Beginning from the 1990s, many West Africans, unable to get visas to Europe or the United States, and to escape excruciating poverty, brutal regimes at home, resort to making the tortuous journey where many perish either in the desert or in the Mediterranean sea while attempting to cross the narrow straits to Europe on rickety boats.
Currently, virtually all West African countries are democracies, but the factors making their citizens to continue to vote with their feet – corruption, malgovernance, deteriorating economic conditions, and oppressive regimes – subsist, driving most Africans to attempt the suicidal journey to Europe through the straits of Gibraltar and recently, the Libyan coasts.
Last month alone, precisely between March 6 and 26, 128 migrants, comprising Nigerians are other West Africans from Gambia, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Mali, Senegal, Guinea Bissau and Guinea Conakry died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said this puts the number of deaths recorded in the first 86 days of 2017 to 649. Within the same period, about 3, 682 migrants were rescued off the Libyan and Italian coasts while 171 bodies have been retrieved.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 27, 850 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2017 alone through 29 March, with over 80 percent arriving in Italy and the rest in Spain and Greece.
The same body said 1,750 migrants died while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 and nearly 10,000 migrants were rescued from boats travelling across the Mediterranean to Italy within four days in April last year. The organisation also said as much people may have died from hunger and thirst in the Sahara desert.
Last week, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation also weighed in on the issue saying that lack of jobs and disillusion with political leaders may form a “toxic brew” driving more young Africans to migrate or join violent extremist groups. The Foundation lamented that the continent’s youth population will almost double to 452 million by 2050 from 230 million in 2015 and that young Africans could destabilise countries across the continent and challenge economic growth in the near future if nothing is done to solve the youth bulge problem.
Interestingly, despite the humanitarian crises and the media frenzy this unfortunate issue has created in the European Union and most part of the world, there has not been any response or comment from any African country, the African Union or the African Human Rights Commission. Last year when the migration issue was raging in Europe and when Africans were dying and being rescued on the coasts of Libya and Italy, African Heads of State and Government gathered in South Africa for the African Union (AU) 25th Summit with the theme: ‘Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.’ They discussed among other subjects, proposals for the continental free trade area and mechanisms to find new sources of funding for the AU operations. However, there was no mention of migrants’ plight. Almost a month before the meeting, about 800 migrants died after a boat smuggling persons from Libya to Italy sank, and the Italian coast guard said it rescued more than 600 migrants from rubber dinghies, and later found 28 survivors who were on board the same boat; most of whom came from sub-Saharan Africa, including Mali, Ivory Coast and Eritrea.
We hold the view, like Tony Elumelu, that the ultimate solution to Africans migrating is not in Europe opening its borders to them but in “sustained and inclusive economic growth throughout the continent.” For Elumelu “better opportunities for economic advancement will not only improve the outlook of Africans, but will also deflate a primary motivation behind the thousands of them attempting or contemplating a dangerous and illegal trek to Europe.”
It therefore goes without saying that Africa needs governments, entrepreneurs, politicians, philanthropic foundations, and development organisations working together to solve the unemployment crisis and make Africa an engine of growth.