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The African exodus

The movement of people from Africa is not itself the problem

Historians have managed to convince the world that the human race reached its genetic maturity in Africa and thereafter migrated to the rest of the world from the unforgiving continent.

This is a romantic story that appeals to our desire to know where we really came from. BBC’s Andrew Marr did a series recently on the history of the world which takes even more liberties with the story, adding unflattering details of the hardships endured on the journey from Africa.

Fast forward to ‘modern’ times and the migration is happening again. This time, it is not to the world in general. No, it’s the continent just up north, Europe, which is proving more attractive to many Africans than their motherland.

And, just like the visualisation of the perils involved in Marr’s incarnation of the ancient story, the journey to Europe is often fraught with all manner of hair-raising and sometimes fatal challenges.

Pictures abound of flimsy fishing boats crammed with anxious migrants under the exacting tyranny of journey-hardened smugglers bobbing in the mighty waves of the Mediterranean like pieces of cork.

And then a navy vessel, most likely an Italian or Greek one, although sometimes a British one too (which is thereafter better publicised than the other two) comes to the rescue and brings the ‘catch’ to shore for processing.

Sometimes, many times, the flimsy smuggling vessel doesn’t make it, and the terrified refugees are lost in the deep salty waters of the Mediterranean, to provide one more tale of the dangers involved on the passage to Europe.

It’s a policy nightmare in Europe. Governments are not sure what to do about the migrant problem, or whether to characterise the phenomenon as a problem in the first place. It is a good thing that they still accept the migrants. So far this year, around 50000 souls have touched base on the continent.

Going by the way the population of Europe is likely to dwindle because of rock-bottom fertility rates, the continent is going to need a lot more in the near future. Africa populated Europe in the past, at least according to her historians. She might need Africa to repopulate her again.

And then again, migrants choosing to go to Europe instead of to other places, say Arabia or India, is some sort of a vote of confidence in the continent’s ability to solve the woes from which they are fleeing.

The point is that it shouldn’t be a policy nightmare in Europe. At least not as much as it should be in the African countries from which the migrants come. Because the movement of people from Africa is not in itself the problem, but rather a symptom of the real problem; many African countries have become highly inhospitable for their citizens.

When they make for Europe, they are not so much running there as they are from their homelands. Wars, political instability, grinding poverty and lack of hope in the future are some of the things that make African migrants think of leaving in the first place.

The cause of these issues might be blamed on a number of parties, but ultimately goes back to the colonisation of Africa by European powers, and the process of decolonisation that followed it. Colonialism impoverished Africa. Decolonisation gave back an impoverished Africa to Africans without the means to administer it.

Repressive regimes in countless African countries have been backed by Western governments since independence. African wars are fought with Western weapons for the purposes of controlling resources that are meant to benefit the West. A myriad other examples exist of Europe’s involvement in driving Africans across the Mediterranean.

Africa has been hailed as the next frontier in recent times, as it gears to have the fastest collective economic growth of any continent in the coming decades. But before another scramble for Africa takes place, systematic problems need to be solved, lest the dream becomes a mirage.

European countries, which have the unenviable task of accepting and integrating African migrants virtually every day, should not make their policy decisions based solely on the pressure African migrants are exerting on their resources. That will not stop them from crossing the sea.

Rather, they should be prepared to go all the way, working together with African countries to find reasons strong enough to convince people to stay in their countries, or to first consider migrating to other African countries when the necessity to migrate presents itself, since they have been part of the problem from the very beginning.

Feature image: Source unknown.

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