Puzzled, uneducated and confused are few of the words that Europeans use to describe Africans in Europe and that is probably because those Africans that migrated to Europe in the later part of the twentieth century came in as laborers and factory workers. They came into Europe clueless of the European legal system and how it functions and as such they voluntarily accepted what they were been offered. They were constantly under scrutiny and most of them were asked to look for blue-collar jobs which are somewhat in close proximity to penal servitude. Others were deported back to the very place that they have decided not to call home again. All in the name of searching for greener pasture and a residential permit. The sad thing about the situation then was that they were learned and were willing to do whatever with hope that it will better their outcome. They begged the same people that wanted to write Africa and its peoples out of the history of humanity. It was a clear case of begging your enemy for a loaf of bread because it is either that or you die of starvation. I relocated to Europe in an era where most of our parents have naturalized themselves here and are in fact holders of European passports. And even at that integration became a challenge for most of us because of the different languages Europeans speak except for United Kingdom where Nigerians integrate faster because our official language in Nigeria is English.
I was a teenage undergraduate at Covenant University in Nigeria when my mother filed for family reunion visas for my siblings and me at the Belgian embassy in Ikoyi, Lagos. It was a rigorous process as we were subjected to DNA test and we were tested for various other diseases. We were told that if one of the tests turns out to positive then we would be rejected entry into their country. As if that wasn’t enough we were asked to repeat the test after six months in order for them to be sure that we didn’t contact any disease at the moment that we took the initial test. The physician at St. Nicolas hospital was an Israeli who told us that he has been instructed by the embassy to do a full blood count test because they wanted to reduce the number of people that migrate into their country. I can’t blame them because Belgium is a small country with a population of ten million which is in fact half of the population of Lagos State. It is the same country that colonized Congo, a country that is eighty times bigger than itself. Congo basin chiefs shouldn’t have signed over their land and people to the ambitious Belgian king (King Leopold) but they did and their people still wallow in abject poverty as a result of the civil war. Nigeria’s longstanding and troubling image in the West came in with us and our green passport was emblematic in identifying us as citizens of the least to be trusted country in the world. We were stamped in after twenty minutes of screening or what I will call the intentional trashing of our belongings.
I have been visiting Belgium during the holidays since I was a kid so it wasn’t a new experience for me but for my siblings it was sure something they have been looking forward to for years. We relocated with the hope that we will continue from where we left off in Nigeria academically but language soon became our priority if we are to integrate into their society. English was the only international language that we are fluent in and Yoruba doesn’t even count here. We enrolled into language schools and at the same time I was doing a distance learning program in ICT (Information and Communication Technology) with Open University. It wasn’t easy as I couldn’t even communicate with anyone for nearly a year except for my siblings and mother. It was either that or I end up like those Africans that migrated into Europe decades ago. All they did was clean their streets and wash dishes in some of the exotic restaurants in heart of Brussels. Their occupations and the usual derogatory terms used to describe them were used to plant complexity into their soul.
The same thing still goes on today expect that they have mastered their act and instead of calling the children of the then blue-collar workers names professors at schools have now employed a more tactical method to practice institutionalized racism without having to risk a lawsuit. The war of words has now been followed by the physiological and psychological violence of the classroom. You have to be mentally strong for you to pull through a lecture without the thought of stoning your professors with any object around you coming to mind. But then rage usually takes the form of “scape-goating” so why should I allow myself to be used as an example for other foreigners when I can just mute myself and bear their annoying gestures towards me. Education is more like the transmission that moves the energy to the wheels of a people – hopefully at the right speed. But the transmission cannot help when the wheels are stuck in mud. That analogy may help explain the difficulties faced by Africans in Europe, the future of our beloved continent. It is like flooring the accelerator pedal in a stuck vehicle, more learned Africans may just make the wheels spin faster in the global muck of imbalances and isolation because as it is there is no tow-truck in sight. And they are doing everything to make sure that we stay inside that mud but I have come to realize something that allowing people to decide your destiny is like allowing your servant to tell you how you will run your house. My brother was asked to attend a technical school and study to be a mechanic but he refused and now he is studying to be a solicitor at The University of West England in Bristol, United Kingdom.
The same thing goes for my sister who was asked to train to be a professional hairdresser all because they want to structure their society and control the number of foreigner in their top sectors. My sister is now studying international relations at one of their prestigious schools Hogeschool Universiteit Brussel. Hundreds of destines have been destroyed that way in Belgium which is common among the Congolese and Arabs because they don’t have options when it comes to language but we are privileged to be Nigerians. English is the reason why we have said no when our response could have easily been yes. It is the reason why our colleagues envy us because most of those that I knew three years ago are now mechanics and bus drivers. It is not as if Belgium is bad to that extent because I have picked up other languages and I speak French fluently with a bit of knowledge in Dutch and German. But even at that the foreigners are the ones doing the low paying jobs while their children sit in suit and ties in big offices. After my first degree I was employed by Microsoft Corporation Benelux as a Database Administrator and as big as that building is there were only two Black people there; an old man from Congo who said he has been cleaning the building for a decade and I. And it is like that in various other establishments in Europe. I have decided to share my story not because I made it even when it was against all odds but because of the need to educate Africans who want to migrate to Europe. Being aware of what they will face here is the first step to integration and like they say when the foundation is shaky there is no way the building is going to stand.