Five hundred years ago, the European slave trader who arrived on our shores and his local comprador had to exert a lot of brute force before catching men and women to carry on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade route to the Americas and Europe. Those of you, cherished readers, who know the story of Kunta Kinte, know the kind of resistance to physical and mental slavery that he symbolised.
Today, however, just park a 10,000-seater ship at the Tema or Takoradi Habour with the bold inscription: YANKEE-BOUND SLAVE SHIP. Within 30 minutes the ship will be overloaded, with weaker contenders falling into the sea out of desperation to book a place on the vessel that will cart them into 21st Century slavery. After the blood and sweat that our forebears and illustrious leaders shed to break the yoke of slavery and colonial domination; you ask: Did we go or did we come?
What has hit the news headlines from Libya is not new. It is recurrent. It is becoming rampant. It is worsening in proportion. It is unlikely to stop, given our mindset as a Ghanaian and Black people. We like travelling without first doing any cost-benefit analysis. This is a country where some parents sell their only piece of farming land to ‘buy’ visas for their children and nephews to travel to the US, Canada, Germany, England, Spain, Italy, Japan, Korea or China for jobs they have no idea of. Some cede their lands to illegal miners, kill to perform rituals, fast for favour from their deities, or prostitute themselves for a chance to leave the shores of their motherland.
Ghana Today is not canvassing against the sojourn, exploration, sightseeing and refuge-taking that date back to the time of Early Man; make no mistake. What one is condemning is the crass exodus of our youth – and even some people nearing the official retiring age – for non-existent greener pastures beyond our borders. This column is condemning in no uncertain terms society’s obvious condoning of the stupid walking across the Sahara Desert or attempting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe on decrepit boats. The state, families, whole ethnic groups and regions are culpable of irresponsible complicity. The question remains to be answered: How come that the Upper East, Upper West and Northern Regions are closer to Burkina Faso and the Sahara Desert than the Bono-Ahafo and Ashanti Regions but the two middle belt regions’ people cross the harsh expanse of land to Libya and Italy more than the northern regions’ do? Those who claim that poverty is the main driving force, tell me: How come that the four poorest regions are Central, Upper East, Upper West and Northern and yet their sons and daughters don’t stow away on ships or walk the hot desert like those from the relatively richer regions? Some of our ethnic groups and regions are most culpable: their perception of success; their yardstick for civilisation; their values can be too skewed, warped.
If, as a father, uncle or mother, you can marshal GHC8,000.00 or more for your child or ward to dare into Europe or America through unapproved routes; what reason stops you from encouraging the same relative to start a vocation, small manufacturing, farming or even buy-and-sell here? Our families are also guilty; guilty of negligence or worse still abahye-bone, as the Akans would say. Do we leave out the government? The same government that struggles and repeatedly fails to honour its responsibilities to loyal citizens at home will always rush to evacuate illegal emigrants, condemning shabby treatment meted out to ‘innocent Ghanaians travelling in the global village.’ With this kind of attitude, how do you discourage irresponsible sojourn? To be sure of my position, let me say our governments should retrieve the cost of evacuation, negotiations and all related bills from the evacuees or their families as soon as possible. It is good you’ve brought them back; but, don’t pamper them: let them see their folly.
You cannot do the same thing repeatedly the same way and expect different results. The way we have treated this matter – emotionally instead of rationally – we will continue to be humiliated in Libya, Asia, Europe, America, Nigeria and even The Gambia! Those of you who can ‘fish out’ retired Commodore Steve Obimpeh, please ask him how many people he had to evacuate and support in 1983 when Jerry John Rawlings charged him to go bring our nationals who had walked or boarded mummy trucks – joined the bandwagon – to Anago, Agege or Nigeria. Crème de la crème of the nation’s teachers who had left chalk, duster, cane and pupils in the classrooms to go to Agege. Factory hands, administrators, musicians, footballers, farmers, fugitives and all who were badly needed in this country. More than one million were Ghanaians that soon, President Shehu Shagari drove out of Nigeria on austerity, and who came to worsen an already ailing economy for almost a decade. Our governments are culpable, I stress.
American Cable News Network had reported that hundreds of African refugees and migrants passing through Libya were being bought and sold in modern-day slave markets. According to the report, the traders worked by preying on tens of thousands of vulnerable people who risked everything to get to Libya’s coast and then cross the Mediterranean into Europe – a route that has been described as the deadliest on earth. (Source: Daily Graphic of 30-11-17)
The Daily Guide of the same day had reported that at least three Ghanaian migrants were said to be among those auctioned as slaves in Libya, sourcing it to Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, Ghana’s Foreign Affairs Minister.
In same yesterday’s Graphic quoted above, President Akufo-Addo is reported as condemning the alleged auction of African migrants as slaves in Libya. “The current slave auctions of Africans in Libya are not only gross and scandalous abuse of human rights, but, also a mockery of the alleged solidarity of African nations grouped in the African Union, of which Libya is a member.”
It is heartwarming that our president has promptly condemned the shameful act. It is further comforting that UN Secretary-General, Antonio Gueterres, has urged the international community to unite in fighting this modern-day slavery. Nonetheless, these statesmanlike statements are not new. If you researched the stewardships of Ban Ki-moon, Kofi Annan, Boutros Boutros-Ghali etc., you would realise they made very similar appeals to the international community to end such barbaric acts; but the acts continued or are actually exacerbating. Comb back the eras of Dramani Mahama, Agyekum Kufuor, Jerry Rawlings et al, and you realise they condemned the killings of Ghanaians in The Gambia, Libya, Nigeria, Europe, America, Asia and what have you. Nothing has changed. The world is in an aggressive, merciless competition. You protect your own and try to compete as much as you can with your neighbours, doing as little as possible sermonising.
What this and subsequent governments should do is do all it takes to make it unnecessary or extremely unattractive for any Ghanaian to dare walk through the Sahara Desert or stow away on cargo ships or on narrow ramshackle boats. What our authorities must do is punish in a deterrent form those caught attempting to use unapproved routes to travel. What our traditional authorities need to do is to dissuade their subjects from thinking that making it in life means only travelling to Europe or America to hustle.
Most importantly, those who take the crass decision to travel the unapproved routes to destinations they’ve learnt nothing about, for jobs they have no idea of, had better advised themselves. Fortunately, this is quite different from child trafficking. Almost all those shown in the videos and still-life pictures were adults, some looking too old even to want to travel to hustle. That all of them are adults means they can, and should, reason. How the CNN is quoted to have described the route to Libya is very instructive: According to the report, the traders worked by preying on tens of thousands of vulnerable people who risked everything to get to Libya’s coast and then cross the Mediterranean into Europe – a route that has been described as the deadliest on earth. If you live in the safety nest of your extended family – even without a job – it is better than venturing onto the “route that has been described as the deadliest on earth.”
Apart from travelling for studies, on invitation or for some other purposeful mission, we should remember our own adage: Home Sweet Home. All other ground is sinking sand!
…with A. C. Ohene