Africans in the diaspora – converting brain drain into a brain gain

Abdulai Mansaray

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 November 2017

My friend once asked me to go on a cruise ship for a two- week holiday, but I turned him down. I reminded him that the last time my ancestors went on such a trip, they ended up in plantations. In those days, people were hunted down, killed, maimed, captured and forcibly taken to lands afar, to work as slaves in plantations. They were abused, misused and later refused by their slave masters.

They built what is now known as the civilised western world. From plantations, rail roads, roads, industries and right down to great cathedrals and churches, our ancestors built these monuments in the western world.

Meanwhile, Africa as a continent not only become stagnated, but was culturally and socially disembowelled, while the Western world developed. Slavery and slave trade has, and will forever remain the darkest mark on the history of mankind.

Interestingly, you will never hear of reparations to the continent. It is true that the abolition of the slave trade was promoted by abolitionists like Granville Sharpe, Thomas Clarkson, William Wilberforce and  Olaudah Equiano; to name but a few.

Despite their humane and well-meaning drive to abolish the slave trade and slavery for human dignity and liberty for all, the death knell came, thanks to the economic expediency of the industrial revolution; when man was replaced by machines.

The slave drivers realised that importing human cargo was no longer economically viable. They knew that “you can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.” It made more sense to employ them back in their home countries; hence the stampede for the Scramble for Africa in the Berlin Conference in 1884-1885.

This later ushered the clamour for independence by individual African states. The rest is history, but a new Africa was born. Enough of the history lesson, but and AFRICA WAS NOW FREE. ARE WE?

If freedom or independence of Africa has taught us anything, it is that “dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty”.

Slavery was a dreadful condition, but no one ever dreamt the day will come when many will be willing to go back and be slaves. We say that slavery has vanished from European civilization, but this is not true. During the days of slavery, Africa was ruled by kings and queens. Their spheres of influence were determined by the valor of their armies.

The more regions you conquered, the bigger the kingdoms, the bigger the loot and bigger the human cargo for sale to the slave masters. In those days, our ancestors were forced against their will, to traverse the vast oceans to work on the plantations. Today, history is repeating itself.

And that is where the paradoxical irony of African independence begins and ends. Slavery still exists, but it now applies mostly to women; and its name is prostitution. It used to be slavery, today it’s called human trafficking, the second largest and fastest growing organized crime worldwide; as if it’s different.

The difference today is that we believe in “slavery with every luxury, than freedom with a crust”.

Some logic has been given to the adage, “better to be a slave in heaven than a king in hell”. Do you blame them?

Unlike in those days when our ancestors were forcibly and brutally harvested from our kingdoms, today it’s not only voluntary but it feels vocational. Sadly ironical is the fact that these journeys don’t come cheap.

There are stories of people selling their family heirlooms to pay thousands of pounds to their traffickers. The social media and TV documentaries continuously chronicle these horrible odysseys; not only to highlight the perils of these journeys but to also deter would be “adventurers”. We see hundreds of young and abled bodied men and women dying from drowning; in their “senseless” bids for “a better life”.

The shores of the Mediterranean coasts are littered with the bodies of our children. From Libya, Spain, Italy, Malta and right down to Morocco, the fishermen now have a different catch. They are faced with the traumatic, gruesome and unenviable task of fishing out dead bodies from the seas on a daily basis. This senseless loss of lives in the Mediterranean seas has become a daily feature of our news bulletins.

Despite the efforts made by individuals, governments and the European Union, the battle to stem the tide seems lost. In spite of all the gruesome stories, the inhuman conditions in which some are held in transit, and the near certainty of death, our youths remain desperately determined to make these journeys. From the comfort of a leather sofa, it is tempting to castigate these people as psychotically suicidal; for even contemplating the thought of such journeys.

By any stretch of the human imagination, you may be forgiven to conclude that it is suicidal to take such a journey. But while eating our cornflakes and munching on our KFCs, let’s take a pause and ask ourselves; “what drives a person to take such extraordinary risks; knowing full well that death is as certain as day and night? ;and to pay for the “luxury” of such risks beggars belief. Do we need to pay for our own death?

So when you finish gulping your cornflakes, please answer this simple question; who is to blame? Our queens and kings have been replaced by Presidents and Prime Ministers. These leaders have perfected corruption into an art form, than Michael Angelo would envy.

As a result of their pervasive corruption, their misrule, mismanagement of our resources, their ineptitude and lack of compassion, and our collective lack of accountability, they have made our communities near impossible to survive. We trusted them with our hopes, aspirations, dreams and desires.

But by some political alchemy, they have not only generated a sense of acquired capability for death in our youths, they have also induced feelings of continuous and passive suicidality. It is such a continuum in the suicide spectrum that has made our youths emotionally bankrupt of the fear of death.

In a situation where someone sees certain death as a risk worth taking, is nothing short of being clinically suicidal. Paying for certain death? It cannot get more suicidal. Our youths have been driven to a point where they have lost all sense of logic and reasoning

But where does the responsibility lie in all this? The avoidable deaths of our youths lie squarely on the shoulders of our leaders.  Because of their bad leadership, corruption, mismanagement of our resources and general ineptitude and incompetence, our communities remain permanently brain drained.

Our leaders have made life so unbearable that our youths feel displaced, misplaced, replaced and marginalized in our societies today. They no longer believe that they have a stake in the development of our communities.

Sometimes, you are made to think that being African, is a treasonable offence or part of the original sin. They have successfully made it impossible to survive in our countries. It takes a lot to drive someone to such suicidal lengths, but our leaders have done so with such reckless abandon and the conscience of a chainsaw.

There can be no higher indictment for their cruelty to humanity than this. Consider it far-fetched, but this is not only genocidal but economic cleansing by remote control. Our leaders are responsible for continual and permanent violation of human rights.

On the other side of the migrant spectrum are the diaspora communities. It is politically correct to label it as “diaspora” but in reality, these communities are made up of people who are now living in voluntary exile. You would not expect anyone to willingly choose the yoke of slavery.

Sometimes, it is only the misfortune of exile that can provide the in-depth understanding and the overview into the realities of the world. But today, people in the diaspora have chosen slavery, though the chains are made of gold.

But one of the worst results of being a slave and being forced to do things is that when there is no one to force you anymore; you find you have almost lost the power of forcing yourself. As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free. Many of us have lost the psychological freedom, a firm sense of self-esteem that should be the most powerful weapon against the long night of physical slavery.

For In the diaspora today, we have exile organizations as our way of replacing the cities and villages we have lost.” There are loads of Whatsapp groups, old school groups, Alma Mata forums, Facebook pages of associations, and many more; all indicative of the subconscious feelings of the need to belong to the motherland.

These groups are all littered with feelings of nostalgia and loss.  Sometimes, the secret of redemption lies in remembrance. (Photo: Abdulai Mansaray – author).

Many in the diaspora who would love to return home; having realized that the streets in the west are not paved in gold  as once thought.

Today’s generation of African immigrants cleaning offices has become part of the culture – like male circumcision and supporting Arsenal.” Many would like to serve their communities in their variously acquired education, training and expertise.

Being in the diaspora sometimes feels like exile is a curse and you need to turn it into a blessing. Many would like to convert the brain drain to brain gain. Sadly, you are made to feel like a “foreign citizen” the moment you step on home soil.

The envy, the grudge and hatred towards you is literally palpable. Any room for innovation, new ideas or progress is met with “nor cam poil ya o”. That feeling of both citizenship and exile is not a time frame. Exile is an experience. It’s a sentiment; with all the attendant problems and complications and delight.


  1. Thanks Mr Mansaray for your inspired article that is true to the point. To be specific as we are from Sierra Leone I think that every leadership in Africa in general and Sierra Leone in particular should listen to the experts, especially what it means to earn less than $2/00 a day by a worker/citizen of a country and what that will mean to the welfare and well-being of that individual – socially, emotionally, and physically.

    It is time for our leadership to enforce the minimum wage a worker will have at least above the poverty level for whatsoever vocation/job an individual does formally for living. And it is Dr Yumkella who is the first man to stress the importance of that in one of his lectures in Makeni some time ago.

    I believed that if this is establish for every third world country in the world and stick to that rule then this massive looting, die-man/ghost workers names in pay sheets will be minimum. In the first world nations workers are paid by the hour and if third world leaders can implement the UN charter for poverty alleviation within their society whole hardheartedly, then these hustling ventures our brothers and sisters are taken for greener pastures leading to their detriment and their family will be minimized.

    • Thanks brother. We are in this together. collective action for collective solution required. We need to change the mindset and status quo. As Sierra leoneans, we deserve more.

  2. Wow, well said and comprehensively written. This is the naked truth my brother. I felt a chilly sensation right though my spine as I read this article. I have lived abroad for 23 years, London to be precise. I have studied to Masters level and work in the health sector which in itself has a lot of prejudices and discrimination.

    Sometimes you wonder whether you want to go back home or stay, but the question is to go back to what? We left our brothers and sisters back home who are trying very hard, but feels let down by the system. When you find yourself in such a situation you always want to go abroad even if it is next door.

    Some people are lucky to make it and succeed quickly and have impact on the lives of people back home. But some are unfortunate. One of the biggest problems that we have in Africa is putting a poor person in a place of power. He will use that power to empower himself.

    Our current Presidents and prime Ministers want to be served instead of serving the people and that is where the problem is. Leaders are meant to serve their people and not the opposite and that is how they get themselves into problems. Our leaders ascend power when they are poor and so they have that poverty mentality and so they always think poor.

    The first thing they do when they ascend to power is to use their positions to enrich themselves very fast. They think about themselves first and that is how corruption kicks in. Living abroad this long has always made me wanting to go back home to contribute to the development of my country, but the few times I have been there on holidays has always put fear into me.

    Everything you do, hands have to exchange (money gift) otherwise nothing works. Sometimes you get caught up in between wanting to go back or stay abroad and carry on doing the donkey work until you drop dead. You will be caught in this thought until you start getting old. And if for some reason you have not been able to do anything for yourself back home like having your own house, then you start to feel guilty.

    It will have so much psychological effect on you. Remember our people back home too are waiting to see what you can do for yourself because they have this mentality that money grows on trees abroad. If for some reason you have not been able to raise enough money to settle back home, it becomes a problems and time waits for no man.

    The more time you waste time in deciding whether to go back or stay the quicker time passes and the faster you get older without you realising it. This is a very difficult debate and it depends who is arguing it.

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