One of my first encounters with expatriates in Africa was during my primary and secondary school days because both schools are owned by expatriates. The primary school I attended was owned by an Australian while the secondary school I attended was owned by an American. In both my primary and secondary education, I had lots of classmates who are sons and daughters of expatriates. Through my experience traveling around Africa, most especially the West African region, one thing I notice is the sheer number of foreigners. Every year the number of expatriates coming into West Africa keeps on rising, it is evident when you visit the airport, beach, mall, or even on the street.
Currently in our estate here in Abuja-Nigeria, we have a lot of expatriates from various countries around the world and the apartment at the top of our apartment building belongs to a foreigner. Every time I drive through the city, I am amazed by the number of expatriates I come across. The best restaurants in the city of Abuja, Lagos or even Accra in Ghana are mostly owned by expatriates. There is a trend on social media where 50 restaurants in Abuja are listed and locals are expected to highlight the number of restaurants visited. Among the restaurants listed, about 25 restaurants on the list belongs to expatriates.
Years ago, while I was still at college in Accra-Ghana, though I attended a British University, I decided to visit one of the top Government owned Universities called Legon University to sell clothes in their hostels. Back at college I ventured into the fashion business where I sold mostly male clothing to put into practice what I had learned at college as a business student. I was surprised to find out that a lot of the students in the hostel were foreigners from countries like United States and Europe. In the same city of Accra-Ghana, I remember visiting the Shangri-la Hotel for a business meeting with a brand-partner colleague from USA, where I saw a large number of American tourists, the hotel was virtually filled with them, and this is the same story when you visit most 4–5-star hotels in Ghana or Nigeria.
While at the University, I made a lot of friends from different African countries. Ghana is the center for education in Africa where students from Ivory Coast, South Africa, Gabon, Senegal, Guinea come to study, and most of them tell me stories about expatriates in their countries though their populations are not as large as Nigeria’s or Ghana’s. In the city of Accra-Ghana, you get to see expatriates in virtually every place you go. Because Accra-Ghana is a very peaceful city, expatriates easily mix together with the locals either on the streets, markets, public transport, schools and beaches. It’s a thing of joy to see expatriates wearing African textile like Ankara, African embroidered robes and African colorful beaded bracelets and necklaces.
Most expatriates who come to Ghana are there as tourist because Ghana has a lot of beautiful tourist attractions spread all over the country, including beaches, resorts, hotels and museums. On the other hand, expatriates in Nigeria are here because of the business opportunities that Nigeria presents. Nigeria is the giant of Africa, and if one is thinking about opportunities in Africa, then Nigeria has got to be the best destination. The second giant of Africa is South Africa, where you find one of the biggest companies in Africa mostly owned by expatriates.
In the past two years, I have come across several articles, social media post and news on Africa as the next best destination to find opportunities. I believe this is true because even when I was a kid, I remember stories about raw materials being extracted from Africa and transported to companies in overseas for manufacturing. Now that I am an adult, I still hear these same stories and even sometimes witness these events. People from around the world have come to realize that Africa has got a lot of untapped potentials, and that Africa welcomes anyone who wants to come down either for business or pleasure. In the past, Africans used to travel to foreign countries for greener pastures but nowadays it’s the other way round. One of the reasons is because Africans don’t always see the opportunities that lie in front of them.
As an African, I am happy to see a lot of expatriates coming in because it goes to show that we are blessed with abundant natural resources. Also, as expatriates are seizing these opportunities, it will go a long way in opening the eyes and minds of Africans to realize the abundant opportunities available within our reach.