Sunday, October 6, 2013

Migrant deaths off Lampedusa point to lack of leadership

Lack of leadership and bad governance resulting in poverty and human rights violations force Africans to embark on high risk journeys in a bid to seek safety and a better life in Europe and elsewhere.

More than a hundred African migrants died (see photo of their coffins inside an airport hangar in Lampedusa) on Thursday 3 October 2013 after a boat carrying them to Europe sank off the coast of Lampedusa in southern Italy. More than 150 passengers of the boat were reportedly rescued and some 200 remained unaccounted for. The search for more bodies continues as of the time of this writing. It is believed that there were about 500 people on board the boat and according to the United Nations most of them were from Eritrea and Somalia. According to Italy's Minister of Interior, the boat came from Misrata, Libya.

The tragic death of African migrants off the coast of Lampedusa and the deafening silence of the African Union and African officials of the affecting countries in the wake of the disaster is a gruesome reminder that African leaders don't care about the plight of their people both at home and abroad.

Numerous boats carrying African migrants to Italy and other countries like Greece, Australia and New Zealand sink, but the tragedy off Lampedusa on Thursday 3 October is said to be one of the worst to occur off the Italian coast in recent years - prompting the Italian government to declare a national day of mourning in Italy for the victims. Thirteen Africans lost their lives in another boat wreck on Monday -- three days earlier.

The incident was described by some officials as a "European tragedy". Others termed it "Europe's failure".

Europe no doubt has a role to play in the tragedy. But the loss of lives, in my opinion, is an African tragedy and Africa's failure -- caused by lack of leadership and bad governance in the African continent. African countries are rich, but bad governance, corruption and repression in countries like Eritrea force Africans to embark on risky journeys across the Red Sea and the Mediterranean in search of safety and a better life.

In my assessment, the silence of the African Union and African leaders reveal that they are out of touch with the plight of their people. It is inconceivable that Italy declared a day of national mourning to mourn the loss of African lives and no African country did same -- not even Eritrea and Somalia from where most of the migrants originated. The silence of the authorities in the affected African countries - including Libya, the transit country - is, in the words of Pope Francis, "a disgrace". It is plausible to conclude that African leaders don't value African lives.

The  solution, in my view, to the numerous migration disasters involving Africans lies in Africa. Western countries should stop exploiting Africa's resources to the detriment of its people and stop propping up repressive puppets who serve western interests in the continent. Issues such as mass unemployment, human rights violations and lack of basic necessities that force people to embark on risky boat trips should be addressed by Africans in positions of power. Prospective migrants in transit countries like Libya should be sensitized about the dangers of embarking on trips that could be aptly described as "death traps". More importantly there should be a serious crackdown on human traffickers who organize such trips.

According to Frontex, more than 31,000 undocumented migrants arrived in the EU through the Mediterranean between January and September 2013.

*Photo: Yahoo

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