His story is a captivating one. It is one of triumph and determination but, most of all, one of Pan-Africanism.
While many treasure the American dream, Henri Nyakarundi’s dream is an African one and his resolve is to see Africans possess the same.
Having lived in the US for over 17 years, Nyakarundi came to the conclusion that the grass is actually not greener in the west while Africa is full of potential and opportunities.
This is why he wrote a book; ‘My African dream: One man’s journey back home’ to demystify this myth that Africans have held for so long.
Living abroad has its benefits but it is not an ‘all rosy’ ride as the picture is always painted. He learnt this the hard way.
His life abroad
Nyakarundi, a Rwandan, was born in Kenya and raised in Burundi. The political environment back then was unstable and this prompted his parents to take him and his sister to the US in 1996. He was only 19 at the time and he had ‘hit the jackpot,’ or so he thought.
It didn’t take him long to realise that while he was right about the pride of living among exquisite neighbourhoods, gigantic buildings and a fancy lifestyle, no one had warned him about how draining and lonely living in the US could get. The quality of life was devoid at best, and that, he had been wrong about it.
How was he going to live his American dream?
Nyakarundi found it hard adjusting to his new environment, as a student at the University of Georgia, he was hopping from job to job to earn a living. He had spent time in jail and was homeless at some point. This is not what he had signed up for.
He talks about all this in the book.
The long-held fantasies about his ‘supposed American dream’ were slowly waning, one by one.
“Growing up, I always wanted to have a life in the US. I wanted to have a good life and I knew I would have it there. I used to think there were no poor people in the US that was how naïve I was. But I remember one time I left school late, there was a huge park in the university and thousands of homeless people were there. I remember calling my mother to inform her about the shocking reality I had discovered. I couldn’t believe it,” he narrates.
That was the dilemma in the reality that he came across, and it woke him up. “It made me realise that the reality is totally different from the perception that we see on TV and even on the internet especially now with social media, things are totally different.”
Nyakarundi says people need to understand that it doesn’t matter where one goes; expect that you are going to have challenges.
“People think when you leave Africa, its automatic to be successful. When you read the book, it will open your eyes to the reality. Of course this is my story but I know friends that went crazy and are at hospitals, I have friends who got deported because they couldn’t handle the pressure,” he narrates.
‘Time to change the narrative’
There are numerous stories on TV about people dying trying to cross to Europe, and this Nyakarundi says is because of the perception that people still hold about living abroad.
He also points out that the diaspora have a hand in perpetuating this kind of belief, something that prompts even more Africans to seek asylum in western countries.
“We as Africans, when we go to Europe and come back on vacation, what we do is spend crazy money trying to show that we have made it then go back and struggle but we don’t want to show that we haven’t succeeded. We want to show that we left and that the sacrifice we made has paid off, even when it is not true,” he says.
“That’s the mistake we make, and the ones who see this always think that they made it but we don’t know their struggle and a lot of them haven’t actually made it because it’s a tough life over there. We as diaspora need to stop selling the lie, we are perpetuating the lie,” he adds.
‘Opportunities for Africa are in Africa’
“Happiness comes through living your purpose. I felt like I had no purpose in the States. I got up in the morning, I worked, I ate, I slept, and I repeated that with no time to myself. Even though I hated trucking (a business he owned then) by the end, I kept doing it because of the money. But it doesn’t have to be a choice between broke and being miserable. You can make money and enjoy it, as long as you work out what it is you enjoy in life,” his book reads in part.
This notion had hit him hard and he made an instant decision to go back home to Africa. He wanted to impact humanity; he wanted to be part of the team that builds Africa.
His initial idea about this book was to write about his journey as an entrepreneur in the US but after returning home, what striked him the most was how people were shocked that he would choose to come back and stay in Africa.
“This is a book to inspire the youth of Africa, to let them know that the west is not what they think it is. Every country you go to has its own challenges; there is no country that is better than the other. It might be better in a certain part but less in another,” he notes.
He believes that opportunities for Africans are within Africa, and not in western countries.
Africans should realise that a lot of people are coming in Africa for example Chinese, Americans, Europeans, but some of us are still dreaming to leave, Nyakarundi says, highlighting that there are so many opportunities in Africa and that Africans should recognise this.
Unfortunately, he observes that when one looks at the media, Africa is always portrayed with negative images which he says makes it harder for Africans to come back home.
“My message will be very simple, if you are happy where you are stay there for life is about happiness, I truly believe that. But if you are not happy give Africa a chance and you don’t have to move to your home country for Africa is 54 countries, you can move to any though it is very important to come back with a clear idea of what you what to do,” he says.
Nyakarundi is now a solar-energy entrepreneur residing in Kigali where he operates his company, African Renewable Energy Development (ARED).
“We will always see what we want to see, and the American dream still flows strongly through popular culture around the globe. But perhaps there is another dream, an African Dream, which is just as worthy, and even more achievable,” Nyakarundi writes.