Africans in the Diaspora coming home: building a dream house

John Otim
Nile Journal Editor talked with many Diaspora Africans returning or preparing to return to Africa and filed this report.. Check it out and tell us what you think




For the returning Diaspora African the choice of a house is like the choice of a spouse and can be crucial. Face it. After years of absence abroad the man or woman is now a total stranger. Only within the four walls of their own home could the returnee Diaspora Africans hope to find solace. They owe it to themselves to create within their new domain the most ideal condition they can.

Such a house cannot be bought on the market. Houses on offer won’t meet their taste no matter how elegant the offering. To have lived abroad for any length of time is to have become in one’s own land a foreigner for good.

In Nigeria they call the man or woman who returns home after a long absence, the-been-to. The-been-to attracts attention because of the air of newness that surrounds him or her the moment they set foot on home soil. He or she may cut a cute figure and may even acquire some popularity with ordinary folks, but in reality they will be detested and excluded. There will be lots of social happenings going on around them but no invitations will come their way. It is the fate of the been-to, to be both admired and resented.

In the real world the-been-tos will have no choice but to build their new house themselves? It is an opportunity they must grab because it presents them with an open slate. Imagine that you lived in a house all yours by conception and design. A house in which you will have determined every detail that went into the planning and the construction including the landscaping. The Diaspora man or woman who returns home has this choice and he or she can create a paradise. A few have done that.

Most have not.  The journey to a dream house can be long and painful. Having pondered every detail and finalized with the architect, the obvious thing to do is to hand over your specifications to a construct0r, and order him to get on with the job, while you turn your attention to the pleasures and the novelty of being home again.

The constructor or builder will eagerly accept all the conditions you specify. Tread carefully. To him you are just a bagful of dollars to be mercilessly exploited. Of course there are exceptions. But the average constructor will always swindle you or attempt to. He will make sure to procure the cheapest materials and in the least quantity possible. He will assemble the least skilled workers whom he will pay as little as possible.

If you are lucky your house may progress beyond foundation and reach completion.  You will move in and people will flock to congratulate you and will urge you to throw a party to launch it. Local custom demands it. You will refuse the demand. Well and good but you will be reminded.

So now you live in a dream house. You are the envy of neighbors. But in no time your dream house will be no more. The floors beneath your feet will turn to dust because it is made of nothing but sand. From the torrential downpour the ceilings will show ugly signs of leakage. The formerly neat paints of the walls will peel. Windows and doors will malfunction because of the poor workmanship and low quality materials. The plumbing will come undone. Your house will flood.  You will have no choice but to call in the workmen again. They will be expecting your call.

One Diaspora African we know had to re-build her present house two times over, each time using a different set of builders, before the house became habitable. You don’t want to suffer her fate. So what should you do?

In the past some Diaspora Africans lacking time and short on resources thought they found a way to save on both. They sent what little money they could save home to trusted relatives and friends and trusted them to supervise the work of building their dream homes.  

The relatives and friends had to file regular reports of progress and they did. The reports included photo images and displayed stages of progress and were convincing. The would-be dream home owners were reassured and encouraged and pumped more money home to complete the project. 

When the house was reported complete the proud new owners flew home to inspect and take possession. A big disappointment awaited them. They were not the only one. Many others have fallen in the same trap. At the end of the day some discovered building projects that were little advanced beyond foundation level. Others were confronted with completed but shoddy structures. The worst hit were the ones who after months of sending money home found nothing at all in place. The money meant to do the job had been swindled. The progress reports that so inspired them were fakes.

For Diaspora Africans in the quest to own and to live in a dream house, there is only one sure answer to the question: what should a man or woman do to own a dream house? They must build the house themselves. Each will himself or herself design the house to suit their unique tastes. To fine tune the job they will consult with architects. Then it is time to recruit a builder who must work under close supervision and must proceed according to plan or not at all. If the returnee is a woman things become even more complex. It is a man's world.

The builder may employ the services of other workers or skilled people to help him do the job but the Diaspora man or woman must remain at all times his or her own project manager and site supervisor. In this capacity he or she must tightly control the purse and do all the purchasing.  Regardless of what you do cheating will still occur but you will have cut your loss..