hope. No he will not return to America, yes he will stay in Africa.