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A New Way To Talk About African Diaspora
By Ali A Mazrui – April 15, 2006
I AM chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya, appointed by the head of state, President Mwai Kibaki. I believe that by appointing me, the president intended to convey the message that Kenyans abroad were not only welcome to come home, but they did not have to come back full time. I now go to Kenya two or three times a year, without giving up my American professorships.
The university has started an annual series of Pan-African conferences on the theme, "From Brain Drain To Brain Gain." We have also been developing a new vocabulary of discourse. A Brain Bonus is the unintended positive consequence of the Brain Drain such as remittances which, incidentally, help to augment the foreign reserves of various African countries.
A Brain Gain, on the other hand, consists of intended positive consequences, such as attracting Diaspora investment in technical fields. Last month, I was in Somaliland, a sort of Biafra that pulled out of Greater Somalia. The international community does not recognize Somaliland as a distinct entity, but the Somali Diaspora has begun to invest in the capital, Hargeysa. The Mansoor Hotel where I stayed during my visit was built with Diaspora money. So was the second high-profile hotel, the Ambassador.
My university in Kenya has also urged Kenya to accept dual citizenship as a way of encouraging the Kenyan Diaspora to identify more with their ancestral land and to invest more into it, without their capital being regarded as "foreign capital".
Our new vocabulary also distinguishes between horizontal and vertical brain drain. The horizontal version is when Africa loses its skilled human power to other developing countries. Horizontal brain drain can also be intra-African as when Nigerians and Kenyans scramble for jobs in southern Africa.
Or horizontal brain drain can be extra-African as when skilled Africans seek jobs in Kuwait, Dubai or in South Asia. As for vertical brain drain, this is the exodus of skills from Africa to the advanced world of North America, Western Europe or Japan.
Our quest for a new vocabulary of Diaspora studies includes the distinction between the Diaspora of post-enslavement, consisting of the survivors of the Middle Passage in the Americas, and the Diaspora of post-coloniality, consisting of Africans who went into exile as a result of the disruptions and dislocations of colonialism and its aftermath.
Within the US, we may distinguish between African Americans who are descended from survivors of the Middle Passage and American Africans, African migrants in the context of post-coloniality.
In the case of the African-Americans, the noun is "Americans," the adjective is "African." What kind of American? The answer is "African American". In the case of the American Africans, the noun is "African", while the adjective is "American". What kind of "African"? The answer is American African.
American Africans usually have direct relatives in Africa and maintain some contact with them. American Africans also tend to be at least bilingual, with one or more indigenous African language.
Can American Africans become African Americans? Decidedly yes, but usually in the second or third generation.
In the other direction, can African Americans ever become American Africans? The answer is also "yes". The first African Americans to become American Africans were Americo- Liberians.
Mazrui is the director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at the State University of New York at Binghamton
Source: City Press