Isabel Bolivar   03 October 2018

Escaping Rwanda’s dangerous and destructive political situation, Jackson’s parents escaped to Uganda to seek a safe asylum for their children. So Jackson didn’t get a chance to grow up in the country that shaped his identity. However, that’s only strengthened his desire to return to Rwanda to reconnect with the land he’s heard so much about as a child.

Jackson, now living in the United States, enjoys a successful career as a radio host. He maintains his bond with Africa through the Up Front Africa Show. He’s the founder, producer and editor of this interactive platform, which promotes an honest conversation on the everyday issues of the people of Africa. It aims to engage with listeners on various topics such as employment, sustainable development and social justice. He gives young Africans the opportunity to share their opinions with the world. He has a powerful online presence with more than a million followers (one of them is the former president Barack Obama).

He’s interviewed a countless number of entrepreneurs, leaders and educators during his career. But this time it was our turn to ask the questions as we questioned Jackson about his life as an African immigrant.


Hi Jackson! Please tell us what your heritage means to you.

I was born and raised in Uganda. My parents were refugees from Rwanda. Even as refugees they often emphasised the importance of our Rwandan heritage. Our unique cultural identity has always been a guide to my social values. It’s kept me connected to my motherland through all the years that I’ve lived in the diaspora. It’s a heritage that I hope to pass on to future generations. I want to do the same thing as my parents did for my siblings and me.

'Our unique cultural identity has always been a guide to my social values.'

Why did you move to the United States?

It’s almost two decades since I left Africa and moved to the United States. The reason I came was to pursue my undergraduate education. I ended up graduating at two universities – American University in Washington D.C. and later on at the University of Maryland. 


Can you share with us what it’s like being an immigrant in the United States?

Being an immigrant can be quite challenging. You have to learn and adopt new cultures while maintaining your own unique identity. You have to navigate and exist in an environment that can in many ways be hostile to foreigners. I don’t mean hostile in the violent sense of the word, but as an obstacle in finding opportunities to advance yourself. I’m talking about finding the means to attend school or about getting the job offer you desire.

I was lucky in many ways because Washington DC is the perfect melting pot of cultures. I was able to find the right kind of environment that helped me grow. I managed to get the opportunity to start my career as a radio host. Most significantly, it helped me maintain my identity and my connection to Africa. I’m attracted to the multiculturalism - the vibrant diaspora community, the history and the politics. This city has gone through a lot of changes since I first moved here, but it’s maintained its welcoming character.

What is the biggest obstacle you have encountered as a journalist?

Journalism is full of obstacles – all of these are challenging in their own way. It’s hard to pinpoint one that’s worse than the others.
Sometimes, when I am just doing my job, I experience moments of being pushed back from those in power. For example, most African leaders don’t appreciate it when you give a platform to those that disagree with them. They don’t want to have interviews out there with people who are opposed to their message.

I’ve learnt to persist and to follow my professional ethical guidelines. I fully understand and appreciate the risks associated with my career path, but I know how important it is to share points of view. It’s necessary.


'I’ve learnt to follow my professional ethical guidelines. It is necessary to share different points of view.'

What’s your message to fellow immigrants with similar aspirations?

I always tell them to never stop learning and to never lose hope.

And what about your family back home?

Do you send money back to Africa sometimes?

I send money to relatives and friends back home. It usually covers their education and also daily expenses. As I have a large part of my family in Africa, I send money back home at least once a month. It’s our tradition to help whenever possible and I feel it is my responsibility to support them, especially for emergency situations and medical care. I also send money to contribute to the education fund of my extended family.

How far would $100 go in Uganda or Rwanda?

From an education point of view, $100 would cover school supplies for one student for a very long time.