BY ADAM NOSSITER, MAY 04 2015, Business Day (South Africa)
AMID global cries of alarm over the deaths of African migrants in the Mediterranean has been a notable silence: where are the impassioned voices of African leaders? Their citizens are drowning by the hundreds, with Syrians and Afghans. But there has been barely an anguished word from the continent’s leaders.
African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma belatedly expressed “condolences” and called for more “dialogue”. Senegal’s President Macky Sall offered a “salute to the memory of the victims”. But the relative lack of reaction has been revealing. To many, the muted response is an implicit acknowledgment that, at a minimum, Africa’s leaders are not shocked that tens of thousands of their citizens would rather risk death at sea than endure the hardships and limited opportunities at home.
Likewise, human rights groups are flaying European leaders for closing their doors and holding migrants in overcrowded detention centres but are largely silent on the responsibility of the migrants’ home countries.
Yet a solution will have to come as much from Africa as elsewhere. In the top 10 countries of origin for migrants risking the perilous journey are Mali, Gambia, Nigeria and Senegal, according to the European border control agency. Still, these four West African nations — and thousands more come from other countries not specified by the agency — are not at war. And, except in the case of Gambia, they are not especially repressive. Senegal regularly pats itself on the back for being one of Africa’s most successful democracies. Nigeria has a growth rate double that of many Western nations, even after the drop in oil prices.
Mali recently emerged from a quasi civil war. And Gambia has a thriving tourist industry, albeit one unfolding in a place under such tight control that it can sometimes resemble a vast, open-air prison.
In all these places, many people feel they have few options. “If people don’t have livelihoods at all, they are not going to sit and die of hunger, they are going to look for greener pastures,” Dlamini-Zuma said in Brussels last week. “We don’t have an instant solution, but we are going to be looking at and taking steps, but we can’t say those steps will solve this thing tomorrow.”
One of the few African leaders to address the issue, Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh, has one of the worst human rights records on the continent. Senegal’s capital, Dakar, is full of refugees from his brutality. Last year, he urged the United Nations General Assembly to investigate “this manmade sinking”. Far from examining the internal conditions that contribute to such migration, he assailed “the very dangerous, racist and inhuman behaviour of deliberately causing boats carrying black Africans to sink”.