Lawyer Baba Hady Thiam, raised in Guinea and trained in London and Paris, shares his experience of returning to Conakry.
The return of senior executives of African descent, born or gone to study in the West, the “repats”, is almost a myth. A few months ago, I decided to take the plunge by attempting the “perilous” adventure of returning to my native cocoon. Six months later, I have no regrets about this decision. Allow me to share with you my feedback here in all humility.
I belong to the category of repats who grew up in Africa and did their higher education in the West. After passing my baccalaureate in Guinea, I graduated from several universities in Morocco, then in France, before joining the Paris Bar School. I then practiced for six years as a lawyer in international Parisian firms. While I had interesting development prospects in a major American cabinet in France, I made the choice to be “one more repat”.
This return to the country has always been obvious to me. First of all, because life is more pleasant for me in daily contact with my roots and my family. Secondly, because I feel fully part of this new Pan-African generation, which believes in and wants to take part in the development of a strong, emerging and successful twenty-first century Africa.
Despite this evidence, the decision to return to the country and its implementation are not straightforward, because they involve, in many respects, leaving your comfort zone, certain habits, a promising professional horizon, all for a continent that we are rediscovering. It is therefore necessary to know how to overcome certain apprehensions.
This homecoming is not necessarily idyllic. Indeed, some unpleasant realities are disconcerting: the bad road you took to visit your aunt twenty years ago is in an even more deplorable state, the electricity remains a luxury, the administration is still just as corrupt and failing. … Mediocrity, patronage and nepotism are set up as cardinal values. The shortages in certain key sectors such as education, health or infrastructure are glaring.
In my particular case and even before this return, I was fully aware of these realities and had accepted the idea of no longer living in the same environment. Despite all this, I was surprised, during a three week stay in Paris in May, to find that I missed life in Guinea after a week.
Faith in the future
Six months is still early days to draw any firm conclusions. Nevertheless, I draw up a positive report.
First of all, this return has allowed me to spend more time with my family and friends, which is priceless. This feedback also allowed me to fully take part in Guinean private sector initiatives with considerable impact such as the GYPC, a club of young Guinean professionals that we have created to make our voice heard.
Also, Guinea remains a formidable field of opportunity. With growth helping – estimated at between 5% and 6% for the 2017-2020 period – the future and prospects for local businesses are promising. Some Guinean repats have understood this and are fully playing their part, particularly in the private sector, in the immense opportunities that present themselves in the country today.
So I have faith in the future with the firm belief that tomorrow here will be better than today.
Youth is our country’s greatest asset. In this context, I have always believed that it is important for Guinean repats, especially young people, to reach critical mass locally in order to allow the country to emerge. Yes, Guinea sorely lacks skills broken by international standards, but we do not lack compatriots with recognized skills. Simply, the Guinean cadre is less inclined to return.
Not to give up
To potential Guinean repats who hesitate and in the light of my experience, some elements seem essential for a successful return, or at the very least far from the hell promised: good preparation, humility and the acceptance of not being the messiah (on the contrary), the support of his family and those around him and the acceptance that we are starting a new life with its advantages, but also its disadvantages. This psychological aspect is essential. Once you have accepted these Guinean inconveniences, you should consider time as your ally and not give up at the slightest mishap or frustration.
Of course, I am not trying to convince the entire planet that all Guineans in the diaspora must give up everything to come back to Guinea. It wouldn’t be doing anyone a favor to do that. My testimony is primarily addressed to those who want to go home but are afraid to take the plunge.
There are many myths to be debunked regarding the return. Taking the plunge is never easy, that is obvious, and you have to make concessions, without compromising yourself. But, in the long term, the drawbacks can translate into great opportunities and fulfillment in the land of our ancestors.
Baba Hady Thiam is a lawyer in Conakry with the Thiam & Associés law firm he created.