“Je préfère mourir sur la mer que de voir ma mère pleurer (I prefer to die at sea than see my mother cry)”.
—a contemporary Ivorian saying
Last month, I had the good fortune of attending a workshop held in the Nouvel African Queen hotel in Assinie, Ivory Coast. The three-day workshop, entitled Governance, Migration and Social Media in Sub-Saharan Africa: Challenges and Prospects, was hosted by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung office in Abidjan. The main thrust of the event was for participants to collectively come to a better understanding of migration trends and issues within (and beyond) West Africa, with a view to comprehend the enormity of illegal migration, as well as the implications it has for national and regional governance. Together, we were also tasked with thinking about how social media could serve as a useful tool for sensitization around those issues, with a goal to curb such migration in the long run.
As one of over twenty bloggers from both anglophone and francophone West Africa, it was a true privilege to be selected—with Lily Edinam Botsyoe—to represent Ghana at this auspicious and timely event, in which we were able to learn much, while making many rich connections with blogging colleagues from across our numerous national (and socially-constructed) borders.
What was clear to us by the end of those three days, is that increased migratory flow is very much a twenty-first century phenomenon. For we live in a world in which mobility has fast become a regular way of life. More specifically, human movement is seen as one concrete pathway—or at least a promise—for a better quality of life.
According to one of the workshop’s speakers, Laurent Guittey (of IOM), there are approximately 1.7 billion migrants in the world. On the African continent particularly, up to sixteen million people move within the continent, while another seven million are motivated to travel beyond its shores to places in the Middle East and also, through North Africa, to Europe, as well as to many other destinations. And although there are many reasons why Africans migrate, the key drivers—as per migration expert Natalie Yamb—are that of political unrest, poor governance, insufficient job creation, and for francophone countries, the persistent grip of the West African CFA franc (FCFA) currency on their local economies.
For Aude Nanquette (also of IOM), the migration trends in West Africa, are similar to those on the continent in that much of the movement occurs internally, with 90-95 percent of it manifesting as interregional migration. Taking Ivory Coast, as one case, she adds that—in the past—it was a key destination country, with over 25 percent of its population being immigrants from locations such as Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali. But now, Ivory Coast rather serves as a transit country, for those en route to desired external destinations like Italy.
From Ivory Coast itself, as many as 25 percent of those who leave the country are women—which is a substantially unusual number that raises some concerns. Otherwise, the majority of Ivorian emigres are single men, from urban contexts, who are aged between twenty-five to thirty and earning approximately FCFA10,000 (USD17.00). The reasons they give for their migration are often monetary; in that, their hope is to increase their income via travel—particularly to dream destinations within Europe. In many instances, illegal migration becomes the channel of choice, with payments of up to FCFA500,000 to 1,000,000 (USD856 to 1712) being made for the ‘privilege’ of a perilous journey. Basically, one in which its ‘travelers’ are subject to abuse, fraud, hardship, rape, and/or robbery-with-violence, as they illicitly traverse dangerous crossings and many different, and often unfriendly, terrains.
Yet many choose to take such hazardous routes, even when knowing that their chances of entering what can only be described as “Fortress Europe”, are slim to none. This single-minded determination is evidenced in the millions of desperate—mostly young men—who make their way to European immigration cross points (or more like “EU hotspots”) such as Lampedusa (in Italy), Lesvos (Greece), and now more so Melilla (Spain), where they remain, waiting in limbo—if lucky. Or else they get returned (frequently injured) to secondary locations along the route, e.g., Morocco, when en route to Spain; just as we got to see in David Fedele’s (2014) eye-opening documentary, “The Land Between”. Worse still, many meet their death within this treacherous process of trying to reach illusive promised lands in which, often, only more suffering awaits them.
From our three days of interrogating this contentious topic, we concluded that migration is as much about desire and ideology, as it is about pragmatism. This brought us to the conclusion that any attempts to tackle illegal migration, requires both structural and ideological approaches. The latter is a space in which we bloggers have an upper hand, as many of us are well-placed to weave evidence-based stories that tell others about the dangers of illegal migration, while simultaneously reminding them of the increased progress (and concomitant opportunity) that is also taking place in their home countries.
Even more importantly, we have a burden of care to raise our voices to advocate for local laws, regional policies, and bi-lateral agreements that make it possible for people of all caliber—not only the rich, highly skilled, and/or transnational corporations—to journey freely and safely to locations of their choice in order to improve their lot, as well as to invest their money and time wherever they wish. As after all, migration is not some new abnormal phenomenon. It is rather a practice that has taken place deep within the annals of history, starting from over 60,000 years ago, when the first curious Africans left the continent, so as to populate the rest of the world—which now chooses to shun their contemporary migratory ideals.
If anything at all, countries and their borders are the aberration of our times—being social and political constructs that have come about in fairly recent memory, especially on the African continent. Think, only since 1957 for Ghana as an example. If you ask me, it is time we stop reinforcing this illusion of the nation-state as the norm that sits in contradiction to ‘an anomaly of migration’, when the opposite is indeed the historic truth. And, thus, we would have to conclude that everybody’s mobility choices are their inalienable right, which must be protected at all costs.