A few days ago, around 2,000 African migrants stormed the border fence between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla. The stampede and clash with Moroccan border police left more than 20 migrants dead and dozens more injured.
Images of the dead littering the ground were a haunting reminder of the urgency to discuss the migrant crisis honestly and seriously. For years we have been inundated with news of migrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. We see footage of the survivors rushing together onto rescue ships, happy to be alive and on their way to the ‘promised land’. We hear of migrants hiding in the landing gear of planes falling dead at airports in Europe. We hear of migrants dying in the Sahara desert as they risk everything to reach the Mediterranean coast.
In a recent column, I lamented the apparent normalization of African deaths by the world and, ironically, by Africans themselves. The mass killings in eastern Congo barely sting our collective conscience. Shooting unarmed people in Uganda, Nigeria or Kenya seems unworthy of the world’s attention. Likewise, the hundreds of deaths in the Mediterranean Sea and in the deserts have become a routine, hardly worthy of much hype. Yet the world and Africans are loudly and angrily critical of police killings in the United States.
The AU and African countries have been reluctant to address the migrant crisis because it would mean a painful admission of failed development project that has left millions of Africans desperately poor. African economies are anomalies that produce a few billionaires – mostly civil servants – and millions of poor people. For example, a recent report showed that less than 10,000 Kenyans own more than 60% of the country’s wealth. This obscenity is reproduced in almost all other African countries.
The rich elite has created parallel countries. They have thousands of acres of land. They own cars normally seen with oil sheikhs in the Arabian Peninsula. They hide their billions in offshore accounts, just in case debilitating large-scale poverty triggers an armed rebellion. They send their children to expensive private schools because public schools are a waste. They fly away for treatment abroad because they don’t trust public hospitals.
This is why the wealthy elite look away and shake their heads when they see news of dead migrants, because deep down they know they have created the conditions that are triggering this desperate mass exodus of ‘Africa.
Fences around Europe will not stop the exodus. Corruption creates poverty which, in turn, sends hundreds of poor people on these desperate and deadly journeys. Therefore, the way to solve the migrant crisis is to tackle the massive looting in Africa by government officials in cahoots with cartels.
To resolve the migrant crisis, the international community, and Africans in particular, must therefore exert maximum pressure on African governments to end the plunder of the continent.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.