Kezie Duru Akabusi in conversation with Ida Horner
Ida: Most African families send their children back to Africa whilst they stay here to work and send money to the children for education, care etc. So how come your parents left Britain to return to Africa, leaving you behind?
Kezie: In the fifties it was common practice for parents from West African countries – in particular Nigeria – to leave their children with private foster parents in Britain. There was a sense of one-upmanship that they could afford for a British family to be taking care of their children while they went back to their country of heritage to help in the nation-building programme of the former British colonies.
My Mother and Father were a case in point, having come to the UK in the mid fifties to study (Mum nursing, and Dad politics/economics.) Both were the toast of the village when they returned to Nigeria, as they had left my brother and me to benefit from the much prized “British education.”
Unfortunately for them five years after returning home to the land of their Fathers, the experiment of Nigeria descended into chaos as tribal factions fought one another. The Igbos tried to succeed and the country was plunged into a bloody war for three years, leaving 2 million Igbos to an early transition, and my brother and me – two of many casualties – to move from one home to another before finding ourselves in a children’s home.
Ida: How do African parents feel about putting their children into the UK care system?
Kezie:I can’t speak for today although I’m aware it does still happen. I have been asked a couple of times by acquaintances in Nigeria to find homes for young teenagers who are coming to the UK for their Upper 5th and 6th years.
Ida: What is the experience of African children that end up in care?
Kezie:From my observation I would say the experience of African children that end up in care is one of disorientation from culture, customs and values especially if there are no or limited role models in the close vicinity.
Left to fend for themselves, by osmosis the African children absorb the mores of the local environment and can even begin to detest the skin they are in, as the only view they get of their erstwhile homeland is one of poverty, famine or war-torn arenas.
Unfortunately a brief period in the country of origin where one is exposed to daily energy crises, institutionalized brutalities, unbridled nepotism and rampant sycophancies does little to assuage the distorted media concoctions.
Ida: For African families that rely on family support, are care homes a last resort, or the norm?
Kezie:Again in the fifties (not so much now) the African had rosy-coloured glasses about the United Kingdom based on a romantic view of the colonial masters. This aligned with their extended family culture made it very easy for African families to trust their children into the hands of British foster families. Mind you I don’t see how the Africans’ extended family culture can last, considering how it has been and is still being bombarded by Western culture.
Ida: Could your parents have left you with extended family?
Kezie:Most of my family were still in Nigeria. I did have an Uncle who was studying politics at London School of Economics. He visited me and my younger brother in between lectures but obviously did not have the time or resources to take care of his brother’s two young children as well as managing his own life.
Ida: Why is there not a system to encourage Africans in the diaspora to become mentors to African children leaving care in Britain?
Kezie:I don’t know the answer to that at the moment, but I will investigate it further and come back at a later date with what I find out.
Kezie, thank you. We’re very grateful for your input.