Returnee Spotlight: Jemila Abdulai Compares Returning To Africa And Visiting

Returnee spotlight: Jemila Abdulai
Returnee spotlight: Jemila Abdulai
Jemila Abdulai posing on a metal chair (Photo credit:

The famous saying โ€˜Home is where the heart isโ€™ takes on a whole new meaning when an African in the diaspora contemplates relocating to their homeland. This is because, over time, they have adapted to a new culture and created a new identity for themselves.

Therefore, it is only natural that their host country becomes their new home. Jemila Abdulai in her returnee chronicles examines the realities of returning to Africa versus visiting. She bluntly echoes the views of many and gives an unbiased comparison.

You Need More Than Optimism to be an African Returnee

Jemila Abdulai is the founder of the website She believes that it takes more than optimism to return to Africa. In an article of the same title on her website, she candidly examines the dilemma that faces Africans living abroad.

For many of them, a time comes when they have to choose between just visiting or coming back to stay. For an African that has never left the shores of their country, this may be an easy decision. However, for an African in the diaspora, it is a different ball game.

Many Africans in the diaspora have built their businesses and career around their location. Moving back to Africa will mean leaving everything behind and starting from scratch. Considering that they may be in their late thirties or forties, they may not have that mental and physical strength to build from the ground up again.

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Jemila Abdulaiโ€™s Return to Ghana

After attending secondary school in Ghana, in 2005, Jemila Abdulai proceeded to Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, USA. There, she embarked on her undergraduate course. Thereafter, she pursued her masterโ€™s at Johns Hopkins University.

In 2010, Jemila Abdulai decided to return to the continent. However, her returnee experience was not a typical one. This is because for several years she worked as an expatriate in Senegal, Tunisia, and Ivory Coast before ending up in her home country, Ghana.

The Challenges Returnees Face

According to Jemila Abdulai, the prospect of returning home may seem enticing. However, the decision to relocate is not one to be made lightlyโ€”and should not be made emotionally. Such a move calls for careful thought and planning.

Jemila makes a valid point that residents of developed lands take a lot of things for granted. They are accustomed to having the basic comforts of life at their fingertips. Systems function relatively well, there are good internet speeds, reliable electricity, and healthcare is readily accessible among many other amenities.

The reality is that such services may not be readily available back home. If they are, it is costly to access them. For Africans in the diaspora who get these amenities at their beck and call, not having them is a serious challenge. It is a learning curve that may take years.ย 

Reverse Culture Shock

Jemila Abdulai returned to African and has been helping Africans in diaspora find their route
Jemila Abdulai [Photo credit: Jon Boafo โ€“ Medium]

Reverse culture shock is an interesting term that Jemila uses in her article. It describes the sensations returnees experience when they are faced with the reality that things at home are not exactly as they remember them. The term implies that there is a need to adapt to new circumstances.

During their absence, life was not on โ€˜pauseโ€™.ย Family, friends, society, and perhaps their old neighborhood may have changed. Moreover, returnees have to face the reality that perhaps they too, look at things differently now.

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Returning to Africa is not all Gloom

In her article, Jemila Abdulai also highlights some of the positives of coming back. The African way of life is warm and colorful, the food is good, and the music beats are enticing. Also, the African people are enterprising, and most importantly resilient. They succeed even when the odds are stacked against them. There is a lot to admire in the spirit of the African people.

Jemila Abdulai Compares Visiting and Relocating

Jemila Abdulai compares returning to Africa to visiting
Jemila Abdulai [Photo credit: Brenda Lutterodt]

Africans living abroad will agree that it is exciting to come home for the holidays. You bask in the kind hospitality that is extended to you, and you are enthralled by the new developments around. Sometimes, the good times you have makes you consider extending your holiday.

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However, relocation is different. According to Jemila Abdulai, the trauma of relocation can be so severe that it can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. This is because you encounter a different and more realistic โ€˜versionโ€™ of your home. The initial excitement wears off and you have to adapt to a new way of life.

Why do some choose to come back home?

Former President Barack Obama experienced an extraordinary feeling the first time he visited his fatherโ€™s homeland. It is the feeling that you matter and that your name is important. This same feeling resonates with many returnees.

Many Africans who choose to return home echo the same sentiments. They return home because that is where they feel a sense of belonging. That is where they are recognized. Describing his experience, Obama said,

ALSO READ: Can Africaโ€™s Brain Drain Be Reversed?

โ€œI was an American, unfamiliar with my father and his birthplace, really disconnected from half of my heritage.ย And at that airport, as I was trying to find my luggage, there was a woman there who worked for the airlines, and she was helping me fill out the forms. When she saw my name, she asked if I was related to my father, who she had known. That was the first time that my name meant something.โ€

Some Africans living abroad opt to return for the sake of their children. They feel that they can offer them a better quality of life back home. Also, childcare is more affordable and they can get acquainted with their culture as they grow up.ย 

Some wish to be part of the change

Jemila Abdulai mentions that when she was working as an expatriate in Senegal, she felt detached from reality. Although she sympathized with her colleagues during times of crisis, she stood on the sidelines when local issues were raised.

Similarly, some returnees recognize that there are serious challenges back home, such as poverty and corruptionโ€”and want to help tackle them. Instead of standing on the sidelines, they want to be part of the solution.


Jemila Abdulai has made lots of valid points that every African in the diaspora needs to consider carefully. Coming back to Africa means you have to forgo some privileges. In some African countries, you have to wake up to the reality of providing yourself with amenities that should be the responsibility of the government.

It does indeed take more than optimism to be an African returnee. The decision to return to oneโ€™s homeland is not only emotional but also a deeply personal one. However, there is love and beauty waiting at the end of the tunnel.

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