The story of the experiences of African students studying in America and Europe is one that is hardly told. Ghanaian filmmaker Arthur Musah documented the stories of African immigrant students in the U.S. and how they come back home to contribute and share their knowledge in their countries. His film Naija Beta was shot in Lagos and is available on Vimeo.
Participants of the Exposure Robotics League during the final tournament. Photo: Arthur Musah
Many African professionals have left the continent due to either political instability or economic hardships in search of stability and better opportunities outside the continent. The massive brain drain has led to the continent losing some of its best talent, and competent hands.
African youths have also followed the trek, seeking better educational opportunities in better equipped universities.
Arthur Musah, who left his native home of Ghana when he was 19 to study electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), started telling the story of African immigrant students and their relationship with ‘home.’
Musah in his first film, Naija Beta followed the activities of a group of MIT students, all Nigerians, who had returned to give back to the younger generation, sharing knowledge they had gained and benefited from while studying outside the country.
As one of the founders of the program puts it, “The Exposure Robotics League (XRL) is a movement of students at MIT back to Nigeria to expose young people in Nigeria to be passionate about technology. The youths at XRL are taught the basics of robotics in 5 weeks, and at the end of the 5 weeks, they are tested with a grand challenge to design a robot for, and of course, surmount ultimately.”
Musah flew in from the U.S. to film the activities of the camp, capturing both the students and their facilitators from MIT. The fact that young brilliant minds return to their country with others is inspirational. The exposure these secondary school students is a rare opportunity that even university undergraduates hardly experience.
Besides exploring the relationship between African immigrants and their countries, Musah also captured how this relationship continues even back in the U.S. How news of Islamic extremist group Boko Haram is reported and viewed. Obinna Ukwuani, who is the founder of XRL shows great concern about the possibility of the continuity of such a project with the constant negative news he hears.
Seeing teenagers engage with robotics in a country where stable electricity is a constant problem might present a stark contradiction to the present reality, but it also gives a bright hope for the future.
“African immigrants have massively impacted both America and Europe (and Africa)”, Musah.
Musah told This Is Africa, “African immigrants have massively impacted both America and Europe (and Africa), but there are so few explorations of those experiences or their impact at home and abroad in cinema. That was exactly what drew me to the films I have been creating these last few years. And yes, literature is ahead of the curve on exploring this”.
“I recently connected with Nigerian producer/director Steve Gukas (93 Days) at the RapidLion film festival in Johannesburg, and he loved Naija Beta, and thought it was important in how it was raising a mirror for self-reflection to Nigerian society in particular, and to Africa in general,” Musah added.
Musah is working on another documentary film titled One Day I Too Go Fly. Unlike Naija Beta that was shot in Nigeria, this new documentary film is shot in four different countries and follows the lives of four African immigrants to MIT. The film took four years of production from 2011 to 2015 and is currently in its post-production stage.