Apr 25



In what must count as one of my worst nightmares, a grandchild of mine calls me just after having watched the news on TV and says:

“Grandpa, they say 800 people – many of them Africans – were drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, trying to get by boat to Italy from Libya. The boat capsized and they were thrown into the water. They say some of the people, including women and children, were locked inside parts of the boat and could not even get a chance to get into the water, to be saved by passing ships, or by people on the boat who were good swimmers…!”

“Yes – Hmmmm! – I saw the news item too. Very very sad. Very heart-breaking.”

“But Grandpa, why do people take such dangerous risks, only to come and die in the sea?”

“My dear, many of the dead people went to Libya from areas where there is war, especially Syria. But others, particularly the Black Africans, voluntarily sought and found work in Libya. But when the government there changed in a matter of weeks, everything fell apart. They were no longer safe in the country. Right now, there are two governments in Libya, each fighting the other. The police and the army have split into factions. Each faction does what it likes. The European countries, like Britain, which helped the enemies of the Libyan leader of the time, Colonel Muammar Gaddhafi, to overthrow him by bombing Gaddafi’s forces from the air, are just sitting and watching and doing nothing. Yet they contributed to the chaos that now exists in Libya. They just destroyed the law and order that was in Libya, and did nothing to fill the vacuum caused by the demise of his administration. Everyone could have told them that usually, chaos follows the overthrow of a dictator and that they should be prepared to create something new and better to fill in the gap left he has been overthrown. By failing to do any of that, the European governments bear a special responsibility for the deadly chaos that now reigns in Libya.

“Sadly, the Black Africans who went to work in Libya were sometimes picked upon – even during Gaddafi’s time – by the Arab population, roughed up and robbed of their few possessions. Some were deported back to their home countries. If that happened to them under Gaddafi – who was a Pan-Africanist and had an eye on becoming the leader of the whole African continent – just imagine what is happening to them today, when there only armed bandits masquerading as politicians in Libya. There is no-one for the Black Africans to turn to for help. Some are jailed without having done anything wrong. Many have even been killed.

“In this unsafe atmosphere, it is easy for profiteers – known as people-traffickers – to be believed when they circulate information on Facebook and other popular social media where the persecuted communities exchange information, that the traffickers can ferry them by boat to Europe on such and such a day by such and such a boat, if they are paid well enough. These wicked people collect as many people as possible, charge them upfront, and then cram them into old and useless boats which they wouldn’t mind to see sinking in the ocean. They then set off “for Europe”.

“In the middle of the sea, the overcrowded rickety vessels almost always run into difficulties when they encounter rough seas. Some of the boats simply get lost on the ocean, because the “sailors’ are not qualified to navigate the boats correctly. As soon as that happens, the crews of the vessels quickly board a smaller boat, known as a “dingy”, which they would have brought on board for the purpose, sail away, and leave the passengers to their fate. That’s what happened with the 800 people they were talking about in the news. A large ship was trying to pick up some of the people on board, but because the crews were incompetent, the refugee boat capsized and over 90 percent of its passengers were drowned. Many many thousands more have suffered the same fate. “

“Yes, Grandpa, they said on the news that nearly 2,000 people have drowned in the Ocean in the past four months alone! Grandpa, that makes it about 500 people per month! That is even worse than those that were dying each month from Ebola not too long ago!?”

“My dear, it is distressing beyond comprehension. You would have thought that by now, information would have reached the foreigners in Libya that to set foot in one of those rickety boats is to deliberately check into a watery grave! But mankind is full of delusional optimism, and people keep telling themselves, “It will happen to others, but not to me!” So they pay good money to go – and get drowned in those ships. But other, similar ships continually set out – overcrowded with people. Some of the people are quite simply stupid in trusting the people-traffickers, when there is so much evidence that the traffickers are murderers only out to make money. But these people are largely poor and uneducated, and so their sources of information are suspect, especially against the slick marketing carried out by the people-traffickers. But not all of them are naïve. Some are genuinely so desperate that they resign themselves to whatever fate awaits them – so long as it is not what they are experiencing in Libya at the moment.”

“Okay, Grandpa, I understand what is going on inside the people who have escaped from the war in Syria, or Somalia. But what about the Black Africans? I know there is Boko Haram in Nigeria and I hear there are other dangerous terrorist movements in places like Mali. But they said that some of those who have drowned came from Gambia, or Senegal, or – even Ghana! When Dad took us to Ghana, I thought it was a very peaceful and lovely country. Why would anyone want to leave such a country, suffer great hardship across the Sahara Desert – where they might die of thirst or hunger or illness – and go to Libya and from there to Europe?”

“Well, my dear, during the years that Libya’s dead leader, Colonel Gaddafi, was in power, Libya was very rich. It was an oil-producing country, you see, and could afford to pay high wages to workers of all types – carpenters, electricians, mechanics, plumbers, tailors and and so on. Libya also paid well to lure people willing to undertake jobs that Libyans themselves thought too demeaning for the citizens of an oil-rich country – road-workers, building labourers, household helps, street-cleaners, night-watch guards, hospital orderlies and the like.

“These people worked hard, lived very frugal lives and carefully saved their money. So they were able to buy cars and things like that. Sometimes, this aroused the envy of the poorer Libyans, who did not take such good care of their own money. So when the iron grip of Gaddafi on the Libyans vanished overnight, some of the Libyan people gave vent to their resentment of the foreigners. They put many in jail and robbed them of all their money and possessions. That’s why they want to leave Libya. But Libya’s borders are now the playground of armed and murderous bandits, so it is not easy to get out of the country. This is what has given the people-traffickers their opportunity to make a “killing” (almost literally!) . They say, “We can get you out — not only to leave Libya, but to go to prosperous Europe!” And unfortunately, people do listen to their slick talk of being able to relieve people out of their current misery in Libya. But it’s all lies, of course..”

“Grandpa, what I find it difficult to understand is that when the would-be migrants try to escape from their troubles in Libya, and their boats begin to sink, the European governments don’t want European lifeguards in patrol boats to pick them up?” I had read that it is the duty of every ship, government-operated or not, to save the lives of people they see who are about to perish in the sea?”

“Yes. The European governments say that too many people have been rescued already and that they cannot accommodate any more! If the people keep drowning, say the European governments, they will stop trying to cross to get to Europe!”

“But Grandpa, that sounds so heartless! What should the African governments do to save their own people from this inhumanity shown by the European governments?”

“My dear, that’s the saddest part of it all! The African governments simply do not care enough to be of of any real help to their citizens in distress in the Mediterranean countries . If they cared, they would have sent military forces to Libya by now to help evacuate all Africans who seek to leave that country. They can do it if they act together through the African Union, for Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco – all members of the African Union – would join them and these North African countries all have a good military and naval capability. The African governments should also have brought pressure on South Africa to stop giving unwitting justification to the European governments that are trying to stop African migrants from reaching Europe. Now, the Europeans can say, “Look, even some South Africans are trying to scare African “foreigners” away, by killing or injuring them. So why not we in Europe?

“The regrettable truth, my dear, is that most African governments are totally useless. They are in the business of government for business purposes only – they are in it to improve the living standards of the members of those governments and their families alone, and think nothing of the rest of their citizens. That is why Africa goes from crisis to crisis. During each crisis, the mask is torn from the faces of Africa’s ugly governments, and they are shown for the noxious entities that they are. But they are too uncaring to change”.

“So Grandpa, what am I to do? I am half-Ghanaian!?”

“Yes – you are a Ghanaian by birthright and please never forget that or allow any bad incidents to make you think poorly of your country. The country is good; it is its government that is awful. So do not think only of today. Acquire as much skill and knowledge as you can over here, and then go back to Africa with it to help make the important changes to the place that are so badly needed. The opportunity wilt come, and if it does not come, make it for yourself. Only people can change places for the better – people with education, skill, intelligence and above all – concern for the welfare of others. People like you, my dearest one!”

“I shall always remember that, Grandpa. Thanks, Grandpa!”


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