“I’ve always felt that I’m affected by the world, by the way we treat each other, by the way different countries treat each other. P. J. Harvey”
A unique trend has emerged and continues to emerge as more Zambians find the financial freedom to relocate outside Zambia and raise their children abroad. Part of this unique experience has been the existentialism dilemma that members of the diaspora have come to suffer from; this is tantamount to clinical depression as their identity has been questioned.
One thing remains as fact, Zambians living abroad occupy an intermediary existence between Zambia and their adopted countries. In Zambia, they are acutely “UNZAMBIAN” having adopted mannerisms, to a limited extent, of their adopted countries. While in their adopted countries their “Zambianess’ is fully accentuated as they are surrounded by a culture that is not their own. The psychology of most Zambians then becomes uncorrelated as they feel compelled to pronounce their adopted countries when they are in Zambia and profoundly engage in activities to reassure themselves of their “Zambiness” when they are abroad, occasionally sampling some Kapenta or Ifisashil that relatives send to them.
While many sociologists and economist have provided insurmountable research on the benefits of immigration by Africans with reports from the African Development Bank stating that “ African Migration generates win-win benefits” it is no wonder that immigration for Africans has been limited to the prism of “economic benefits” forgoing the psychological damage that immigration has done to members of the diaspora.
Western Union and Money Gram aside, we need to really discuss the psychological impact of immigration on Zambians and the systematic evolution of an existence that is neither Zambian or that of their adopted country. What most “theorists’ fail to contend or discuss, is the clinical psychological problems that Zambians abroad suffer from. This has not been much of a discussion because Zambians themselves come from a culture which does not condone psychological issues and rarely prioritizes them as a matter of genuine academic or social inquiry.
My genuine assessment from my interactions with Zambians abroad and Zambians in Zambia, reassures me that there is an informational gap between the two “individuals.” On the one hand the tradition has been to praise those abroad as having far much more sophistication than those in Zambia, while the reality is that most Zambians abroad are suffering from an identity crisis that has seen them stripped of their Zambian identity and has failed them to fully integrate in their adopted countries. Identity is the main framework of analysis, as Zambians born in Zambia can hardly ever be anything other than Zambian despite the fruitless attempts at integrating into other cultures! We need as a society to fully go beyond the economic implications of immigration and articulate the psychological detriment that it has on Zambians who have immigrated. More scrutiny has to be placed on the duality of existence that is often the reality of the men and women in the diaspora.
Only through genuine social analysis can we fully balance the economic benefits of immigration abroad with the constant nostalgia that our fellow citizens suffer from. In addition, we should all evolve beyond the sense of extolling individuals abroad and make every effort to integrate them in the culture that in their blood and mind will always be part of them, the culture of their ancestors. This will afford many Zambians abroad an opportunity to retain their roots, and become comfortable with being Zambian yet living abroad. Only when we have this approach can we truly conclude the economic benefits of immigration abroad.
By George N. Mtonga