Are the lives of Alan Kurdi and Kylian Mbappé connected? Could Kurdi have become Mbappé? Or could Mbappé have ended up drowning in the sea like Kurdi? Would France have won the 2018 World Cup if all immigrant stories had ended like Kurdi’s?
As France celebrated its well-deserved victory in the World Cup, two wonderful fourth-year law students, Maria Angela Maina and Cynthia Mutheu, brought to my attention the Kurdi-Mbappé dilemma. They called it the “tough dilemma on the role of immigrants and race in national development”.
Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old boy, made headlines all over the world after his body was pictured, minute and lifeless on a beach, when a boat he was in capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. The Kurdi family was running away from war-torn Syria.
Kylian Mbappé, a 19-year-old soccer star, was born into an immigrant family of Cameroonian and Algerian roots. He took the world by storm in his World Cup debut.
Migration has become a massive issue in developed countries. Refugees have been treated like lesser beings, like kokoto, as if they were half-human or not human at all.
RACIAL SPEECH AND ELECTIONS
Cecil Yongo argues that the gap between the rich and the poor, the peaceful and the violent, the hungry and the satisfied has divided and classified humanity by race, origin, possessions and skin colour.
In fact, elections in many developed countries have been lost and won based on the intensity of racial speech. In the United States, President Trump was carried to victory on the back of strong anti-immigration sentiment, becoming more and more popular when he threatened to ‘build a wall’ across the Mexico-United States border.
Britain’s Brexit choice seems to have been significantly influenced by the European open border policy. Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany had to retreat on her open immigration policy after facing a robust rebellion by her governing partners.
Even here in Kenya, not long ago, there was a strong suggestion that a wall across the Somalia-Kenya border should be constructed. This suggestion was based on two uncomfortable factors – the abnormal influx of Somali citizens into northern Kenya and fears of insecurity after the Westgate and the Garissa University College sagas.
Immigrants may be a blessing or a curse. Maria Angela and Cynthia say that when immigrants arrive with their own culture in tow and shake up the way of life of places around them, their presence triggers uncomfortable feeling among citizens. It is like visiting someone else’s home and diving into the refrigerator.
In today’s popular culture, it is not politically correct to express hateful and bigoted feelings. Citizens are aware of this and they keep these opinions to themselves until the right time comes. This time is where it arguably matters most – at the ballot box.
Europe has suffered a huge migratory tsunami and a worrying imbalance in their social fabric. It already has a visible impact on politics, religion, culture, economics and healthcare systems. This tsunami did not come unannounced; it was predictable, for it was the ultimate consequence of colonisation.
Just a few decades ago, the big European powers invaded the land of today’s immigrants, their homes, their culture, their language. These big powers controlled their resources, their thinking, their political and social life, and turned people into refugees in their own homes.
The fact that the French national football team is made up of 17 immigrants or children of immigrants (representing 74 percent of its force), with 14 of them being of African descent, makes France (statistically) the most successful African team in the World Cup.
However, these statistics are not divulged by the French but by the American and English press. It is interesting to note that France has unique population policies. Since 1872, the law discourages any census that touches on matters to do with ethnicity and religion, which would go against the sacred principle of égalité (equality) as proclaimed by the French Revolution.
Even today, it is difficult to know the exact ethnic and religious composition of France. Some experts estimate that almost a third of France’s population is made up of immigrants and children of immigrants.
Erik Bleich (the Brookings Institution) argues that “France maintains a ‘colour-blind’ model of public policy. This means that it targets virtually no policies directly at racial or ethnic groups. Instead, it uses geographic or class criteria to address issues of social inequalities.”
DESCENT AND IDENTITY
The same does not happen in many other countries. There is usually rage when the English press has identified guilty citizens, who committed dreadful terrorist attacks, by their descent. Yet, their heroes are simply identified by their citizenship.
Some time ago, a bomb was planted in the London Metro, and the press reported, “Khuram Butt, a 27-year-old British citizen born in Pakistan…”. Also, during the 2017 Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, an explosion occurred and killed more than 20 people. The press said, “Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old British national of Libyan descent…”
Yet, few know that Sir Alec Issigonis, the creator of the Mini, an icon of British car engineering, was born in Turkey, and migrated to Britain in 1923 to study automobile engineering. Few also know that Sir Mo Farah was born Mohamed Muktar Jama Farah, in Mogadishu and emigrated to Britain at the age of 8 without knowing a word of English.
Still fewer may know that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth, is Greek by descent and became a naturalised British citizen in 1947, just before his marriage to Elizabeth.
FEELING THEIR PAIN
Immigration is not such a bad thing. It is a gamble, like any birth in any country. The good, the bad and the ugly will always come together.
Refugees may come by sea or land because they have no other choice. And, as human beings, we have a duty to help them. Today’s immigrants will be tomorrow’s sports, political or economic heroes and heroines.
Canada has managed to accept immigrants, yet it keeps its citizens happy at the same time. In fact, the only populist revolution was pro-immigrant! It can all be managed, in a humane way; feeling the pain of those who have left their homes in search of peace or prosperity.
After all, most refugees and immigrants are the result of historical injustices and segregation. They are the result of the ransacking of their culture, wealth and natural resources.
Most European countries may need a paradigm shift in their approach to the immigration crisis. They are part of the problem, and they should also be part of the solution.
Dr Franceschi is the dean of Strathmore Law School. [email protected]; Twitter: @lgfranceschi