Leadership and governance failures drive Africa back into slavery
I do not know what needs to happen to bring tears from the eyes of African leaders. For over a decade now, Africans have been perishing daily on the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert in what looks like desperate and often suicidal bids to escape from poverty, hunger and persecution in their home countries. In the last five years or so the matter seems to have assumed an epidemic proportion. It looks like there is war in many parts of Africa and people are running to Europe for safety and end up being caught between the Devil and the Deep blue Sea. Either way death.
According to a recent report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), over 22,500 migrants have died since 2014, with more than half of them perishing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Spain.Furthermore, the report states” that while overall number of migrants attempting the Mediterranean by the Eastern route were reduced significantly in 2016, by the EU-Turkey deal, death rates have increased to 2.1 per 100 in 2017, in relation to 1.2 in 2016.” Mr. Richard Young, deputy head of EU Delegation in Nigeria said last year that “in 2014, the number of People travelling illegally to Europe was about 250,000 people, in 2015, it rose to 1.8 million.”
Where are all these illegal immigrants coming from? Outside the refugees that came from the Syrian, Afghanistan and Iraqi crises in the Middle East, most of the illegal migrants are coming from the Horn of Africa and West Africa. Prominent countries are Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Cameroun, Niger, Mali, Senegal, Gambia and our country Nigeria – the giant of Africa. According to Young, the people coming from Nigeria to Europe in 2012 was only 800, then in 2013 it rose to 2,900, climbed to 8,700 in 2014 and jumped to 23,000 in 2015, reaching 22,500 in the first nine months of 2016, with many of them meeting their waterloo in the Mediterranean Sea.
According to Mr. Maroof Giwa, Assistant Comptroller in charge of training and manpower development in the Nigerian immigration Service (NIS), “No fewer than 10,000 Nigerians have died between January and May 2017 while trying to illegally migrate through the Mediterranean and the deserts.” What a damning statistics! At home, many Nigerians are being bombed to death by the Boko Haram insurgents and those seeking greener pasture in Europe become food for the fishes in the Mediterranean. Many who manage to make it alive end up in prisons all over the world. The day I saw the caskets of 26 Nigerian women, some pregnant who died on the Mediterranean Sea while fleeing from hunger and hardship in Nigeria, a few weeks ago, I shed a few tears. And hardly a day goes without similar reports and African leaders go about business as usual.
But when recently I saw the CNN recorded footage of African men being sold for $400 at a night auction in Libya, my heart broke. This reporting sparked a global outrage. What a shame for Africa, that after slave trading was abolished in the British Empire in 1833 by the Slavery Abolition Act and in the USA in 1865 as the 13th amendment to the U.S. constitution, we are witnessing Nigerians and other Africans being sold into slavery. Even in Nigeria the last vestiges of slavery was abolished in the Northern Nigeria in 1936. It is estimated that between 400,000 to one million migrants may now be trapped in Libya, where the vulnerable population is preyed upon by smugglers and other criminal elements who rob, rape, murder and traffic some through very dangerous routes to Europe. Today, in parts of Africa particularly, Libya, Mauritania and Morocco, it is said that trafficking of immigrants to Europe has become more lucrative than drug trafficking.
But the question that is troubling my mind and which I believe is troubling the minds of many people with conscience is: Why will normal young men and women, some pregnant women and their children undertake this kind of journey to hell? And what is more, the number of those embarking on this apparently suicidal enterprise keeps rising by the day as I showed earlier. Is it possible that those undertaking these journeys are so ignorant, that they neither hear, nor see the daily reports of these disasters? I do not believe so. Is it that they are greedy and they believe, they will make it very fast and easy when they get to Europe. It is possible that some may believe so. But for me the real reason African children, men and women are literally walking into the sea or now being turned into slaves, wave after wave, is due to lack of appropriate economic opportunities. Every other reason fades in to insignificance.
The evidence is writ large. In Nigeria, for example, in the last couple of years unemployment/ under employment has remained high reaching nearly 50 per cent in the youth population at some point. Virtually in every home today, you will find young men and women who graduated from the university in the last five years still relying on their parents for subsistence. And then some of these working class parents have lost their jobs or have not been paid for 11 months or those on pensions who spend every year standing and slumping in queues on endless verification exercises while Abdulrasheed Maina and his cohorts share the pension funds and then play hide and seek with us. Poverty rate in Nigeria reached 70 per cent and has remained around this figure in the last 10 years.
When young men and women try to start businesses, they soon run aground, because of difficulty in accessing capital or high cost of doing business (cost of providing energy particularly). And even those who are said to be employed are paid starvation wages. The average monthly salary for young Nigerian graduates range between N25000 and N50,000 ($70-$140). To be sincere what can this buy? Housing, transportation, feeding and healthcare for one full month? And if he is married and has children, how on earth can he pay fees for his children even in public schools? I believe this is the case or it could even be worse in some other African countries. When young people find themselves in this situation for years, they are compelled to take the risk of finding their way out of the country. I read the story of a young lady who was recently rescued from slavery in Libya who now works in a restaurant in Benin but insists she would still find her way out of the country because what she earns at the restaurant cannot support her and her old parents, unless she steals or becomes fraudulent.
The reason Africa is in this embarrassing situation and has returned to slavery and slave trading – sex trade, child slave trade and forced labour in the 21st Century is essentially due to poor leadership and chronic poor governance. Except in a few cases, Africa has been plundered by those elected or who elected themselves to govern the people. We have had only few visionary, self-sacrificing leaders; most have had parochial and selfish ambitions, who spent more time in primitive acquisitions and accumulation of wealth to the detriment of the larger interest of the people, many times perpetuating themselves in office until forced out like what happened to Robert Mugabe recently. These several years of deprivation have precipitated what we are now witnessing.
Let me say that the problem is real. It is always tempting for the elite or the privileged to think that things are not so bad, because they can send their children abroad or to good schools locally and help them find jobs or start businesses. But less than 5 per cent of Nigerian or African children have such privileges. It is true that efforts are being made by nations in Africa including our country. But what is being done so far is only token.
We have not begun to even scratch the surface. The government of Nigeria talks of solving youth employment with its N-Power programme. So far, only 176,160 youths have been absorbed into the programme in two years out of 30 million unemployed youths. This represents only 0.5 per cent. And how much are these youths being paid? Only N30,000 ($83). What future does this portend for the youth? The CBN, Bank of Industry etc are doing so much to provide soft loans to MSMEs. Good! But what is the percentage of those eligible who have accessed the facilities? Not up to 1 per cent. Yes we are making efforts to improve ease of doing business but do our leaders know how much it costs to keep a generator running for one month on diesel at N240 per litre?
I think what has happened deserves to get African leaders especially those from the major countries identified earlier weeping and when they clean their eyes, should gather in Addis Ababa or Abuja, lock themselves up in the hall until they come out with a resolution that says: Never again shall we allow slavery return to Africa. Yes it was okay to go to Abidjan last week for the fifth African Union- European Union (AU-EU) summit where they adopted a joint statement on the migration situation in Libya, condemning the treatment of migrants and refugees by criminal gangs. It is okay to send planes to bring back citizens stranded in Libya. But these are not just enough. African leaders must commit to good governance and visionary leadership that will pull many Africans out of grinding and hopeless poverty and deprivation that drive some of them to desperation. China has done this and India is doing this.
According to Angela Merkel, German Chancellor at a recent EU summit in Brussels: “It is not just about money, it is about substantially improving the capabilities and the chances of People in these African countries and to give hope.” It is also instructive that we do not have citizens from some African countries like Rwanda, Tanzania and Ghana on the list of desperate illegal immigrants. Is there a lesson we can learn?
Mazi Ohuabunwa, OFR.
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