Between here and there, Nigerians in the world
Given a few things that have happened lately around Nigeria and (popular) culture, I imagine I should write about something to do with fashion. In the last six weeks, it seems every major city in the world – from New York to Milan to London to Paris, has hosted its Fashion Week, and Nigerian models like, Mayowa Nicholas, have walked in practically all of them. Plus, Lagos is having its fashion week later this month.
Or maybe I should write about the ongoing infiltration of Nigerian pop music on the global landscape. After all, Wizkid just played to a sold-out Albert Hall in London and Davido just launched a capsule clothing collection with London’s Selfridges in collaboration with the Nigerian menswear designer, OrangeCulture, and StyleHouse Files. Those are interesting cultural happenings too.
But at the moment, as I am traveling outside the country I’m not thinking about those specific things as much as I’m thinking about the idea behind those things, the idea of Nigeria in conversation with the rest of the world; from music to fashion, to tech, to innovation. And I’m thinking about how those conversations are happening because Nigerians both in the country and in the diaspora, are not only doing amazingly well in their respective fields, but also continue to have a way of becoming leaders and top tier professionals in whatever they set their minds to do. And the question I’m stuck on a bit in regard to all this, is: why I am hard pressed to find intentional platforms and structured opportunities to foster conversations and collaborations between Nigerians (across ethnic groups) at home and Nigerians abroad, who share similar interests, and professional fields, and who have similar aspirations to shape a new African narrative?
I moved to Nigeria a couple of years ago from a lifetime overseas but my work still permits for a bit of travel out of the country. What I’ve noticed increasingly over the last few years, perhaps because I’m more alert to it, is that regardless of where I am in the world, I am always certain to meet up with Nigerians living in the diaspora and involved in creative and successful vocations and professions. What usually follows are thought-provoking and enriching conversations about what it means to different people to be a Nigerian in their unique part of the world, and what sort of loyalties, if any, permeate their connections to either or both countries. And what are some of the factors that affect these loyalties and perceptions of “home” and being Nigerian. Another part of the conversation that always leaves me energized and with food for thought is when the topic comes up of ways to try and build creative and professional bridges between those of us at home and those of us abroad. Yet, invigorating as these periodic meetups go, they are dinner table conversations, musings and brainstorming over coffee. Afterwards people return to their busy lives in their respective cities and countries.
For many young Nigerians born, raised and more or less still living overseas, social media and the all-encompassing internet have played an overwhelming role in influencing their desire to connect with home on both a social and professional level. Nowhere and nothing appears as distant or foreign as it once might have been and the cross pollinations between cultures is happening across art, fashion, music and more. You can watch live feeds from events happening around the world. Professional travellers and social influencers hop around the continent, exploring Africa with an eye to trying to make it more aesthetically hip and appealing to young people, while also hoping to document people and experiences in order to help shift the African narrative. To be young, black, and able to travel is almost its own niche market. And that’s not a judgment, it’s merely part of the current cultural pulse. If you don’t believe me, just get on Instagram and search #weTravelToo or #travelingWhileBlack or #blackgirlstravelToo or something of that variation.
The point is, for a lot of Africans (and African Americans) who have never really lived on the continent, Africa doesn’t seem so far away or out of reach (on various levels) from what many first-generation Africans may have felt, before returning to their countries of origin. Even though Africans raised in the diaspora often acknowledge being reared in homes where their parents tried hard to instil a sense of African identity into them, the truth is that, nothing can really compare with spending significant time in your country or prepare you for living there if you haven’t done so before. There are still cultural differences that are experienced on multiple levels in simply trying to navigate various relationships and multiple contexts on a daily basis. The culture shock of returning home to “Africa” is very real.
But what broader awareness and accessibility has done is to set the stage for two really important things to happen: One, there’s been an increase in motivation and a steady influx of more and more young Africans, coming back to the continent, with a desire to both learn and contribute to continuing to make Africa all that she can be. Two, this has opened wide necessary doors for conversations and collaborations, between Africans who live on the continent, and those who don’t. To be specific: between Nigerians raised and living abroad, and Nigerians here at home.
Yet, there doesn’t seem to be much structured or intentional spaces and avenues for real dialogue about what is possible with professional collaborations between us! Having now lived in Nigeria for the better of three years and my experiences as a Nigerian abroad, I think about how many Nigerians are in positions of leadership and expertise in their given fields all over the world. I see connections and collaborations happening quietly and through the self-initiatives of young, creative and energized Nigerians between New York and Lagos, London and Abuja, Paris and Abuja, Dubai and Los Angeles. It is beautiful but also seemingly too rare. There could be so much more, more awareness of people in their various fields, more structured and supported initiatives to build bridges, and more powerful and far reaching collaborative work to use the African story, the Nigerian story, to change the face and the work of multiples fields across the world.
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