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Africa’s sinking ships

Every other day, Africa is haunted by news and images of people who drown at sea, their bodies washed up as if to dreg up unpleasant memories.That many of these die not out of dehydration or drought but are instead killed by drowning continue to hang Africa out to dry as a continent of people who would rather leave.

“Come over to the other side where the grass is greener and more luscious,” the sirens of greener pastures would sing luringly and luridly. Indeed, they pull reluctantly until their targets walk like flies into a spider`s web from where there is no escape from the delicate dance of death.

With human migration due to droughts projected to increase by at least 200% through the 21st century. Africa is a continent long dotted by migration, forced or otherwise. With migration roots stretching back to the dark days of the slave trade through  to the pursuit of the proverbial golden fleece under backbreaking conditions in Western capitals, Africa is a continent whose story melds with the story of human migration.

If the hurdles faced by legal migrants who are taking the regular routes are formidable, those faced by those travelling through irregular routes are simply forbidding. From the risks of trafficking in persons (TiP) to extortion, to physical abuse, to torture, to forced labour to rape and even death, the danger is endless.

Between 2017 and 2020, more than 159,000 individuals from West and Central Africa arrived irregularly to the southern borders of Europe by sea and land. Nigeria counts as one of the countries with the highest number of such victims.

African migrants always try to make it into Italy. On April 23,2022, about four boats carrying 120 African migrants and refugees headed to Italy sunk off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax. By Sunday, April 24,2022, the death toll had risen to 17 people while thankfully about 98 persons were rescued.

For people fleeing conflict and poverty from Africa, the coastline of Sfax has become a major departure point. Figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed that more than 123,000 migrants arrived in Italy in 2021, compared with more than 95,000 in 2020.The rising number speaks to a crisis that is not subsiding but worsening.

What lures people away from their homes and communities in Africa and causes them to undertake perilous journeys riddled with uncertainty is not just the proverbial greener pastures. If it were just those, many would stay back and try to make do with what they have. What actually drives people into angry seas is the need to escape the grave dangers  they live by remaining  in their communities torn apart by conflict and poverty.

The sinking ships serve as a sizzling metaphor for what a sizeable number of African countries especially in sub- Saharan Africa have become: sinking states.In countries like Mali, Nigeria and Burkina Faso, Islamic terrorism has driven communities already decimated by poverty to breaking point. In Mali, Burkina Faso,Sudan and Guinea, the military has taken over the government, compounding already desperate situations.

In the horn of Africa, drought exacerbated by the climate crises has put millions on the brink of starvation in Ethiopia, Somali and Kenya. All these, like invisible whips, lash thousands of Africans into undertaking the perilous Mediterranean crossing every year.

There is a lot African countries can do to keep their citizens within their countries. If the fires of conflict which seem to burn everywhere are extinguished and the pikes of poverty removed from the sides of innocent children and their families, perhaps, people would stay back and contribute to a present that is peaceful and a future that is prosperous.

But for now, with many African countries lacking democratic structures and institutions, the rights conditions for people to stay back are a long way away.

As long as this is the case, people will continue to make the often fatal journey.

Kene Obiezu,

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