Source: Alisdare Hickson/Flickr
Very often, you find a story in the news about the plight of illegal migrants from Africa moving to other parts of the world. Thousands of Africans have lost their lives in a bid to sail across the oceans on dinghy boats to Europe. Images of people cramped on inflatable rafts brings back memories of the trans-Atlantic slave trade era when people were forced to migrate under deplorable conditions. But it doesn’t end there. You have scores of African migrants stuck in countries like Libya living in a state of servitude. It is both alarming and ironic that Africans were compelled to make this perilous journey only a few centuries ago, and we willingly put ourselves in a similar situation today.
Africa has been interacting with the world for many years, so why do we risk our lives today to migrate to other continents? It is not as though we are now discovering these “new” worlds. You have to be running from real danger to put your life on the line the way some illegal migrants from Africa do. While there are real threats that force some to make this decision, for others the overriding drive is the belief things are better off elsewhere.
To understand this, we need to look at history and the socio-economic conditions in the African continent today.
During the colonial era, some of the most successful people were obviously those who were educated by the colonial powers. For example, if you could speak English, you had better chances of landing a top job with the anglophone colonial government than a person who didn’t speak English. This is quite understandable since communication is important for people to work smoothly. But, over time, the effect this had was that many of the elites in Africa became those with foreign connections. And since the ordinary people dream of being like the elites in every society, many Africans believe that the key to wealth and happiness is to go abroad.
If you go to a village or city in any African country today and ask young people there about their plans for the future, do not be surprised if some of the most progressive ones among them tell you that they want to leave Africa. They are not wrong for having this perspective. With all the problems plaguing Africa like unemployment, corruption, and wars to name a few, it is easy to see why many of the youth want to opt out. And with such a prevailing mentality, there is little surprise that some people in Africa would do whatever it takes to leave the continent.
The elites in Africa are not to blame for the state of things because they are victims just like everyone else. We cannot also point fingers at the former colonial powers. But the fact remains that as a result of colonialism, our society has been reshaped to look up to the west. A large portion of our entertainment is of foreign origin. Some of our top artists go overseas to shoot their music videos. We rate foreign products over ours, and we generally believe that life is better abroad.
I am not overlooking the role that wars, economic hardship, and other issues play in driving migration. On the contrary, these conditions reaffirm the desire among many Africans to go seek a better life overseas. The elites are rarely among those who face the full brunt of the socio-economic issues that plague Africa. So, it is easy to reason that the key to escaping these problems is to do like the rich and leave Africa.
Ultimately, the attempts to paint the west as the paradigm has been very successful, and it is one of the reasons why you find Africans dying to go to Europe and the US.
I must say that I am not against people migrating to other parts of the world. That is not the purpose of this piece. People have been traveling since the beginning of human history, and it won’t stop now. My opinion is that in modern times, the focus in Africa has been on traveling out of the continent to seek “greener pastures” elsewhere. Not enough attention is being paid to learning about ourselves and building our home. Many of us diligently keep up with the trends in the US and Europe, but we do not know what is going on in neighboring African countries.
By Kwao Saa