Sometimes when I’m writing I’m aware that I’m always banging on about happy I am, how I feel I’m living in paradise and so on. Which is all true, although I do choose to write about the good (and often the bad) whilst ignoring the mundane. Having said that, there’s not a lot of mundane. When I recently went to buy a toilet seat, I had an adventure.
But for many here it clearly is not paradise. I’ve just read that more than 10,000 Gambians sought asylum in Europe between January and June of this year. They are mostly economic migrants and not those fleeing for their lives. Presumably most have gone what is know locally as “the back way” via Libya. This has opened up since that country dissolved into anarchy and Spain tightened up controls of previous boat traffic to its shores. Despite the massive risk and expense, people still deem it worthwhile. And every immigrant who makes it and sends money back to Africa reinforces this view.
I hear plenty of stories of local people going, including Khady’s cousin, His boat sank and he was the sole survivor, waking up on a beach off the coast of the Casamance. Now she tells me her younger brother, Lamin, wishes to go – I’ve told her to tell him come and speak to me first. Most tales I hear involve gun wounds, drownings, being blown up or imprisonment. The few people I’ve met that tried and failed won’t talk about it.
I travel around the region a fair bit – when you get inland, villages can be pretty bleak and dusty and I’m sure I’d want to escape. But many of the emigrants I hear about are from around my way – places I have described as idyllic, tranquil and so on.
The grass is always greener. What seems idyllic to me – a westerner, not well off by any means but who grew up with pretty much everything he needed and now has the luxury to choose a simpler path, going back to nature – can be a daily grind for a local person.
Is it worth leaving behind a pretty simple life surrounded by friends, family, plentiful fruit and fish, to live cramped in a room, to be despised by the local people, working dawn till dusk in the cold carrying out menial soul destroying tasks to send a few quid back to Africa? I don’t know but I think I can see both sides of the argument and I can’t blame someone trying to better them self although I think they really don’t know what they’re letting themselves in for if they think it’s worth losing their life for.
A few years ago, I wondered why someone wouldn’t want to stay and help develop their country, raising the standards for everyone. Experiencing how the government and local officials seemingly despise their people, I’m no longer surprised that any sense of patriotism is lost. It is a shame – Africa needs its young people and especially the skilled ones to help it’s development, not take the short cut to individual prosperity. Occasionally I meet eloquent young people determined to build their business or do something useful – they are the heroes, refusing to be broken by regimes, by corruption, by bureaucratic nonsense – I hope their optimism is not crushed out of them.
Whilst life for the typical young person may not be easy and there aren’t many jobs, it is not impossible to have a decent standard of living and gain a trade. I personally think I can have a better quality of life here with £2/day than I could in England – but I’m easily pleased. Khady’s opinion is that many people are lazy and they want an easy life – to marry a toubab or to go to Europe where they believe everybody is rich and life is easy, which is understandable – if I explain to someone that one might earn £30/day for a menial job in the UK, their eyes light up as they’d be hard pressed to earn that in a month.
So why is there now such emigration? I don’t think current generations are any worse off than previous ones who weren’t “escaping” in the same way. I was told that 20 or 30 years ago, the levels of poverty amongst everyday people were highly visible, whereas now most people seem well dressed, have a mobile phone and eat every day. Education and medical care leaves something to be desired, but improvements have and are being made.
I think that development has lifted people out of absolute poverty to a world where tv and internet has exposed them to the lifestyles and riches of the West. They want their slice of the pie that their ancestors and resources helped built, and frankly, who can blame them?
Occasionally I venture to the dreaded “bottom half of the internet” (comments sections), where there’re usually a couple of well informed arguments amidst a sea of nonsense. One argument I’ve read recently, may at first glance appear reasonable – something along the lines of what gives these people the right to just march into Europe and expect a new life on the backs of European tax payers? To which my response is that the complex history that has lead to the welfare state is in large part built on the back of colonialism – African (and other developing nations) labour and resources. Colonialism may have ended but Western companies still benefit from African resources:
These are just a few thoughts and I don’t pretend to have solutions.
What do you think? I’d love to discuss this in the comments…