Living the reaspora: Afropolitans back home

In the web series ‘An African City’, five highly qualified and fashion obsessed young women decide to return to the continent where their ancestors were born – to Africa. Is this the new African elite?

Est. reading time: 6 minutes

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Only recently, debates on global mobility of people consider the movement from economically richer to poorer countries, even though this trend increases from year to year. People do make this move for various reasons – for love, for education and work, for safety, retirement and old age care. This mobility pattern embraces returnees as well as new immigrants: old and young – women and men. The web series ‘An African City’ takes up this new trend, starring young women returning to Accra city, the capital of Ghana, said to be one of the world’s fastest growing economies. As the trailer goes “Every once in a while, those of us who have left our homeland, we return. This is the story of five African women who have left the West to find the life – and love – they have been searching for… back home! This is the story of an African city”.

The series showcases West African families, who went abroad in the politically turbulent 80ies and 90ies. Their daughters grew up in England and the US, and were educated as lawyers and economists in world famous Universities. Now, they return to start their promising careers back „home“.

What do these five young women experience once they are back in a Metropolitan they don’t have much memories of, but which they call home? How their “coming home” is represented you can check out by watching the first episode entitled ‘Return’:

The intertwining

Facebook documents the web series making; the background of the writer and producer, the biographies of the actors and the comments of the vivid fan community. A first glance shows that the two spaces – the acted online serial and the actual life-world of the actresses – are intertwined. In an interview, the main actress MaameYaa Boafo tells us that she herself is a Ghanaian living in the United States and has many Ghanaian friends educated in the US, who recently went back to Ghana. Her instagram profile furthermore shows that the launch of the web series in 2014 was a meet and greet of Ghanaians living in Washington DC. The screening becomes a “real-life meeting point” of the Ghanaian diaspora, thus exactly of those people, who later may become “returnees” and who identify with the series main characters – or their actors.

Being an Afropolitan

All main actors are of “African descent”, some of them are even returnees, thus all somehow “identify with being African whether or not we’re considered ‘African enough’ according to the others”. Yet both, the actresses and the series characters are “Afropolitans”, living at ease in various life-worlds. The notion “Afropolitan” was among others coined by Tayie Selasi (writer and photographer, daughter of a Nigerian-Scottish mother and a Ghanaian father born in London), describing the newest generation of African migrants living in random major metropolises around the world: “You will know us by our funny blend of London fashion, New York Jargon, African ethics, and academic successes. Some of us are ethnic mixes, e.g. Ghanaian and Canadian, Nigerian and Swiss; others merely cultural mutts: American accent, European affect, African ethos. Most of us are multilingual: in addition to English and a Romantic or two, we understand some indigenous tongue and speak a few urban vernaculars. There is at least one place on The African Continent to which we tie our sense of self: be it a nation-state (Ethiopia), a city (Ibadan), or an auntie’s kitchen. Then there’s the G8 city or two (or three) that we know like the backs of our hands, and the various institutions that know us for our famed focus. We are Afropolitans: not citizens, but Africans of the world.”

Making the Reaspora

In the first episode, the main character Nana Yaa returns to Ghana after receiving her first degree at Georgetown University and her graduate degree in journalism from Colombia University in the US. This time it is not just for holidays – Nana Yaa wants to re-settle in her motherland. After the families’ driver picked her up from the airport her parents give her a warm welcome. Soon after she meets up with her five female friends: “Welcome home, the African continent finally has you back, and just in time for the holidays” sais Sade, her Ghanaian-Nigerian friend, raised in Texas and now working as marketing manager for a prominent Nigerian Bank. Soon after, Makena asks, “So how is it to be back home?” Makena has a Ghanaian mother and a British father; she spent most of her life in England, where she graduated from Oxford Law School. However, after a divorce she had decided to come back to Accra. Nana Yaa responds “It is exciting and scary at the same time – it’s scary because I don’t know how I wanna survive without Starbuck’s coffee for the rest of my life…”. “Well”, sais Ngozi, a Nigerian raised in Maryland now working for a development agency in Accra, “instead of Starbuck coffee, at every corner you will find plenty of fried plantains, so we are just fine!” That she is not always fine we learn soon after, when she in a complicated manner orders food without meat and no spices. This is, according to Sade very „un-African“, who theatrically claims that “We are Africans, we are supposed to love meat and pepper!”

The “reaspora”, a colloquial term used to describe returnees from Diaspora communities around the world, is made by these young women with highly mobile life trajectories. At several points they touched on African soil by birth, by building their careers, having relatives here and there but preferably enjoy to meet up with women sharing the same experiences with similar socio-economic backgrounds. They are living a life somewhere in-between “being Africans, who love meat and pepper” and “being westerners who forget that one doesn’t use the left hand to hand-over things” as the characters point out. The celebration of a highly mobile life style also hints to an immanent uncertainty of belonging. The characters seem to search for some stability in their mobile life trajectories by creating a territorial fixed category of home: „….home is where my ancestors are“ as Nana Yaa makes the point.

Clichés of an African elite

The web series displays reasporan life-world contrasts, the often mediated images of poverty and disease struck Africa, with a special intention to show a diversified picture by portraying upper middle class life styles. By doing so, the web series makers` also paint a rather superficial image of an elite in Africa, relying on stereotypes, pointing to extremes rather than articulating the complexities and ambiguities, which these mobile life styles inevitably stand for.

Yet, the story line is amusing with its characters playing with gender roles, diving into sexual liaisons, sharing sugar daddies, and searching for the loves of their lives…

*References

 1 The picture is from the producer’s website: http://www.anafricancity.tv/Images/bgcast.jpg. 2 The video is from their You Tube channel
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Jana Gerold is a medical anthropologist working on the young and old, urban farming and digital communication. Currently based at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel.
Michelle Engeler is a social anthropologist working on political transformations, migration and academic life worlds in West Africa. Currently based at the IGK Work and Human Life Cycle in Global History at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.


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1 Comment

  1. mm

    Thanks Jana and Michelle! Enjoyed the read 🙂 Here’s a great piece by Emma Dabiri‬ that really accompanies your recent ‪#Analysis‬: “In an era such as ours, characterised by the chilling commodification of all walks of life — including the commodification of dissent — we should be especially vigilant about any movement that embraces commodification to the extent that Afropolitanism does. […] For me Afropolitanism is too polite, corporate, glossy – it reeks of sponsorship and big business with all the attendant limitations. […] “[W]hile we may all be Africans, there is a huge gap between my African experience and my father’s houseboys.” http://africasacountry.com/why-im-not-an-afropolitan/ #‎afropolitianism‬ ‪#‎power‬ ‪#‎capitalism‬

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