The routine response when discussing the crisis of African migrants dying at sea is: Why do they risk everything, including their lives, in order to escape a continent supposedly on an upward trajectory? Femi Akomolafe dissects this contradiction with specific reference to the reality immigrants face on the ground, once they have reached the “greener” pastures.
We hear of how most of Africa’s economies are growing very fast almost on a daily basis. The World Bank, IMF, global financial institutions, leading economists and African governments themselves, cannot get enough of the Afri-optimism buzz, telling whoever will listen that seven out of the ten fastest-growing economies in the world are in Africa. Among ordinary Africans these days, pontificating about impressive macro-economic figures and jargon is done not only with gusto, but also with a great sense of pride.
The positivity is palpable. But just as Africa remains the best-endowed continent, with the most mineral wealth, the disturbing paradox is: Why does a continent said to be on this positive trajectory, also have such a high number of people who are desperately fleeing it in search of a better life elsewhere? Why is the extremely dangerous migration by sea, seemingly on the rise?
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says that between May and September 2014, more than 3,000 would-be immigrants have drowned in the Mediterranean – many of them Africans. The IOM estimated that the 2014 figures already represent nearly four times the number of immigrant deaths that occurred in the Mediterranean Sea last year.
As hyperbolic as it may sound, Joseph Muscat, the Prime Minister of Malta, described the Mediterranean as a “graveyard”. In the past two decades, about 20,000 people are said to have drowned while trying to reach Europe – the majority of them African.
One of the worst tragedies occurred in October 2013, off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa, when more than 360 Africans – mainly from Eritrea, Somalia and Ghana – drowned during one of the most heart-rending episodes to appear in public media. But that was death in the Mediterranean alone. Many more unaccounted-for Africans perish trying to cross the treacherous Sahara desert en route to North Africa, looking to try to cross into Europe through the Mediterranean. Many more lose their lives in the Sinai in a desperate attempt to reach Israel.
So what is so attractive about Europe compared to the “rising” Africa? What exactly do African migrants expect once in Europe? And what is the actual reality they find and experience once they get there? It is not an exaggeration to say the true reality is that, just like anywhere else in the world, Europe does not offer the proverbial manna from heaven!