Despite all the aggressive marketing of the ‘Africa rising’ mantra, the results on the ground tell a different story. The latest contradiction is the case of the ignominious slave market in Libya. Migrants beating a hasty and desperate retreat from the glorious ‘rising continent’ have found themselves in captivity, tortured, raped, and sold like the slaves of centuries ago.
Like it is said in the famous poem, Home by Somali-British poet Warsan Shire ‘…no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark… no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land…’
Most of Africa despite the hype surrounding impressive embellished economic growth figures; often supplied by the so-called bilateral and multilateral development partners, has become the mouth of a shark.
The thousands that have forked out ‘facilitation’ money to people smugglers, but have died from the elements while attempting to cross the treacherous Sahara Desert and drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to get to the European mainland - read the Promised Land- are the irony of the Africa rising story.
Now they have to bear with being auctioned off in the lawless land of Libya. They are the distressed harvest of people who want cheap labour and traders in human organs that will enable the rich in lands far and wide, live longer lives. Remember they are from Africa where organic food is the main staple and so are likely to have better organs, says a cynic.
Now the Western media is reporting the story like it is about heartless Africans setting on their brethren without moral remorse. This is very intriguing because it is not that straight forward. This story is long and involves the West and China, the rising imperial dragon from the East.
To begin with, in substance, Africa has not changed much from the 19th Century. Granted, we are now ruled by fellow black men, many of whom are there courtesy of disputed democratic elections. Many of these elections are validated by the same development partners. Africa is still the world’s reservoir for cheap raw materials, and despite all the platitudes, it serves the developed world if the situation remains unchanged or gets worse – meaning even cheaper resources to be exploited.
Take the case of aid. In an article on the website www.theguardin.com titled, ‘Aid to Africa: Donations from West mask ‘$60b looting’ of continent, it is said ‘although sub-Saharan Africa receives $134b each year in loans, foreign investment and development aid, ….research suggests that $192b leaves the region.’
Africa pays through the nose, especially in servicing interest on loans. Much of the money goes back to the donors as consultancy fees, salaries and to purchase fuel guzzling four-wheel drive vehicles. Many of these loans simply end up being stolen by corrupt bureaucrats. (A lot of this stolen money ends up safely in banks and as investments in the donor countries.) The donors pretend to complain and threaten to withdraw donations then they change their minds and ‘blindly’ donate.
This vicious cycle of donations has a price. Even if an African government means well, it finds itself financially constrained to create jobs, cater for health, housing and education after all the ‘deductions’ named above.
The result is that the young population becomes restless and seeks solace in crime, armed struggle or hit the desert and the sea in what Kalundi Sserumaga, who describes himself as a ‘born-again pagan’ called the new type of rural urban migration. They seek greener pastures in Europe by hook or crook. In politics, at times you save yourself a headache when you ignore who is responsible for an action and instead concentrate on one who benefits from that action.
The slave market in Libya serves the West in more ways than one. Migration is a thorn to most governments as many of those out of work and on the dole blame migrants for their predicament. This has led to the rise in far right parties or even the traditional parties to accommodate ultra-right positions on migration to fit in with the aspiration of voters.
Dehumanising those seeking to cross to Europe through Libya acts as a cheap buffer as Western governments do not have to deploy forces and build walls to stop the migrants who would burden them. It also creates a smoke-screen that crowds out the debate and focus on the devastating consequences of Western-driven neo-liberalism on the African continent.
For instance, we ignore the fact that the reason why the West is always quick to recognise governments, which win stolen elections and call for the losers to accept and work with them for peace and stability, is mainly to protect their deposit and continue to benefit from the leakage of Africa’s resources.
Also that bad and illegitimate leaders on the continent can only survive by weakening the State, disempowering the people, and impoverishing them. It is such leaders that the people being sold in the slave markets in Libya are running away from.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political
and social issues. firstname.lastname@example.org