by Olumide Ebimo Amungo
Many people think that there are only black Africans in America. But the truth is that there is a sizable number of Caucasians, Indians and Chinese and people from other races who call Africa home but who have emigrated from the continent to America and other developed nations. The most famous of them is Elon Musk, the visionary entrepreneur who is a native-born African in America.
Native-born Africans come to America as immigrants for the same reasons that others have done over the centuries; to seek a better life in a safer clime. America’s history is replete with immigrants arriving to escape religious or political persecution or to seek a better economic circumstance. Those were the motives of the puritans on The Mayflower, the Jews from Odessa and Nazi Germany, the Italians fleeing grinding poverty, the Irish fleeing famine, the Chinese, the Mexicans and all these diverse peoples who immigrated to America and contribute to her greatness today.
The story of Africans forcefully brought to America as slaves is well known, but a report by Pew Research Center noted that there is a steady movement of native-born Africans to America that has seen their numbers grow to 2 million within the last three decades. These Africans are making their contribution to America as academics, doctors, nurses, bus drivers, sportsmen, entrepreneurs, restaurant workers and scientists.
There is a thinking that all native born-Africans in America are black, but the truth is that there are a lot of Africans that are Caucasian, Asian, Chinese, Indian, Arabic and even Jewish. I happen to know an African immigrant in New York from Tunisia who is Jewish and speaks Arabic, French, English, Spanish, and Hebrew. Peoples of every race played a part in the development of the modern African states. Indians particularly have significant populations in most modern African states as they followed the British about in their colonial enterprise to build railways.
So, who is the most famous native-born African in America? It is not the actress Lupita Nyong’o. It is not Barrack Obama (He was not born in Africa) It is not Hakeem Olajuwon the former basketballer. By my reckoning, it should be Elon Musk. This multi-talented man of vision and enterprise is the most famous native born-African living in America today. This is so because Elon Musk is frequently in the news for a variety of reasons, most of the time announcing one vision or stretch-goal for his multitude businesses. He has permeated popular culture with his serial-entrepreneurial efforts and it is said that Tony Stark, the character of Robert Downey Jr. in Marvel’s Iron Man movies is modeled after him.
Elon Musk was on born June 28, 1971 in Pretoria, South Africa. He attended Waterkloof House Preparatory School, and Bryanston High School before graduating from Pretoria Boys High School. Musk always wanted to come to America and he is quoted as saying “I remember thinking and seeing that America is where great things are possible, more than any other country in the world.” He left South Africa after graduating from high school. Musk realized that it would be easy to get to the United States from Canada so he obtained a Canadian passport through his Canadian-born mother.
But what has Elon Musk made of his American Odyssey? As he envisioned, he has gone on to do great things in America. He graduated from University of Pennsylvania, where he received an economics degree from the Wharton School and a degree in physics from the College of Arts and Sciences. He co-founded Zip2, a web software company, which was acquired by Compaq for $340 million in 1999. He later co-founded PayPal, which was bought by eBay for $1.5 billion in October 2002. He is now the CEO and lead designer of SpaceX; co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla, and co-founder and CEO of Neuralink. As of August 2018, he has a net worth of $20.2 billion and is listed by Forbes as the 46th-richest person in the world.
So, a native-born African has pushed the barriers of rocket science with Space X, advanced payments solutions with Paypal, made electric cars sexy with Tesla, and led the charge for a greener world with Solar City. Elon Musk is not just all these things, he is one of the few people in the world that investors are taking bets on without bothering about short term rewards. He is a financial magnet and business magnate in every sense of the word. Financial Times of London described him as “Silicon Valley’s most driven entrepreneur since Steve Jobs”
But what is Elon Musk’s relationship with Africa, his home continent, and South Africa his home country. Sadly, Elon Musk has turned his back on his heritage. According to an autobiography by Ashlee Vance, Musk holds few fond memories of growing up in South Africa. This was due to his personal experience there as he was bullied and brutalized in the first high school he attended Bryanston High before he relocated to Pretoria High where he graduated.
But Elon Musk would not be the only native-born African who emigrated and turned their backs on the continent. A lot of Indians, Lebanese, Syrians, British, Jews have joined millions of indigenous African professionals, academics and artisans from countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and South Africa to leave their homes in Africa and seek fortunes in Europe and America. The reasons are not farfetched. Most people are running away from the choking strangle-hold of bad leadership that has left the continent pock-marked with political crisis and wars and stifled economic growth and opportunities. African politicians and bureaucrats have devised methods that rely on racial, tribal and religious identities to capture and keep political and economic power and deny others outside their circle opportunity. It is not uncommon to hear of Xenophobic attacks against other Africans and whites in Zimbabwe or South Africa. Indians had long ago been expelled from Uganda. These days the image one sees on television is of Africans walking across the Sahara, or clumped in dingy boats on the Mediterranean Sea seeking a better life else from the continent.
America is a country that is very sensitive to racial labels. Calling people black or white or Chinese can have dire repercussions or be misunderstood. But America has found a way out of this quandary. People are called Chinese-Americans, African-Americans, Indian-Americans, native-Americans. Well, the purpose of this piece is to point out that Africa also has its Chinese-Africans, Indian-Africans and White-Africans. Elon Musk is a White-African, but unfortunately Africa has lost him to America. Africa is losing her racial diversity to America and the developed world.
Luckily for Africa, even though the continent continues to loss its best and brightest, it gets remittance income from these immigrants who send money to family back in their native countries. This has become a significant source of foreign exchange in most African economies. But more needs to be done. Expansion of the economic space in Africa would have a great effect of ameliorating the divisions that cause political crisis. It is people like Elon Musk who can use their goodwill in the finance world, and their savvy in entrepreneurship to set up economic ventures that can make significant contributions to the development for the continent and reverse mass emigration.
The most famous native-born African in America has done a great deal to make America great. It is time he takes a look at doing his bit to make the continent of his birth, his heritage great. Elon Musk must consider investing or supporting investments in Africa.
Elon Musk must help to make Africa Great.