Monique John wasn’t sure what to expect when she stepped off the plane in her new home: the West African nation of Liberia.
“It was very rundown looking,” the Brooklyn-born 28-year-old recalled of her first glimpse of the capital, Monrovia, nearly three years ago. “But my feeling as I was walking along the city’s main streets was a sense of excitement . . . it felt almost like an out-of-body experience to finally be in Africa.”
John is one of a number of African-Americans moving to the Motherland, some inspired by the recent “Year of Return” movement initiated by Ghana, 400 years after the first Africans were brought in chains to Jamestown, Va. Last year, Ghana gave citizenship to 126 people of African descent, many of them Americans.
Meanwhile, rapper Ludacris obtained Gabonese citizenship, as did actor Samuel L. Jackson after tracing his heritage back to that nation’s Bantu Tribe. (Neither has moved there full time.)
New Jersey couple Chrystol and Jason Warde hope to make their move this year.
“We wanted to be in a place where we can bring our experiences to people who are going to appreciate it to help develop [businesses],” said Chrystol, 33, the owner of two women’s clothing stores. Her 34-year-old husband, who emigrated from Guyana at 19, is a CPA.
The couple, who have one child, plan to visit Tanzania and Kenya in April, travel restrictions permitting, to decide which country suits them best.
Should they move to Tanzania, they’ll have to forfeit their US citizenship. Several of Africa’s 54 nations forbid dual citizenship.
Many Americans who moved to Africa cherish their newfound feeling of community.
Kathryn Kishimbo left San Diego three years ago for Tanzania, which she chose for its wealth of great landmarks, Mount Kilimanjaro among them. Now married and with a young daughter, she loves how warmly she’s treated.
“When they see Americans, nine times out of 10, they’re white,” Kishimbo said. “They’re super surprised to see me.”
Kaylan Reid, a journalist who grew up in Mount Vernon, NY, has lived in Namibia for 10 years.
“There is a comfort that comes with being around people who look like you, and seeing [people like you] on billboards and in government positions,” Reid, 36, said.
Even as many newcomers embrace their new homeland, they’re not blind to Africa’s traumatic past and occasionally rocky present. In Liberia, for instance, that includes violence, instability and extreme poverty following a 14-year civil war. The group Action Against Hunger estimates nearly 85 percent of the country are living below the poverty line.
John, a freelance journalist who has since moved back to the US, is haunted by the memory of a young girl selling popcorn across the street from her apartment.
“The electricity had gone out and she was trying to heat the popcorn with this little lamp while trying to get her homework done,” John said. “This is the reality of children having to forgo school altogether or manage a side hustle along with school to protect themselves and families.”
But many others, including Kishimbo, now living in Tanzania, say they moved for their children, because they see Africa as a safe haven from racism. She said Americans measure quality of life against “Western standards.” What her adopted country lacks in infrastructure and conveniences, she said, it makes up for in natural resources.
“If someone has a completely different way of life, we seem to frown upon it. But there’s more abundance here than I’ve ever seen in my life,” Kishimbo said. “In my front yard right now, I have a mango tree, an apple tree, a banana tree and an avocado tree.”
Rukiya McNair, 38, rejoices in a different kind of wealth. Originally from Pittsburgh, the relocation consultant moved to Tanzania with her husband and two children in September 2018. She loves how diverse Africa is.
“My kids go to this international school and their friends are from all over the world,” McNair said.
“I didn’t want my children to grow up in the United States,” she added. “It’s something different when you get pulled over by the police [in Tanzania], and you don’t have to worry about your life being taken. They’re able to be children here.”