Is the departure of its people a blessing or curse for Africa?
The truth is that as Africans leave, money, talent and value leave with them, and very little of it ever comes back to the continent.
In Africa, the favourite port of call for migrants looking to move outwards is usually one of the countries in Europe. Perceived as "greener pastures", tens of thousands of Africans leave the continent for education, as well as new economic opportunities and the shot at a better life.
In recent times, however, migration, particularly in Africa, has taken on a new meaning. Illegal migration from Africa has become a burden on Europe and a drain on Africa.
Already countries like Italy and Spain have created elaborate defence mechanisms in place to discourage migrants. On the other side, Libya has fallen under the world’s spotlight for being the major transit point and well-publicised slave markets.
People migrate for different reasons. In some cases, the factors are social. Entire families can incite a trend of emigration by leaving a particular community or country in search of better quality of life or to move closer to family and friends who are an important support structure.
The movement of Africans to Europe is usually for less altruistic reasons. Many African countries are plagued by push factors such as high crime, political instability in countries like Burundi and South Sudan, drought, crop failure, economic hardship in most of the continent and a lack of options.
As such, most emigration from Africa to Europe is done for economic or political reasons.
For the families who leave Africa for Europe, the promise of a better life is enough to make it a blessing. For the continent itself, however, the implications are far-reaching.
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Along the Sahara
The problems are obvious with illegal migration. The infamous trip across the Sahara, from African countries through Libya to Europe, is one of the most treacherous journeys that one can embark on.
In 2016, over 181,000 migrants including more than 25,800 unaccompanied children put their lives in the hands of smugglers to reach Italy.
The journey is made along an established route that is manned by soldiers from different countries, pirates, terrorist groups and smugglers who are too willing to put a bullet in the head of anyone who slows them down and dump them in the desert.
"The route carries children, men and women from the hinterlands of Africa and the Middle East, across the Sahara to the Mediterranean Sea in Libya”, a UNICEF report says.
The most dangerous part of the route is a 1,000-kilometre journey from the southern border of Libya’s desert to its Mediterranean Coast combined with the 500-kilometre sea passage to Sicily.
In 2015, 4,579 people died making the crossing; that's 1 in every 40 of those who made the attempt. It is estimated that at least 700 children were among the dead.
There is nothing to be gained in the loss of valuable lives and in this sense, migration is a problematic trend.
“It is not only a risky route taken by desperate people but also a billion-dollar business route controlled by criminal networks”, the report says.
Trafficking in persons is a crime. In October 2017, Julie Okah-Donli, head of the National Agency against Trafficking in Persons, reported that the agency had, since inception till the previous month of September, secured the conviction of 331 traffickers.
There’s also the issue of the bad press that this gives Africa. Donald Trump’s 'Shithole' comments may have been wrong, but such statements are motivated by the perception that Africa is a continent that even its own people do not want to live in.
This perception, of course, does not consider the hundreds of thousands of Africans who have left the continent through legal means for more socially-impactful reasons.
Africa's Brain Drain
One of such reasons is education. Since the early years of colonialism, Nigerians have left the country, for the United Kingdom and now, countries like Cyprus and the Netherlands to further their studies.
The reasons are evident: the quality of education in the country is at an all-time low.
Apart from the evident rot in the nation’s institutions of higher learning, one need only look at Nasir El-Rufai’s episode with the teachers in Kaduna to have a small understanding of the extent of the problem.
Many young people, where the means allow, leave for Europe to further their education under more ideal conditions. It is difficult to fault this. However, what matters, is whether they will return.
The result is that while there is a dearth of such talent at home, in fields like medicine, technology and engineering, countries with ideal conditions for productivity retain these talents, at Africa’s expense.
A study by Canadian scientists, led by Edward Mills, chair of Global Health at the University of Ottawa, found that sub-Saharan African countries that invest in training doctors have ended up losing $2 billion as the expert clinicians leave home to find work in more prosperous developed nations.
“Many wealthy destination countries, which also train fewer doctors than are required, depend on immigrant doctors to make up the shortfall”, Mills’ team wrote in a study, which was published in the British Medical Journal.
“Developing countries are effectively paying to train staff who then support the health services of developed countries” he further said.
Nigeria is perfect evidence of this. Presently, there is an ongoing exodus of Nigerian doctors to the United Kingdom and the United States, motivated by the desire for better working conditions and better pay. It has almost caused a state of emergency in the country's health sector.
There’s also the issue of the money that leaves the country. Every year, millions in foreign exchange are paid to foreign universities and institutions. Travel companies and airlines reap millions also in travel fares.
For every person who makes the trip through the desert, thousands of dollars are paid to individuals of other nationalities for the false promise of safe passage.
When home is not welcoming
The truth is that as Africans leave, money leaves with them, and very little of it is ever repatriated.
In this sense, it is hard to see migration as a blessing.
The export of Nigerians and our culture has created opportunities for them in other countries; the gentrification of Nigerian pop music into UK Afrobeats, one of the world’s fastest-growing genres is an example.
However, for the most part, the continent has gotten the short end of the stick.
It may be extreme to say that migration is a curse for Africa because Africans have benefited immensely from finding opportunity outside the continent.
But in a scenario where the continent was in ideal condition, much more would have been served by keeping the people at home. Africans who have migrated mostly enjoy the benefits but Africa has gotten a lot worse because of the exodus.
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