Early this month, an unidentified group blew up a refugee detention centre housing African refugees and asylum seekers in Tripoli, Libya. At least 44 people died and 130 were injured.
If it were not for the UN and major news agencies, the tragedy would never have caught the attention of African citizens as leaders burry their heads in the sand.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that within the first three months of 2019, some 10,308 migrants and refugees crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.
Within the same period, 234 persons lost their lives while trying to cross over to Europe. Cumulatively, more than 12,000 migrants have died in the Mediterranean Sea since 2016.
In spite of the increasing number of young Africans dying lonely deaths in the sea, African leaders and their apex organisation, remain silent.
The silence perhaps confirms that it is their failed leadership that has led to these desperate measures by young people.
Strangely, virtually all the governments from where these young people come bear no remorse. It is as if they cannot make a connection between the deaths and their failed leadership.
The African Union has had conferences of all kinds but none to deal with the raising crisis of population, unemployment and poor governance that in many ways contribute to poverty.
Centuries ago, we sold our own into slavery. In the 21st century, our ineptitude is pushing our own into modern slavery and death.
Are we simply unloving or is there something else? Why would the entire continent be numb as they watch their children die in desperation?
I posed these questions to some academics at a recent conference. Most felt that Africa never quite attained political, social and economic independence.
In political “independence” we simply replaced the faces of the colonists with that of elite Africans within the colonial structures.
If there is anything the colonial administration achieved the most, it was the altering of African social relations through religion, education and cultural shifts that created new and often conflicting class structures.
On economic independence, Africa has never made even an attempt to challenge the economic structures put in place by colonial governments.
Even with the advent of China's invasion of Africa, we still live with the negative effects of colonialism. If you want to understand how pervasive colonialism is to Kenya, for example, look at how we are struggling with constitutional changes without regard of historical facts on colonisation.
Here we want to change the Constitution from presidential to parliamentary system when indeed more than 90 percent of the population has no idea how that change will impact on their lives.
Instead, more could be done by revisiting indigenous leadership systems. Vusi Gumede from the University of South Africa in his research paper, Leadership for Africa’s Development: Revisiting Indigenous African Leadership and Setting the Agenda for Political Leadership, suggested that:
African leadership should be infused with thought leadership, thought liberation, and critical consciousness. And critical consciousness and thought liberation should be linked to decolonising the minds of Africans, as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and others have argued.
Without addressing the issue of colonialism comprehensively, we shall forever be perpetuating colonialism and, for that matter, desperation of our young people seeking to leave the continent as economic refugees.
For example, my interviewees said, that the CFA franc used in virtually all Francophone countries in Africa is a tool for French Monetary imperialism in the continent.
By controlling up to 50 percent of Francophone countries foreign reserves, France undermines trade and by extension economic progress in those countries leading to the problems that are manifest in the sad outcomes in the Mediterranean Sea.
An analysis by a coalition of British and African equality and development campaigners published a report, Honest Accounts in 2017 says that:
African countries received $162 billion (Sh16.2 trillion) in 2015, mainly in loans, aid and personal remittances. But in the same year, $203 billion (Sh20.3 trillion) was taken from the continent, either directly through multinationals repatriating profits and illegally moving money into tax havens, or by costs imposed by the rest of the world through climate change adaptation and mitigation… This led to an annual financial deficit of $41.3bn (Sh4.13 trillion) from the 47 African countries where many people remain trapped in poverty.
The report further says illicit financial flows, that is, illegal movement of cash (like multinational corporations misreporting the value of their imports or exports to reduce tax) between countries, accounted for $68 billion (Sh6.8 trillion) a year, three times as much as the $19billion (Sh1.9 trillion) Africa received in aid.
In addition, an estimated $29 billion (Sh2.9 trillion) a year is being stolen from Africa in illegal logging, fishing and the trade in wildlife/plants.
In my view, Africa has never been poor. She simply suffers from relics of colonialism and malaise in leadership to convert her enormous resources into a vibrant economy.
It will be difficult for African leaders to raffle their benefactors (those that assist them to blunder and hide the continent’s wealth and those who keep them in power) by expressing remorse over the death of her children.
My academic discussants concluded that it is increasingly becoming apparent that in the not too distant future, many will die to bring genuine liberation with a focus on self-rule mechanisms based on the foundations of African values.
We have seen what trying to mimic governance systems of our colonists can do. We have to change this but have to be careful that such momentum does not fall into the hands of those who may change its destiny as it happened with the Arab Spring.
The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.@bantigito