RARE  RISINGSTARS 2013 The UK’s Top 10 Black Students
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One year on

With the coveted title of the ‘UK’s No.1 Black Student’ staying in Nigeria, Rare Rising Stars asked last year’s Number One Star and acclaimed author, Chibundu Onuzo, to prepare this year’s Stars for the response they can expect in the UK and beyond.

Last July, I attended a ceremony in parliament where ten black students were ranked according to their achievements by a judging panel of four. To my delight and confusion, I was pronounced number one. What followed was a rather surreal hour of hand shaking, photograph taking and profuse congratulation from all and sundry. Later that evening, my friends and I went to the nearest Nandos to celebrate and returned to normalcy amidst peri‑peri chicken and roasted corn. Over the next few weeks, there was some press coverage for the event, a nice article in the Guardian and some other publications and then everyone moved on, until the next rising stars were crowned. That was fantastic and that was that, I thought to myself.

last year’s Number One Star and acclaimed author, Chibundu Onuzo

In October that year, I flew to Port Harcourt, Nigeria for the Garden City Literary Festival. It was my first time in this major city that has grown rich off the oil exploration in the region. The festival was state sponsored, paid for by stable crude prices and, as Nigerian literary festivals go, it was quite big. There were journalists from all the large national newspapers; there were cameras filming and there were audiences of young Nigerians who were passionate and interested in books. In attendance were Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Veronique Tadjo, Doreen Baingana and me, a.k.a ‘The Number One Black Student in the U.K.’

The first time I was introduced as this, I smiled. What did it really mean for a Nigerian to be the number one black student in this far‑off United Kingdom, one time colonial master and now number one shopping destination for the Nigerian élite? Nigeria for the most part is racially homogenous. Black does not exist as a category. The most common divisions are along ethnic lines: Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Efik, Ibibio, Gwari, Kanuri etcetera. Surely, my award would mean little in such a country. During my six day stay in Port Harcourt, I would discover just how wrong my supposition was.

“Congratulations on your award over there.” “I’m always glad when I hear of Nigerians doing us proud in the U.K.”

“Win more for us. Let them know it’s not just 419 we can do.”

This last one, I think, was from my assistant during the week, a recent graduate jobseeker like me with big dreams. The Rare Awards came up in the interviews I gave; many side conversations I had; chance meetings in the restroom. Some had not heard about the award until the Festival but this did not make their excitement and congratulations any less effusive.

last year’s Number One Star and acclaimed author, Chibundu Onuzo

Nigerians feel battered by the international media. Terrorist groups, internet scams, drug mules, prostitution: it is assumed that this is all is known of our country overseas. Thus, any good news for a compatriot abroad is good news for the nation. My book, my Commonwealth Prize short listing, my Rare Rising Stars Award, these were not individual successes. These were for the group.

I’ve been back to Nigeria three times since last July and I still get congratulated on my award. I doubt the organisers of the Rare Rising Stars know it but they’ve given quite a few young Nigerians that ephemeral feeling on the wings of which a half Kenyan, half American man flew into the White House: hope.