Immigration caps and my thoughts on going back…
Since starting this blog, I’m frequently asked to contribute to academic research, giving my thoughts on the development of the African diaspora in the West. It’s not new to me, and I quite enjoy it. I’m often asked questions about my work that I hadn’t even asked myself.
I had an interesting conversation recently with Barbara Hauer, an MA student of Communication for Development at Malmoe University, Sweden. Barbara’s degree project on New Media focuses on blogs, in the context of (mis) representations of Africa and Africans in Western media (and minds).
We briefly touched upon belonging and the term Afropean, which primarily relates to Africans living in Europe, in addition to Europeans living in Africa. We moved on to discuss nostalgia, and whether it’s the physical detachment from our home nation that drives people like me to proactively promote our culture overseas, maybe more forcefully than I would if I were living in Uganda where I was born.
As I wasn’t raised in Uganda, I will never really know the answer to that question; but, I do believe that my efforts to promote and support the development of Africa are in vain if they will only ever be from what is, admittedly, an outside perspective.
Go back to your country
In previous blog posts such as ‘the rise of African luxury brands’, I’ve testified that Africa’s middle class is growing, and growing fast. It’s tripped over the last 30 years, with one in three people across the continent living above the poverty line. Although I say ‘above the poverty line’, this is not among the wealthy. Nonetheless, the African middle class is set to grow to 1.1 billion (42%) by 2060, making it the fastest growing middle class in the world.
On face value this is great news I guess. The poor are becoming not so poor. More jobs in Africa, more money. Less immigration. Everybody’s happy. Especially as the tabloids love to paint their portrait of immigration as skinny unshaven foreigners scrambling across the border for a taste of the European dream. Yet this image is so far from the truth it’s a mass hallucination. In fact, Africa’s rising middle class is one of the continent’s largest threats. Africa’s emigrants are increasingly well-educated and overweight.
Let me explain
My parents and I hopped on the plane to London, from Kampala, Uganda in the winter of 1990. It was a cold and frost-bitten night, I sucked on sugarcane as my father’s afro danced in the wind whilst he flagged down a cab with a calabash at Heathrow. Haha, okay. I’m joking. My dad did have an afro at the time, but there was no calabash or sucking of sugarcane involved. Although I was intrigued by where that story was going…
The reality is, my dad was offered a job in London so we moved, my grandmother was living in West London, so we found a place nearby, and I’ve been living in West London since.
My point is, people who migrate from a poor country to a richer one, are not necessarily the poor people of that country. They are often the middle classes of that country, as (obviously) it costs a lot of money to make that investment in emigration. My family weren’t rich, but we were comfortable, and therefore, as the incomes in developing countries increase, more people are financing the cost of migration.
At a recent lecture I attended at LSE, Prof. Paul Collier said he believes the stock of diaspora (my grandmother in this case) feeds immigration. As understandably, having family in the UK was a determining factor that influenced my parents decision. This existing diaspora feeds the migration, and thus the migration feeds the diaspora. The rise of Africans in London alone, is a fast growing sub-culture in its own right, and consequently, as Africa’s middle class accelerates, so will migration, with developing countries at the threat of becoming empty. Empty of well-educated people driving change and thought leadership out of their countries into already developed nations.
The poor can’t help the poor
I’ve often flirted with the thought of relocating back to Uganda, especially as my mother moves back this January, I certainly feel more incentivised.
However, challenges with basic infrastructure and access to 4G can embarrassingly be enough to make me put those thoughts to bed. Yet, I have to remind myself why my country is subject to these infrastructural problems in the first place. Africa remains a place for the poor because it falls short of capital, which is a result of reckless Governance and a shapeless structure of political power.
The problem is that the people who are best placed to leave developing nations, or (like myself) have already left, are those most likely to drive regime change and challenge existing and unproductive systems. Which is why I ponder often, about bringing taking my skills back to my country.
Collins made a point in saying that if we really care about poor countries then we should move away from thinking migration controls are just global racism. He made a further brilliant point in highlighting Britain’s lack of foresight in enforcing caps on student immigration as the clearest thing we know about the effect of immigration on poor countries is that student immigration is beneficial, and far from being scaled down, it should be scaled up.
He states that the UK needs to redesign its invasion controls to allow the younger generations most beneficial to poor communities to be well-educated in western countries (if they choose) and then create realistic incentives and initiatives for these people to invest their skills back in the developing world.
UK immigration structures have been set by pressure from the tabloids rather than any sensible analysis and although Collins makes four key points which I agree on (although at varying degrees). The main one which relates to this blog post is how conflict and/or developing societies get skilled people back?
Barbara’s questions have made me re-read my ‘About’ page on this site which reads ‘Afroblush was created to be a contemporary culture and lifestyle site, that also reflects of the voice of Afropeans and the power of Africa’s influence on global popular culture’.
The power of Africa’s influence.
I ask myself,
Who is in control of that power?
What part do we have to play?
What part do I have to play….?
To be continued…