Posted on February 21, 2024

Tired of Racism, Black Americans Try Life in Africa

Colette Coleman, New York Times, February 16, 2024

Jes’ka Washington lives in a six-bedroom house on a hill with avocado trees and a spectacular view, not far from the rabbit farm she runs. For less than $50,000, Shoshana Kirya-Ziraba and her husband built a four-bedroom, two-bathroom house on family farmland with goats, turkeys and about a thousand chickens. Mark and Marlene Bradley now call themselves islanders and the owners of three homes cooled by ocean breezes.

All of them are Black Americans who found their new homes in Africa. They are enjoying the substantially lower cost of living and, more important, they said, the absence of the racism and discrimination they experienced in the United States.

The Covid pandemic and the racial reckoning in the wake of the murder of George Floyd led some Black Americans to seek a different way of life abroad, in a movement that some are calling Blaxit.

Those moving to Africa are also looking for an ancestral connection. Their migration is less about money and more about acceptance, a path that many intellectuals and artists have taken before.

Today, a new life in Africa is open to people of varied professions who can work remotely. Immigration has been fueled by vocal proponents on social media and by government programs like Sierra Leone’s path to citizenship and Ghana’s Beyond the Return campaign; according to the Diaspora Affairs Office of Ghana, at least 1,500 African Americans moved to the country between 2019 and 2023. Despite the potential concerns for newcomers — including a wave of extreme anti-L.G.B.T.Q. policies across the continent — Black Americans are still making the trip.

Ms. Washington, 46, of Houston, relocated to Rwanda in 2020. Mrs. Kirya-Ziraba, 40, moved to Uganda from Texas in 2021. The Bradleys, who are in their 60s, settled in Zanzibar in 2022.

Ashley Cleveland, 39, a mother of two who runs a company that helps foreigners invest in and grow their businesses in Africa, relocated from Atlanta to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 2020 and is now based in South Africa. She said she appreciates that in much of Africa, race is “an abstract concept.”

“Seeing Black African people on the money, on the billboards, you immediately eliminate your Blackness,” she said. She welcomed this change for her children, who were 9 and 2 when they left the United States. Her older daughter, whose skin tone is deep brown, was no longer “bullied because of her complexion,” she said.

‘We’re at Home’

The Exodus Club has been helping people in the African diaspora move to the continent since 2017. R.J. Mahdi, 38, a consultant for the group, moved from Ohio to Senegal 10 years ago.

Mr. Mahdi said he had seen an increase in the number of Black Americans relocating to Africa in the past several years. “There are 10 times as many coming now as there were five or six years ago,” he said. By his estimate, demand for the Exodus Club’s services has grown at least 20 percent every year since its founding, when it had about 30 clients.

Becoming a “repat” felt empowering to Mr. Mahdi as a Black Muslim, he said. In the United States, about 14 percent of the population is Black, and just 2 percent of Black Americans are Muslim. In Senegal, however, nearly everyone is Black and Muslim. “For more reasons than one, we’re at home,” he said.

Mrs. Kirya-Ziraba, who is Jewish, said that when she moved to Uganda to join her husband, Israel Kirya, she went from being “a minority within a minority” to being surrounded by those who share her race and faith. Mrs. Kirya-Ziraba, who worked for a commercial real estate company in Texas, now runs Tikvah Chadasha Foundation, a nonprofit supporting Ugandan women and disabled children. {snip}


In Uganda, she no longer faces “a thousand cuts” of racism, she said. {snip}


But many people make the trans-Atlantic exodus to stop fighting. Mr. Bradley, 63, who moved with his wife, Marlene, 69, from Los Angeles to Rwanda in 2021 before settling in Zanzibar, said that arriving in Kigali felt like “a load off my shoulders.”

Mr. Bradley, who noted that he and two of his four sons had experienced fraught encounters with the police in the United States, said he would never forget the “lighthearted feeling” he had when approaching an armed officer in Kigali to ask for directions. The officer greeted him with a smile.

Mrs. Bradley also felt relieved and safer in Africa. “You don’t feel like you’re looking over your shoulder,” she said.

The Bradleys, who have retirement visas and live on retirement income, now reside in a newly developed planned community on the island of Zanzibar, about two hours by ferry from Dar es Salaam. Most residents of their development were not born in the country.

The community’s homes range in price from $70,000 for a 430-square-foot one-bedroom to $750,000 for a 3,000-square-foot oceanfront villa. With the money the Bradleys would have spent on one home in Los Angeles, they were able to buy their three-bedroom, two-bath townhouse; an investment property; and a home for two of their sons to eventually live in.

Ms. Washington is still in awe of her new life in Rwanda. She works as an online teacher with students in South Carolina and has an agricultural visa that allows her to run a rabbit farm near her home outside Kigali.

She shares her six-bedroom house with her 76-year-old mother. “I just never thought that a single woman with a teaching salary would be able to live in a space like this,” she said.

Her home on an acre of land with avocado trees costs $500 a month and required an initial six-month payment. Stipulations for upfront rental payments of several months, a year or even longer are common.

The move has given Ms. Washington more room, physically and emotionally. “One of the things I wanted to get away from for just a little while was being a Black woman,” she said. The expectation that she be strong — “because in America, Black women are supposed to be strong” — exhausted her. “I just wanted a space to be me.”