Back to the motherland: How career has lead these British-born Africans back home
Dorcas wearing Kente on her traditional wedding day. Photo: Courtesy of Dorcas
The growth of the African diaspora in the UK isn’t set to slow down anytime soon. According to the Office for National Statistics, black Africans are the largest group in the UK’s black community, and at 89 percent, those from Nigeria or Ghana account for the majority. A portion of that group are millennials who have packed up and headed for the continent that, contrary to what the media says, is rich in opportunity and potential. They aren’t going to act as “saviours” but to explore and learn and to participate in a shift for the greater good.
I caught up with London-born and raised Dorcas Payne (27), and Umutoni Thuku-Benzinge (24), who share their experiences of going back to Africa.
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“I’m a brand partnerships manager for an ethical fashion and apparel company in my home country of Ghana. We currently work with factories in Ghana, Benin and Ivory Coast to build up their competencies and efficiencies in order to deliver and compete on the international clothing-manufacturing platform. From pay to the environment they work in, we empower the factory owners to work in a safe, sustainable and ethical way.
As the product developer and brand manager, I connect the factories to brands in the UK, U.S. and Australia and prove to them that they can access quality, creative clothing in West Africa.
It never really crossed my mind that I would fully relocate to Ghana. But I've always wanted to combine my love for home with my career.
After studying and working in London, I began to get itchy feet and thought about working and living outside of the city.
Once married, my husband — who is of Nigerian descent — was of the same thought. We both had hearts for the African continent and became more open to the prospect of moving back. I started being very specific in my job search and found a company on LinkedIn that I loved the sound of. I sent a speculative email with my CV (resume) attached. After a meeting with the CEO, I was offered a role with the company – it was sheer coincidence that it was in Ghana.
The opportunity to work for an ethical fashion and apparel company who are helping to build the industry to an international standard in West Africa aligned perfectly with my desires. To bring this passion to life back home in Ghana was a perfect match because it meant helping the country to strive in an area that could develop and empower them.
So far, it's been an amazing learning curve because I’m practically teaching an industry an entirely different way of doing something.
It's been fulfilling seeing some of the development that happens within the factories as a result of international orders. It's a slow process but an inspiring one nonetheless.
I think it’s extremely important for British-born Africans to explore going back to their home countries. We are vital in helping to bridge a connection and help narrate the true story of Africa. I think it's important that we don't see ourselves as saviours, but as collaborators with the people who love and call the continent home. It's important that we add to the economy and pursue ideas that the entire country can benefit from. In collaborating, we can learn a lot about our heritage and the natives can gain an understanding in areas they may not always be privy to. This exchange is probably where the most value is.”
Umutoni in traditional Kenyan wear at the Miss Scuba International finals in Malaysia
“I’ve always had a strong affinity with my East African roots. I’m Both Kenyan and Rwandese. I went to nursery in Kenya and returned to the UK at the age of 4.
I always saw a lot of my life in Kenya. In 2013, I took part in a beauty pageant called Miss Scuba International – a competition that raises awareness for marine conservation and celebrates the inner beauty of today’s modern woman. Unfortunately, I didn’t win the title of Miss Scuba International, but I was crowned Miss Scuba Kenya. During my reign, I was featured in different publications in the UK and Africa. It was very humbling. In 2015, I decided to go and spend some time in Kenya. Throughout the course of the year, I took four trips for no longer than two weeks at a time. I got to experience things that I wouldn’t have in the UK as there are certain fields in London that are very saturated. But while I was in Kenya, I realised that there were so many untapped opportunities. I was able to meet and even work with notable people in the business, media, charity and recreational sectors. I was a guest news anchor on a primetime show for a channel called KTN Kenya.
I think some people can be a little naïve in thinking that when you’re from the West, you go back to Africa just to inspire people. But there’s learning to be done on all sides. When I’m there, I learn from other people’s experiences and perceptions on life.
This is really a time for us as Africans to be proud of who we are, to understand the legacy we are coming from and use it as a foundation to build our own. The Kenya that I know now is not one I would’ve learned about through any type of media.
I definitely encourage others to visit and get to know their country of origin. There’s something very refreshing about being in a place where you don’t have to constantly reaffirm your identity. Where people know how to pronounce your name and understand your family background. Travel to your home country and other parts of Africa to make a positive contribution and also to learn. If you don’t know where you’re from, it’s hard to establish your sense of identity that helps position you to where you’re going.”
Connect with Umutoni on Twitter and Instagram: @blessedumu
Connect with Dorcas on LinkedIn: Dorcas Payne
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