Why we haven't seen the last of "immigrant caravans"

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African refugees on their way to Europe (screenshot via YouTube).

Reducing the amount of migrants and refugees will require cooperation, understanding and significant change.

THE EMERGENCE OF the 24-hour cable news and social media has hastened the spread of information and also the dissemination of disinformation.

Since these media pillars propagate information before knowledge is established, it is normal for people to make decisions based on what is transmitted via these platforms. Decisions are mostly made instinctively and rashly rather than cooly and objectively.

This pull factor has lured young Africans into risking everything – their life savings and their lives – to reach the shores of the “happiest countries and people in the world”.  

Before the development of the cable news and social media, the shortage of manpower to fight side-by-side with European colonisers, a century ago, was one of the underlying reasons for immigration. Whether this was done voluntarily or not, recent acknowledgement of the positive roles played by these soldiers is a watershed moment for the relatives and nations of these people of valour, thankfully.

But to assume that this is the major trigger is to have a superficial understanding of the crisis. The greatest challenge before most democratising African governments is how to steer the states into a post-colonial and post-dictatorship era.

These eras were characterised by state-ownership of means of production; governments as chief employers of labour and above all a central command structure of governance. The increasing ballooning of the civil service that drains most African states’ lean budgets has become a major threat to governments taking decisive steps.

This highly unionised and vocal civil service has constantly protested for an increase in salaries — justifiably so if you look at the unhealthy inflationary trends and corrupt practices among top government officials. It becomes unjustifiable if you weigh the quality of the methods of recruitment in the civil service with their productivity.

However, African governments have been pressured into making wage increments – though most of the time the increments amount to a marginal amount – as a way of gaining political popularity during election cycles. If governments believe this is a way of foaming the runway that guarantees election victory, they soon realise that the aircraft has already caught fire even before it can make the emergency landing — the wage bills become unsustainable.

While the governments rely on phony economic growth figures to show how well they have done, citing GDP that hardly makes sense to the average citizens. To the vocal civil service asking for wage increases, they're more concerned with concrete ideas of economic justice or simply put, to “Share Our Wealth” — reminiscent of U.S Governor Huey Long's campaign. 

The members of this structured civil service form part of the group that queue up at European and American embassies for visas — especially those in the professional disciplines such as medicine, law, nursing and so on. Remittance from Africans in the diasporas has also renewed the resolve of Africans in the continent to make these perilous journeys.   

At the forefront is the need to build infrastructure for a growing population in dire need of it. This calls for a painful trade-off. Consider a Nigerian government that wishes to build rail tracks across an approximately 930,000 square kilometres. The consideration will be either reviving old railway tracks that connected commercial hubs as was the case during the British colonial rule – when railway tracks connected the seaports with the British Cotton Growing Association stations, the groundnut pyramid, cocoa depots and so on – or just connecting major state capitals.

These warehouses have long been transformed for uses other than what they were designed for. Some have been abandoned and in a total state of disrepair. 

Although a recent study shows that intra-regional migration within Africa outpaces extra-regional migration. As realistic as this finding is, we mustn’t lose sight of the underlying reasons for these migration patterns.

In Africa's case, it is either induced by ethnic conflict or propelled by a search for alternative places to survive, economically speaking. If these expectations are not achieved in their new host countries – either as an asylum seeker, displaced person or refugee – the surest alternative is to vote with their feet and head northwards to the Mediterranean Sea.

A recent initiative by the Gambian deportees and returnees where they formed groups to engage and discourage young Gambians on the perils of embarking on journeys through the deserts and sea to reach the shores of Europe is quite commendable. This could be part of the much-needed pressure to make governments in Africa to act.  

Immigration debates in Europe and the U.S. have become like an ocean liner that has turned dangerously quickly — always focused on the economy, nationalism or patriotism. However, for the biggest contributors of migrants, it is high time to start engaging citizens in an honest way about the stark realities and challenges — about reforms and peacebuilding and peacekeeping.

These contributors must make this issue central in political discourse. This responsibility, surely, is at the doorsteps of governments and political leaders.

Nuhu Othman is a Nigerian political and security risks analyst. He has written a lot about Nigeria and West Africa. 

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