Before Africans started trekking the Sahara and dying in their thousands in Mediterranean Sea trying desperately to reach Europe, the tragedy had been foretold 25 years ago by a film called The March.
To stem the migration, European Community sent its commissioner on development to persuade the leader of the migration Isa El Mahdi to call off the march to Europe in return for economic support in their home countries. Africans rejected the offer of aid at home, arguing they had a right to settle in Europe. After all, “we are poor because you are rich.” During slavery and colonialism, Europe pillaged trillions of dollars from Africa. It was now time to share that wealth with Africa. Already, through TVs, Africans had seen how luxuriously Europe lived but all they were asking for are crumbs from the feasting table.
The European commissioner countered the African argument, “the world is a hard place” and Africans should solve their own problems. Mahdi again disagreed “some parts of the world are harder than others”. In any case, it will only cost 50 dollars to maintain an African in Europe where it costs $200 to keep a cat. So, he opined: “Let us come to Europe as your pets. We can drink milk. We can lie by the fire. We can lick your hands. We can purr. And we are much cheaper to feed.”
Galled by El Mahd, the European commissioner argued that Africa must be told the truth about her problems: “If we are ever to find a way out of this mess, we have to start by telling each other the truth?”
“But what is the truth?” asked Mahdi: “The truth is, you will go home and we will die. We live invisible lives. We die invisible deaths.”
The commissioner shot back: “What do you expect us to do? Watch you die?”
Mahdi answered: “If we must die, yes. I want you to watch us die.”
"That maybe so," the commissioner said, "but we have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Africa. And where has it all gone? I will tell you. It has gone into Presidential palaces, into tanks, into fighter planes, into giant dams that don’t work, into luxury goods for corrupt elite and into genocidal and tribal wars.”
Mahdi retaliated with the dream of migrants: “We believe that if you see us before you, you will not let us die. That is why we come to Europe. If you will not help us, there is nothing more we can do. We will die, and you will watch us die. And may God have mercy on us all.”
Later Mahdi would declare at the coast of Southern Europe: “The people of Europe ask why we are coming. We come to ask you a question. Why do you have so much and we have so little? Is it because you are better people than us? Have you done such things that you deserve more? If so, tell us what they are and we will do them. But perhaps you have no answer. Perhaps you will tell us: God make the world this way, we can’t help you. Go home and suffer in silence. Go home and die. Then we say to you. We have no home. We will suffer here in front of you. We will die on the streets of Europe. (Beyond that) we have no power but this: to choose where we die. (And) all we ask of you is this: watch us die.”
African migrants could not even be asked to go back home and work hard. "When I was growing up I studied hard. I worked hard. But our country grew poorer (and poorer).”
As Mahdi foretold 25 years ago, thousands of Africans are dying in the Mediterranean Sea and Europe is watching them die. But her conscience remains unmoved, and she is not alone in this guilt.
In the dying of African migrants seeking better lives in Europe lies the greatest shame and curse of African leaders. Poor Africans are running away from problems African leaders have created for them. And while European leaders have met in Brussels to discuss the moral dilemma of watching people die – people to whom they have shut their doors, African leaders are behaving as if the dying African migrants are worthy less than rats.
Another problem that will not let African migrants into Europe is global apartheid dictating that 20 per cent who consume 80 per cent of world resources will wallow in their own wealth, and 80 per cent who are the wretched of the earth perish in their own poverty.
Explaining the rejection of African migrants from Europe, the European commissioner laments rather sadly: “Well, I always knew (the African migration) was a lousy idea. We are just not ready for you yet. That’s all, maybe later.”
To solve her problems, maybe Africa should swallow bitter medicine from European Parliament: “We have been treating poor countries like children. We think we have all the answers. Maybe it is time for Africa to grow up and solve her own problems.”
Finally the European commissioner argues, perhaps it is time Europe (and America) boosted African development with a Marshall Plan similar to the $16 million one that reconstructed Europe after the Second World War. She was right. When President Obama comes to Kenya in July, African leaders should make this proposal to him.