Position One:Live and Die in My Motherland or Leave?
Live and Die in My Motherland or Leave?
By Olive Nekesa Okumu
Some time back, my eleven-year-old sister, ever inquisitive and probing into matters one would think were above her age, asked me what my choice would be if I was given a second chance to be born and this time in any country in the world I fancied. I found myself too ready to answer. “Well”, I said, “I am not sure which country I would choose, but it would definitely not be Kenya.” My kid sister, who had obviously asked the same question of herself, said that she would choose to be born in Kenya time and time again because there was no other place on earth like her motherland.
I was reminded of that conversation when I saw the topic of this essay writing competition – “International Migration”. In fact, it seemed that the question of living in my country or migrating to another one had never left my mind. The dilemma it presented was deeply rooted in my being and the way I resolved it had everything to do with who I was and what beliefs and ideals I held dear.
There was a time when I too could not imagine leaving my motherland for any other country. Regardless of how magnificent another country might appear to be, the idea of relocating to it simply had no power over me. Even when my peers fantasised about living abroad, I remained the guardian of my conviction that I was in the right place, the place that was meant for me. I, therefore, could not help but wonder as to when my stance changed and for what reasons. Was it that I had stopped loving my country? Was it that becoming aware of the myriad of problems around me brought me face to face with the actual condition of my country and displaced my imagined version of it? Or was I hollowed out of all aspirations so that all I wanted was a better life, which I thought I could easily get elsewhere? Why would I, a twenty-year-old who has never set foot in another country, not want to live in Kenya for the rest of my life? After all, I used to belt out Sauti Sol’s “Live and Die in Afrika”, telling myself and the world that I would live and die in my motherland.
I gave myself time to look deep within myself to try and find the answers to my questions. I realised that no, I did not hate my country. I in fact loved my country and I was proud to be a Kenyan. What exactly was the issue then? Was it I that did not understand the meaning of loving my country and being proud of my nationality? If I was indeed proud to be a Kenyan, then why did I want to leave so badly? Why was the post “The goal is to leave Kenya and show fake patriotism by wearing the Kenyan flag wristband” always on my social media pages’ timeline? Why was the “American dream” my life dream?
It gradually dawned on me that I, as most of my peers, had imperceptibly bought the idea that the grass was greener on the other side. We had come to believe that life was better anywhere else except for where we currently were. This is the thinking of a multitude of people looking for ways to leave their country, especially people from countries considered to be “Third World” who wish to transit to the “First World”. We had convinced ourselves that by moving to more developed countries we would get a better shot at succeeding in life and accomplishing our life goals. And we had come to a point where nothing else, apart from the greenness of the grass, mattered.
I do acknowledge that the belief of a better life away from home may not be entirely a delusion. Many claims have been made to the effect that moving to a different country could be exactly what one needs to advance one’s career and expand one’s knowledge. Career advancement and expansion of knowledge preoccupy the minds of most young people and if they are shown the route to success in that direction they would pursue that route without a second thought. I too would not let go of the opportunity to advance to the next level of my career, and if that meant moving to another country then I would move in a heartbeat.
However, I can now see that this thought process is truncated. To begin with, how sure are we that as foreigners we stand a chance against the multitude of youth already struggling in their motherlands because they themselves cannot access the opportunities that we hope to get by moving to these countries? Are we really going to get the better conditions we enthusiastically hoped for or are we going to be despised because the reluctant hosts see us as desperate and a nuisance? Are we not likely to face hostility from the native citizens and won’t we have to suffer the humiliation of hearing “Go back to your country!” every single day? It is not a secret that uninvited immigrants are never received with open arms anywhere.
In as much as I wish I could avoid talking about, it is impossible to ignore the discrimination that people of colour face every day in foreign lands just for looking different. In the recent past the Black Lives Matters Movement gained attention all over the world, with millions of people coming out to condemn and protest against the mistreatment and annihilation of black people across the United States. If this was the fate of black people who were citizens of their country, how about those of us who have come from outside? We also witnessed discrimination against Asians during the Covid-19 pandemic as people from China in particular were blamed for the emergence and spread of the virus.
By now you could be thinking, “Oh she is such a naysayer. Why can’t she just embrace the positive without bringing up the negative?” I also wish I could, but that would mean choosing not to see. I am not trying to put fears and limitations on anybody’s ambitions and goals but surely it is worth seeing the full picture before deciding to make a move.
My second consideration is that, even if the grass was greener on the other side, it is not our grass. The truth is that we were not born to live on the sweat of others, that we cannot live with our dignity intact if we only benefit from what others have created. Is it not common sense that the grass is greener on the other side because someone is watering it? Does it not then follow that if you want it to be greener on your side you should water your side too? That got me thinking as to why we cannot strive to water our side instead of always being attracted by the lush green that is in someone else’s yard. It surely cannot be that hard to improve the living and working conditions of our people, can it? Those aspects of our reality that make us feel we live a wretched life and that make us pity ourselves have existed all over the world at one time or another. The difference is that, unlike us, all these other countries that we see as having “greener grass” have simply come up with better ways to address the problems they once struggled with. We too, then, can follow their example. All of us! Our government, too, must strive to find better ways of dealing with issues affecting the life of its people so as to make them want to stay. Otherwise, who is going to work towards growing our economy if everybody is gone?
I, therefore, have come to doubt that it is necessary or desirable for us to move from our motherland. I now know that I do not want to leave my country. Why would I if I do not hate it? I love my country and I am proud to be a Kenyan. I have come to terms with the fact that loving my country does not mean thinking or saying Kenya is the best country in the world. It also means admitting that as a country we should do better and we ought to do better because we have the potential to do better. I also know that it is not that those who want to leave are less patriotic than those who want to stay and they should therefore not be patronised because at the end of the day we are all Kenyans. But when, ultimately, it comes down to making a choice I sincerely hope that we all choose to live and die in Kenya and not leave.