African American in Africa: Brian in Namibia
Meet Brian, (who also goes by the name Ras Ifree) an African American currently living in Namibia! A busy married father of three, Brian works for an NGO and also owns and operates a restaurant/entertainment venue that specializes in African food and culture. His travels on the African continent span more than Namibia… he’s also lived in Kenya! Enjoy his beautiful and empowering story!
Where are you living right now?
I am a repatriate who has lived in Africa since July 2009 and in Windhoek, Namibia since December 2010. My wife (a Namibian citizen) and two children decided to move here from Kenya after my eighteen month contract as volunteer was over in Nairobi. We boarded some buses and travelled from Nairobi, Kenya to Windhoek, Namibia by road, (five days) with two children and about twelve bags of luggage! I was unemployed for my first six months in Namibia and did some part-time consulting and volunteering to generate some small income while I was job-hunting.
How long do you plan on living in Africa?
I plan on living in Namibia as long as I have employment and/or business opportunities here. We are relatively settled. We bought a house here and are also contemplating other real-estate investments. If for some reason I leave Namibia, I am relatively sure I will stay on the continent. I have returned home – and only plan to return to America to visit family and as a tourist.
What are you doing professionally?
Business ventures are a side-project right now as I work full-time as a Monitoring/Evaluation professional in the development sector (NGO). The organization I work at focuses on providing vocational training to out of school youth, and we also have programs in nine towns throughout Namibia which target orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) and provide them with care and support (academic, life-skills, etc.).
What kind of business are you operating? What advice can you give for those interested in similar ventures?
I have found some time to delve in business. I opened a restaurant/entertainment venue in Windhoek which specializes in African food, live music, poetry and of course reggae. I’m in the process of registering a tourism company that specializes in tours for members of the Diaspora with a focus on Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana.
Contrary to what people may think the cost of living is relatively expensive, so if someone from the Diaspora is contemplating doing business in Africa and Namibia in particular, it’s wise to have sufficient capital, and knowledge of the local context of the business that they want to operate. Having a local partner is also beneficial as well as tying business ideas to Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and involving the local community is very important as well. The sky is the limit though - whatever you can imagine, a person with a vision can actualize their business ideas in Africa, as there are limitless opportunities.
Is Namibia the first country you’ve visited in Africa?
Namibia isn’t the first country I’ve been to. I lived in Kenya before moving to Namibia. And I have done work-related visits to Tanzania, Uganda, and South Africa. I have also visited Zambia a few times. Namibia is by far the cleanest country (world-wide) I’ve visited and it also has quality infrastructure.
ON EVERYDAY LIFE
What’s life in Namibia like for you?
Life in Namibia is relaxed and hectic at the same time. I work full-time, run a business and have two school age active children (ages 9 and 5), so during the week I find myself constantly running. But fortunately my job has taken me all over the country and I have had the opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life - from Government Ministers to local, traditional people in villages and everyone in between. Namibia is also a beautiful place with breath-taking nature, so I always enjoy – when I have time, taking the family out in nature to appreciate.
What has been difficult to adjust to?
The most difficult thing I’ve had to adjust to is the cost of living in Namibia and the high tax rates! Having moved here from Kenya life was relatively inexpensive. You could rent a 2-3 bedroom house/apartment in a relatively secure part of town for $300 to $400 per month. The first apartment I rented here in Namibia was $800 per month. When I got my first check from working I almost fainted when I realized that taxes ate up almost a third of my paycheck.
What’s your social life like in Namibia like?
My life here socially is great. I’m involved a bit with several local musicians. I do some promoting of their music, and also because of my restaurant/entertainment venue I’ve had the opportunity to meet many artistic like-minded people. Additionally, as a result of my day job, I have had the chance to fully become aware of the extreme levels of inequality in Namibia, and have aligned myself with social movements and civil society organizations whose aim is to address and mitigate these issues by providing Namibians the opportunity to empower themselves with skills. Also since my wife is Namibian, I inherited a mother and father in law, several sisters and many nephews and nieces here in Namibia!
Why have you chosen to stay in Africa?
The reason why I choose to stay in Africa is because I am an African. It is natural for me. My mother inspired me from a very young age to embrace my culture. I am a Garveyite and member of the Ras Tafarian global community – and I feel that the spirit of the Rt. Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey lives in me – therefore, it is my mission to honour my ancestors by returning home to continue the work that they began before being shackled and shipped to the Americas. I would never give up a continent for a country. My motto remains unchanged: Africa for Africans for those at home and those abroad and Repatriation is a must!
Do you think more African Americans need to visit the African continent? What would you say to them?
I would encourage African Americans and those of the global African Diaspora to not only plan to just visit Africa, but also do whatever they can to assist in developing and contributing to uplifting our continent. I don’t think enough have visited. During my 4.5 years on the continent, I have only met three to five African American tourists and the few other African Americans I met were attached to international organizations such as the UN, USAID and the American embassies.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think what has failed to happen from the African side is to simply welcome – and invite home, the sons and daughters of the soil who are in the Americas, Caribbean, and Europe. However, I would encourage any person of African descent in the Diaspora who has a love and a desire to re-connect with the mother land to visit and explore. If possible even try to visit more than one country in a region.
Is there a place where we can follow your experience?
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