“Go back to Africa!” And the stories of those who did (part 2)

“Tunuka, we’ve left, we’ve returned

and we’ve stayed here”

Tunuka by Orlando Pantera


“Go back to Africa!” and “Go back to your land” are phrases with racist undertones that are often used to ostracise and silence people of African ancestry.  They are permeated with the assumption that Africa is inherently inferior and that to go back to Africa would be some sort of punishment. But is it? And how do the people who returned to Africa assess their experience?

In part 1 of this article we explored the issue of racism in the western world, specifically in Portugal against people of PALOP (Portuguese speaking African country) ancestry.

We will now take a look at the immigration experiences of Francisco, Helena and Edson. They are three young people of PALOP ancestry who decided to move to Africa after spending a great part of their lives in Europe.

These are their stories.


Helena overlooks the Marginal de Luanda, Angola (2017)

1. Where were you born and why did you decide to move?

Francisco: I was born in Cape Verde and moved to Portugal to further my studies.  I  have a degree in Philosophy, a master degree in Political Science and will soon obtain a PhD in Political Science from the University of Lisbon.  In order to support my studies, I worked for a long time in Burger King. I have returned to Cape Verde in 2017 to find a job.

Helena: I was born and raised in Portugal, my parents are from Guine- Bissau and have also lived in Portugal for most of their lives. I was a volunteer firefighter and I got my nursing degree from Lisbon Superior School of Nursing. As I couldn’t find a job after the completion of my degree I moved to London and worked for 3 years for the NHS (National Healthcare Service). In 2015, I moved to Angola with my partner as he was offered a great job opportunity in Luanda.

Edson:  I originally moved to Portugal when I was 13 years old to be closer to my mother and brother who live there. I studied in Lisbon and got an African Studies degree from the University of Lisbon. After graduating, I moved back to Guine- Bissau to work as a Project Coordinator in a Portuguese NGO.


2. What were your expectations versus what you encountered?

Francisco: I found Cape Verde a bit more expensive than Portugal (as the purchasing power is lower) and it is far harder to find certain consumer items. I also benefitted from better access to healthcare and communications in Portugal.

Helena: Before moving to Angola I never lived outside the EU so I had a bit of a culture shock initially.  Everyone greets everyone. I know my neighbours by name. I feel completely welcomed. However, I was also shocked and saddened by the quantity of slums and poverty in Luanda (the capital of Angola). There is a lot of room for improvement in terms of health care  and education. The whole city is not like the Marginal de Luanda…

Edson:  When I moved back to Guine-Bissau, I was slightly disappointed with the development of the country. I feel that while I was abroad there were serious setbacks in the country, especially in terms of infrastructures and opportunities for the youth.



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Francisco giving a training about Ubunto and leadership in Bubaque, Guine Bissau (2018)

3. What were the benefits of  moving?

Francisco: It was easier to find a job in Cape Verde that matched my educational level.  In Portugal, I feel that people trusted me less than in my home country. So while it was easy to find work in restaurants,  I wasn’t able to secure work in the field of my studies.

Helena:  Finding a job was easy and I was able to grow immensely in my professional field.  I am now able to expand my professional knowledge (as a nurse) of tropical diseases.

Edson:  I was hired in Portugal to work in Guine- Bissau as an NGO Project Coordinator. In my work field, I clearly have more employment opportunities in Guine Bissau.


 4. Do you regret your decision to move?

Francisco:  No, I don’t regret coming back to Cape Verde. As the saying goes “If you are good in an other man’s land you can be better in yours”. I am home.

Helena:  No, I don’t regret moving here. It has bettered me as a person and a professional. Although, I am not Angolan no one as ever told me I didn’t belong. I feel at home.  Also, as a nurse, I feel a higher sense of purpose working in a country with more room for healthcare improvement.

Edson: Absolutely not. I’ve always wanted to return to Guine-Bissau and to contribute towards the development of my country. Returning was always the end goal for me.


5. Do you plan on migrating again? Why?

Francisco: Maybe. I now have a good job in Public Administration in Cape Verde.  However, if I find better opportunities abroad in the future, I will move. I like new challenges.

Helena: Yes. Unfortunately, I must eventually leave Angola. Although I  love living in Angola, I have small children who will start school in the next few years,  I would like them to go to a very good school and in Luanda those are extremely expensive.

Edson: No. I have no reasons to want to leave again. Guine- Bissau is my home.

“Go back to Africa!” and the stories of those who did. (part 1)                              


“Tunuka, we’ve left, we’ve returned

and we’ve stayed here”

Tunuka by Orlando Pantera


Hearing the phrase ‘Go back to (insert name of region or country)!” is enough to make any POC cringe. However, it is not uncommon.

“Go back to Africa!”; “Go back to your land” or all other variations of this hateful sentence are used as a way to ostracise a group of its own population that has foreign origins. The phrase can be used to silence foreigners and ethnic minorities in a country. It translates the sentiment “Either agree with the way we do things here or go back to your land”. As if dissonant voices were not an essential part of western democracy.  However, the phrase is also said as “Go back to Africa/ Go back to your land” as if that said land of real or imagined provenience is inherently inferior than western land. Almost as if going back to Africa is some sort of punishment for dissonance. But is it? And what do the people that “went back to Africa” actually have to say about it?  Humane Reflections has spoken to three young people with African ancestry who decided to return to Africa in order to collect their thoughts on the experience.

Modern migration between the PALOPS and Portugal is only natural.

During the last stretches of western colonisation of Africa, Portugal justified its colonial attitude by arguing that it was a multicontinental and multiracial country with legs in Europe and Africa. Under this optic PALOP (Portuguese speaking African Countries)- Portugal emigration and immigration was merely justified as migration between

Francisco, one of the interviwees, in a debate in the Summer University in Castelo de Vide, Portugal (2015)

Portuguese provinces (whether that was the province of Guinea-Bissau, Angola, Cape-Verde, etc…).  Interracial marriages were also allowed, which led to the general belief that Portuguese colonialism in Africa was far more benevolent that the English, Spanish or Dutch. Nowadays, Portugal has some of the best immigration policies in Europe and extensive anti-discrimination laws. Discriminatory practices based on ethnicity, race and gender are all illegal. And, it is even unconstitutional to collect data with regards to ethnicity or race.

All of these facts, without proper interpretation could lead to the assumption there is virtually no racism in Portugal, which is wrong.

Racism in Portugal seems be of the “most subtle variety”. There are not as many  mediates cases of institutional racism has in the US or France, however the UN has reported that Portugal’s people of African origins are underrepresented in politics and decision-making processes, Furthermore, they do not have equality of access to education, public services and employment.[1]

Moreover, in 2017 the European Data Service has conducted a survey that demonstrated that amongst 20 EU countries Portugal ranks the highest in biological racism (the belief that there are races/ethnicities that are biologically less intelligent or hardworking) and the fifth highest in cultural racism (the belief that there are better cultures than others).

In Portugal the expression “Go back to your land” is more common than the expression “go back to Africa”, this, likely due to the country’s colonial history.  Also, worth mention hearing the expression “go back to your land” is frankly common. As most  people of African ancestry in Portugal hail from the PALOPs, it is understood that “go back to your land” when directed at them is referring to either Angola, Cape Verde, Guine Bissau, Guine Conacri Mozambique or St. Tomas and Prince.

But, how is to ‘go back to the land’? Humane Reflections asked five questions to three young people of  PALOP ancestry who have recently moved to Africa to understand their experiences.

Francisco is a Cape Verdean PHD student who immigrated to Portugal, lived there for 11 years and returned to Cape Verde in 2017.  Helena is a nurse with Guinean roots, who was born and raised in Portugal and immigrated to Angola in 2015. Edson is a Guinean Project Coordinator in an  NGO who has studied in Portugal but has returned to Guine Bissau in 2017. In Part 2 of this article we will take a look at their answers.