By Afe Babalola
Last week I traced the origin of the slave trade and how slaves captured in Africa were transported to the New World in harrowing conditions which left millions dead. I detailed the efforts made to curb the trade and how within Africa itself there was some form of opposition to the eventual abolition of the trade in slaves. However as stated last week modern Africans seem intent in imposing themselves different variants of the slave trade. How else can one describe the lengths many go to “flee” Africa for Europe, an objective that often involves a dangerous perilous walk through the sahara desert and a very dangerous journey across the Mediterranean sea? Thousands upon thousands including Nigerians have drowned in the Mediterranean. As at October 2016, the UNHCR reported that 3,740 migrants had lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Africa into Europe and the said figure was just short of the 3,771 reported for the whole of 2015. Writing on the subject an online commentator stated as follows:
FISH FROM MEDITERRANEAN
“The next time you eat a fish from the Mediterranean, just remember that it may well have eaten a corpse. As the Italian author Aldo Busi told the press just the other day: ‘I don’t buy fish from the Mediterranean any more for fear of eating Libyans, Somalis, Syrians and Iraqis. I’m not a cannibal and so now I stick with farmed fish, or else Atlantic cod.’
Despite these huge numbers I am certain that thousands more are currently engaged in the same efforts to reach Europe at all costs. Why do they do it? Why do Nigerians and other Africans risk death to reach the shores of Europe in pursuit of a dream which often turns into a nightmare? While I doubt if there can be any definitive answer to this, it certainly cannot be disputed that poverty and poor leadership on the continent are to blame.
AFRICA AND LEADERSHIP PROBLEMS
Africa is the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² (11.7 million sq mi) including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth’s total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area. With 1.0 billion people (as of 2009,), it accounts for about 14.72% of the world’s human population.
Historically, the continent has been the subject of much exploration and exploitation over the centuries. Despite its size and the human and natural resources which abound in it, Africa remains largely underdeveloped with several African Countries ranked amongst some of the poorest in the world. Over the years, the Continent has witnessed several political upheavals which in most cases led to civil-war and other conflicts. Countries such as Nigeria, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Angola at one time or the other were engaged in internal conflicts. Somalia is still without any recognized government several years after war broke out in the country.
In the case of Nigeria, the road to independence in 1960 was long and tortuous. It took serious political agitations and sensitization resulting in mass actions including the General Strike of 1945 and others means of resistance to convince the colonial overlords of the need to tread the path that eventually led to Independence.
The great Nigerians who championed this cause were convinced that self-rule remained the only means through which the Native could prosper in his own country and that colonial rule, no matter how well intended-if ever it could be described as such-and no matter how benevolent, could really cater for the aspirations of a people who desired that the resources of their country be properly harnessed mainly for the development and overall growth of their country and its people. As a result, differences which otherwise would have served to divide them were put aside in the pursuit of the common agenda of independence and self-rule. Thus despite the fact that the Nation itself had been the result of a forced amalgamation of the Southern and Northern Protectorates of Nigeria in 1914, leaders such as the Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and the Late Sadauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello attended several conferences, including that which held in Lancaster House, London (designed to fashion out a Constitutional framework for the country) not really as regional representatives but as Leaders of one country Nigeria.
Regrettably, several decades later the euphoria of 1960 appears to have given way to despair and disillusionment. The dreams of the founding forefathers have been largely unfulfilled. The progress recorded in the pre independence years and the early years following it have been eroded largely by decades of military rule. Intermittent periods of Civilian administration including the recent years of democratic rule have not been able to effectively address the downward spiral to which the nation’s political and economic fortunes appear to be irreversibly consigned. If anything, politicians in some instances may have actually compounded the problems bequeathed to the country by our past military rulers.
With the above it should not be too difficult to understand why many would risk their lives to get to the so called promise land. However the reality is that many end being disappointed even if they do accomplish their goal of reaching Europe.
Many yearly end up in refugee camps where they are paid about 50 Euros monthly as upkeep allowance. For those who apply for asylum the chances of success is very low. While the application process is on they are not even allowed to work. Tragically rather than return to their home country, many are forced, out of a feeling of shame, to remain in Europe when beating a retreat to their homeland would have been the reasonable thing to do. This self imposed slavery is no doubt a substitute for the forced slavery of 18th century.
It is for this reason that leaders across the continent must as a matter of necessity make conscious efforts to bring the continent out if its current problems by embarking on policies that will make life better for their people. This is the strongest measure that can be taken against illegal and dangerous migration. If Africans and Nigerians in particular are assured of good living conditions or even if they are assured that their governments are trying their best to bring about better standards of living, braving the Sahara and crossing the Mediterranean in a dingy would definitely become less of an option.