“Just like a Slavery Boat” was one of the headlines the New York Times recently chose to describe the dehumanizing conditions in decrepit wooden boats African migrants use to escape misery, authoritarian regimes, ethnic massacres and poverty, to seek a better life in Europe.
The respected American broadsheet splashed on its front page a five-column six-inch-deep color picture of a vessel laden with African runaways. The coverage spread to an inside page and carried four large images of people in different stages of distress at sea. One of the pictures showed frantic immigrants pulling half-naked people from a near-capsized rubber raft at sea. According to Rick Gladstone, the writer of the story, 29 dead bodies were found in one boat that had a capacity of 150 people.
The Times headline was not misplaced. The environment in the overcrowded boats is not any different from what existed in slave ships to America in the 17th century, or in the Arab dhows that plied between the eastern African coast and Arabia, a narrative of which is covered extensively in my book the Wretched Africans, now available at Amazon.
The New York Times images are not only depressing, but tell a poignant story of people who risk their lives for illusions of greener pastures abroad.
Years ago it was a trickle. Then it turned into an avalanche of humans paying large sums of money to agents to get a sitting or standing space in unseaworthy boats leaving the east and west African coasts for the long torturous journey north.
The majority of the immigrants come from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Nigeria. From north Africa and the Middle East, Libyans, Syrians and Tunisians dominate the flow – leaving their war-torn countries through the Mediterranean Sea for Italy, Germany, or England. On one day in May this year, 4,000 immigrants from Libya were plucked out of the sea.
Thousands of Africans in deadly circumstances have been rescued by European Coast Guards and many more – 20,000 in the last two decades – have died from suffocation, hunger, and disease. Many children are born at sea and many die after their dinghies capsize.
Those who manage to reach the shores of Europe – an estimated 295,000 in 2016, according to the International Organization of Migrants – are either welcomed on humanitarian grounds, or sequestered in squalid, overcrowded detention camps for long periods of time before being deported to their countries of origin.
The immigration crisis has reached such a monumental level that receiving countries have been forced to tighten entry restrictions, some barring altogether, immigrants from entering their countries. The European Union has occasionally and zealously organized vessels to ferry the immigrants back home against protests from human rights organizations.
So what is the fundamental solution? Simple. Better management of our countries. If African countries could improve their people’s standards of living and avoid civil wars, Africans would not want to flee their countries to seek better fortunes elsewhere.
Joe Khamisi is a former journalist, diplomat and Member of Parliament. He is also the Author of ‘Politics of Betrayal:Diary of a Kenyan Legislator‘, a political memoir about the situation in Kenya between 2001, when the ruling party of President Daniel Arap Moi, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), merged with Raila Odinga’s National Development Party.
The book also narrates cases of corruption in Parliament and in the Media and records Senator Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006. As a friend of Barack Obama Senior, the author also remembers the times and tragedies of the American-educated economist.
Joe Khamisi’s second book, a biography, ‘Dash Before Dusk’ is also now on sale.
Joe’s latest book is ‘The Wretched Africans: A Study of Rabai and Freretown Slave Settlements‘ which has recently been published and is now available to purchase.