Some few days ago, about 2,000 African migrants stormed the border fence between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla. The stampede and the clash with Moroccan border police left over 20 migrants dead and scores of others injured.
Images of the dead strewn on 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 images of the survivors hurdling together on rescue ships, happy to be alive and on the way to the “promised land”. We hear of migrants hiding in the landing gear of aircraft dropping dead on 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 seeming normalisation of African deaths by the world and, ironically, by Africans themselves. Mass killings in eastern Congo hardly prick our collective conscience. Shooting of unarmed people in Uganda, Nigeria or Kenya seems unworthy of the world’s attention. Similarly, the hundreds of deaths in the Mediterranean Sea and in the deserts have become routine, hardly worthy of much fuss. Yet the world and Africans criticise loudly and angrily police killings in the US.
The AU and African countries have shied away from addressing the migrant crisis because it would mean a painful admission of failure of the development project that has left millions of Africans desperately poor. African economies are anomalies that produce a few billionaires — mostly government officials — and millions of poor people. For instance, a recent report showed that less than 10,000 Kenyans own over 60 percent of the country’s wealth. This obscenity is replicated in almost all other African countries.
The wealthy elite have created parallel countries for themselves. They have thousands of acres of land. They own cars normally seen with oil sheiks in the Arabian Peninsula. They hide their billions in offshore accounts, just in case wide-scale debilitating poverty triggers armed rebellion. They send their children to expensive private schools because public schools are a mess. They fly abroad for treatment because they do not trust public hospitals.
That is why the wealthy elite look away and shake their heads when they see news of dead migrants, because deep down, they know that they have created the conditions that trigger this mass desperate exodus from Africa.
The fences around Europe will not stop the exodus. Corruption creates poverty which in turn sends hundreds of the poor on these desperate and deadly journeys. Therefore, the way to address the migrant crisis is to tackle massive looting in Africa by government officials in cahoots with cartels.
To solve the migrant crisis, therefore, the international community, and Africans especially, must exert maximum pressure on African governments to end looting of the continent.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.