Garveyism and Japa syndrome

By June 28, 2023 4 Comments

Marcus Garvey was one of the frontline Pan-Africanists who with his organisation, United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) was widely known for his campaign to have in Africa a Black-governed nation. He also campaigned that blacks should be ‘Back to Africa’ and that “liberty would come about only through the return of all Afro-Americans to their ancestral homes in Africa.” But his contribution to the African renaissance did not stop at the Back to Africa which he tried with limited funds to unsuccessfully repatriate Blacks. Garvey pursued and also campaigned for African history, confidence and empowerment for “Africa {to} be a bright star among the constellations.”

Garvey saw that Blacks were being exploited and left out of the global economy, he believed that Blacks would be respected if they were economically strong. He preached an independent Black economy when he floated Black Star Line which his business decisions and partnerships crippled but Garvey’s influence went beyond him. Garvey’s belief was instrumental for Africans who left to study abroad to return to lead the anti-colonial struggles and eventual independence across African nations. Although Garvey was not the foremost purveyor of return to Africa ideology, many attempts to return Blacks to Africa were made before his emergence.

“I have no desire to take all black people back to Africa. There are blacks who are no good here and will likewise be no good there.” Garvey said but Kwame Nkurumah would admit, “I think that of all the literature that I studied, the book that did more than any other to fire my enthusiasm was the ‘Philosophy And Opinions Of Marcus Garvey, Or Africa For The Africans.” Kwame named Ghana’s shipping line Black Star Line and Ghana’s national football team is called Black Stars as many African countries adopted the red, black and green colours, which the 1920 Convention of the UNIA declared as Pan-African colours. Garvey also influenced Nnamdi Azikiwe, Jomo Kenyatta, Nelson Mandela, Julius Nyerere, and Patrice Lumumba, including Martin Luther King as noted by Kwaku in “Back To Africa was not Marcus Garvey’s Pan-Africanism focus.”

In 2019, Ghana’s Nana Akufo-Addo declared it as the Year of Return which “sort to make Ghana the focus for millions of African descendants reacting to their marginalisation by tracing their ancestry and identity.”

Read Also: Africa’s helplessness

After these efforts for Africans to be a bright star among the constellations, Africans have resorted to japa – escape in Bini expression.

Migration of Africans did not start with japa. Oxford Research Encyclopedia stated, “Migration has been a central factor in African history. It is likely that the human species started spreading on the planet within and outside of Africa between 2 and 2.5 million years ago” Ian Tattersall said, “in Africa our lineage was born, and ever since its hominids were first emancipated from the forest edges, that continent has pumped out successive waves of emigrants to all parts of the Old World.”

Over the centuries, Africans had engaged in migration in both forced and unforced migration. People who are japa believe they are doing so because the system of poverty, unemployment and insecurity are unjust to them. While this seemed forced migration, it is willful classism at play in some and egoism in another. It is equally a trend that many people now see themselves as left behind as families’ brag about their wards studying or living abroad. It is a prayer point and aspiration of many young people.

“I maintained that “Our brain drain today will be our brain gain tomorrow.” Nigerians leaving the country may look like a loss today, but when we start doing the right things and taking the governance of our nation more seriously, the knowledge and resources from them will be critical in the building of the New Nigeria, as it happened in China, India, Ireland and other developing countries.” Peter Obi stated.

If the brain drain of today is a gain tomorrow, the centuries-old migratory tendencies of Africans would have been a gain for 21st century Africa but that has been far from being a reality. Africa has suffered from brain drain and Nigeria in particular is suffering from it.

Take example of the health sector, many hospitals are lacking adequate personnel and many good doctors have japa, this is not helping the citizens of Nigeria as at today. When many people japa, who will be left to make Nigeria new? In the quest to japa, many Africans have lost their lives and the offsprings who have no desire to return to build Africa.

Like Garvey said, Africans should build Africa and in that comes respect. But in japa, it is no longer a forced migration but a willful choice of depopulating Africa after the wave of slave trade.

Africa’s “population growth is not the main constraint to Africa’s development anymore and can even be a positive force…the projected global demographic imbalance can become an opportunity for Africa” Wolfgang Fengler noted.

That opportunity as seen is for the economy of other countries. Yet, Africa lost. The economy of Africa is losing its brain backbone and workforce. Nigeria is losing.

In Japa, Garvey and his hope for Africa for the Africans and building an independent African economy, seem defeated.


  • Inno uzuh says:

    It is not a lie that with this syndrome Nigeria is losing generations of families. And it will continue unstopped untill we begin to take governance seriously in the country. My major concern is that these politicians don’t seem to understand that Nigeria is losing a workforce that will be hard to fill if something is not done quickly in the health sector.

  • Amarachi Ruth says:

    Good initiative.

  • Alex Byanyiko says:

    Nice perspectives. I would have loved it if even more if you had emphasized on the criminal tendencies of African leaders that have made the continent so undesirable for her children, leading many to Japa.

    Well done for this timely piece 👏👏👏

  • David Egbeama says:

    Great perspective! I equally agree with your POV and submission. I have always felt something ominous about this willful migration that is going on. Countries of the West are also relaxing their immigration policies in subtle ways via the Educational route and critical skill acquisition route. I see some sort of renewed modern slavery looming and likely to be reenacted by these countries over the next few decades, if African leaders do not consciously put a clear return path process in place. Ofcourse most people will justify “japa” as economic migration, but I have a nagging feeling of a continuation of modern slavery in the decades ahead. With biotechnology and all sorts of genome researches that could be race-target-specific, we could end up seeing a more scientific, bizarre “control mechanism” unleashed on Africans in diaspora. I pray I am wrong on the long run.

    That statement made by H.E Peter Obi is borne out of patriotism on the face value, but like you said, we do not have any empirical historical data to support such optimism of mass return, if we, as a people and government do not put deliberate long term plan to ensure return of “japas”. Economic development and technological advancement in Africa may not serve as enough motivation particularly if the West harbours counter plans for the future.

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