Haunting and harrowing images of Africans, mainly West Africans, on TV being treated worse than beasts of burden, traded and auctioned off to the highest bidder, have pricked the conscience of well-meaning people throughout the world. It is, from every indication, modern day slavery in its most obnoxious forms. And it is happening in Libya, an oil rich country now awash with arms and torn apart by internecine fratricidal conflict.
Until a few years ago, Libya was stable, prosperous and extensively involved in economic projects around Africa. Since the violent overthrow of its leader Moammar Qaddafi in 2012 by an assortment of Western backed armed insurgents, Libya’s stability has been shattered and the country has degenerated into a vicious tailspin of unending violence, with thousands of African migrants trapped with virtually nowhere to go.
The exposure of bestial and dehumanizing treatment of African migrants has, without doubt, provoked outrage around Africa and perhaps the world; the Government of Libya has drawn scathing comments from various African leaders and there have been public demonstrations in several countries, including Liberia, against the extremely inhumane treatment being meted out to African migrants in that North African country.
While some are quick to condemn and blame the West for the situation in Libya, which is true to a large extent, there is also a need to do critical soul searching as we seek answers. We ask just what the push and pull factors responsible for driving so many thousands of our youth from the resource-endowed lands of their birth to seek fortunes in Western countries, many of which do not possess even a third of the natural resource endowment of the countries from which these African migrants hail.
On closer introspection, we identify poor governance and extreme corruption as the main culprits. Bringing it closer to home, the four countries of the Mano River Basin comprising of Guinea, Sierra Leone, La Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia, with a combined population of 48,258,000 people are well endowed with natural resources that include diamonds, gold, rubber, timber, iron ore, bauxite, oil, titanium, etc.
Yet, despite such rich endowments, the peoples of the Mano River Basin countries are poor and have all experienced periods of episodic violence, including prolonged periods of violence and instability as in the cases of Liberia, Sierra Leone and La Corte d’Ivoire. Additionally, these countries have undergone periods of civilian and military dictatorships, elections-based violence and are currently experiencing rising income disparity highly skewed in favor of the ruling elites.
And despite indicators showing impressive growth rates in the countries of the Mano River Basin, the contradiction is that such growth is not translating into jobs and increased access to opportunities for self-actualization by most people. It is inconceivable, for example, that these countries with common denominators of high youth unemployment, high illiteracy rates, etc., will commit on an average less than 4 percent of their budgets on education.
They compare very unfavorably with Zimbabwe, for example, where expenditure on education accounts for 8.4 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Something is definitely wrong and it points to bad governance. In Liberia, for example, where over U.S.$16bn have supposedly been infused into the economy over the last 12 years as direct foreign investment, there is little to show for it.
More than that, about two-thirds of all concession agreements signed between this government and foreign investors are bogus and or illegal. Some of the concession agreements have seen large numbers of people uprooted and displaced from ancestral lands and deprived of livelihood, just to make way for the development of oil palm and rubber plantations.
Yet in others, entire communities have been removed or relocated to make way for gold mining concessionaires that provide little or no returns to the true owners of the land.
In other instances, we see thousands of young university graduates roaming the streets in search of non-existent jobs while affordable access to quality health care remains a luxury accessible to a tiny minority. For too many of our people, it appears, hope—real hope—is lost, especially when entire families go to bed hungry and wake up the next day with nothing to look forward to.
It was in recognition perhaps, of the destitution and desperation of the people that President Sirleaf, in her first inaugural address, pledged before man and God to ensure that no Liberian family will face such unsettling prospects daily. And she underscored it with the expression, “Papa na come.” But the question that has been asked over many years, and especially as her administration comes to a close, did papa ever come?
Who, then, we ask, is driving our young people into slavery in Libya and dehumanizing existence in Europe and elsewhere—not our own governments?
Mr. Weah, Mr. Boakai, you who are vying for the Liberian presidency, how will you change this despicable situation if and when you assume power?