By Sharon Kantengwa
In recent years, there’s been a surge in what some have termed the reverse-brain drain in Africa. That is, Africans living abroad, including the well-educated and wealthy, are choosing to live and work on the continent.
The reasons and motivations for this are many, including: better living standards, job opportunities, and closeness to family, among others.
Akaliza Keza Ntwari, is a Rwandan who returned to the country for the first time in her early 20s. It was then that she began the long journey of learning her mother tongue, Kinyarwanda, being accustomed to the cultural norms and customs, and making a new home for herself.
“I can’t say I feel like I fully belong, but I am coming to accept that maybe this is not essential. I think the younger you are, the more important it is to feel accepted by a wider group. When I was in my 20s, I was so desperate to be seen by other Rwandans as a “true” Rwandan. Sometimes I would avoid speaking Kinyarwanda out of fear of getting laughed at, or questioned, or even chastised. Some people were actually offended that I didn’t speak Kinyarwanda properly or thought that I was lying about being Rwandan.
“More and more, I am starting to understand that home for me is my closest family and my truest friends. If you can create a community like that anywhere, it becomes home for you. These are the people who accept me as I am — with my stumbling words, wearing imishanana on the wrong shoulder, forgetting the many customs and rules that come second nature to everyone else, and so on. I’m thankful for the group of loved ones I have here,” Akaliza shares.
For her, there is no single definition of what it means to be an African, especially in this global village we live in today. So many African returnees can relate to her story while others have lived quite a different experience back home.
It is for this reason that Akaliza last week launched her new podcast ‘The Returnee Report’, where stories starting with hers and many more will be shared. It showcases the stories of Africans who’ve been living abroad, that is the African diaspora, who have returned to the continent of Africa.
“Some returned out of obligation, because of parents, spouses, new or lost jobs, etc. Others made a more deliberate decision to return to their motherland out of homesickness. Everyone’s story is different. There are returnees who have found it to be a difficult experience being back, not quite fitting in, while others feel they are finally where they are meant to be. This show wishes to share the diverse experiences of returnees from across the continent.
We tend to only hear a small part of these stories, the decision to move, and usually, a motivational message to others considering the same. But of course, the reality of these moves are a lot more complex. Some people struggle with the transition. Others find it exhilarating. I wanted to share different experiences, and hopefully every listener will find a story they can relate too,” she says.
She adds that although the show is sharing the stories of returnees, they are not just targeted for them. Her hope is that people from many walks of life will be able to enjoy these stories. Listeners across the continent, but also beyond Africa.
“When I first arrived in Rwanda, a Rwandan-German teenager lent me a book about “third culture kids”. It described kids like me who grew up with a “culture” that was not their parents, or even their own. Basically, they belonged to both cultures, but also to neither. Most of the stories in the book were about East Asian, European, and North American people, but I found it very relatable. I hope people from other cultures will also find this podcast relatable.
“I would be so happy if someone said that the show made them feel less lonely in the world. That it allowed people to see themselves in the stories of the guests we feature, and know that their experience is shared, and their feelings about their journey are valid,” she says.
She is hopeful that when the show takes off, she could do live or recorded discussions with her guests. At the moment, some of them have been sending her recorded messages based on some guiding questions.