Whilst African Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, and Africans in the diaspora are increasingly embracing the dream of reconnecting with their roots and migrating back to their ancestral homeland, for young people growing up on the continent, it’s a different story…

GhanaMade’s Find your way back series on YouTube tells the stories of those in the black diaspora who have decided to relocate to back to Ghana. These individuals are becoming more common across West Africa as racism, mental health woes, and fast paced lifestyles push those in the diaspora to return to their roots. 

The “Year of The Return” announced by Ghana’s president Nana Akufo-Addo in 2019 sent those in the diaspora a clear message – “You are most definitely welcome”.  Marking the 400th anniversary of the first African slaves arriving in America, the drive to attract black holidaymakers and settlers to the continent certainly paid off. That very year Ghana saw a 45% rise in its number of visitors, mostly from the US and UK (BBC 2020).

Aside from ‘returning to the motherland’ to understand and nurture your identity, the opportunities for those in the diaspora returning to the continent are also numerous. Investing back into Africa is big business, and those lucky enough to have savings to support themselves on arrival have gone on to become some of West Africa’s most successful talent. If you venture down the YouTube rabbit hole of #AmericaninAfrica you’ll see endless videos of celebs like US hip-hop star Akon, encouraging you to embrace Africa’s potential.

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Air BnB partnering with the NAACP to encourage more travel to Ghana for African Americans. Source: Essence.com

Arriving and settling in Africa has always been easy (just look at the British and French). Gaining citizenship is equally easy, and visas to most West African countries are relatively easy to obtain if you’re coming from Europe or the US. There are few limits stopping arrivals to West Africa, bar the global pandemic and being able to afford an expensive plane ticket.

The lure of a better life elsewhere has fuelled migration for as long as people have existed and moved around the planet. On the African continent, our relatively new nations contain groups who once spanned vast territories, transcended borders, and roamed nomadically across deserts. Movement is part of life for many Africans. However, whilst countries like Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal celebrate and welcome home those who arrive, vast numbers are still choosing to leave…

Despite the challenges faced in departing the continent, a huge 1.8 million people made the journey to Europe across the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 (Idemudia & Boehnke 2020). By contrast to those returning to Africa, in the era of fixed borders and statehood, the issue of relocation is vehemently policed. It is almost impossible to gain a visa to a European country if you don’t have significant funds, and taking illegal routes are life-threatening and risk resulting in deportation on arrival. 

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Senegalese migrants arrive back at the old airport in Dakar after deportation. Source:  © IOM 2017 / Tijs Magagi Hoornaert

The majority of those who make the dangerous crossing hail from West African countries. So why the stark contrast when compared the numbers of black diaspora who decide to migrate back to Africa?

It is not necessarily that those born and raised on the continent cannot see or appreciate its beauty. Most migrants leaving have few other options to support themselves. High levels of youth unemployment and lack of opportunities for large youth populations often plague their home countries. According to the UN 50% of African graduates were unemployed in 2017 (Africa Nakua.com). 

For those who migrate to make treacherous journeys, leaving their country is often a last resort. Even after risking their lives, many migrants stress the importance of returning home once they have gained success away elsewhere. 

There is plenty of opportunity for those eagerly arriving in West Africa, but few for those who’ve grown up disillusioned and unemployed. The push and pull of the continent is something we’ve all felt, its natural. Yet we cannot forget how for many Africans movement is a necessity worth risking your life for. Nigerians, who make up the largest group of African migrants to Europe, have a passport power rank of 71 out of the 82 countries listed (passportindex.org). Thus, leaving Nigeria is far harder than arriving.For every person arriving on the continent to reconnect with their roots, many more choose to leave. As more West Africans risk their lives every day, governments have a responsibility to not only encourage new citizens to arrive, but to also keep their current citizens at home