Africa: Get Rich or Die Tryin – Treacherous Trek to the West

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Africans are leaving the continent in droves. Dashed hopes, unmet aspirations, lose of faith in their governments, botched up elections, mega corruption, theft of public coffers and unbridled poverty, which have led to fatalism and unmitigated Afro-pessimism. These are some of the reasons which are driving Africa’s potential and greatest investment – the indomitable youth – to risk their lives in the hands of ruthless sea merchants.

Sometime in 2019, I visited a north African country, where the desperate, fatalistic and haggard African immigrants headed for Europe pass through to cross the treacherous Mediterranean Sea, on their onward march to the continent of “milk and honey.”

My minders took me to the crossing point where these Africans, running away from their motherland are picked by sea pirates. Packed like bags of potatoes into creaky, old rusty boats, after paying half the earth, to these buccaneers, they are transported across the everlasting sea to the nearest drop-point – Lampedusa, the infamous Italian island.

Thereafter, they are supposed to find their way and melt into the economically wealthy European countries, for work – any type of work. Their desperations know no bounds: Get rich or die tryin’ always seems to be their motto. 50 Cent, the African-American rapper originally from Queens ghetto, New York, who produced the Get rich or die tryin’ debut album in 2003, must be a constant source of inspiration.

Many of these illegal migrants, literally carrying loads of aspirations, expectations and hopes, are also filled with illusions of grandeur; they imagine a Europe that is waiting for them to benignly offer them jobs and a roof over their heads. It is always a great shock for many of them, when they land in the smallest continent in the world and are met with immediate tribulations. They find there are no ready jobs, the menial ones they find are slave entanglements, racial discrimination is the order of the day, just as is the constant police beating and harassment. The very unlucky ones, rot in rat-infested detention camps and pest-ridden prisons, indefinitely

But that is for those who make it – the latest statistics indicate that in 2021, 1600 didn’t make it: they either got lost or died in the sea. Since 2014, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has recorded 23,000 deaths. It is a tragedy of humungous proportions. If the overloaded death-traps don’t capsize, the traffickers, who have been paid thousands of US dollars by Eritreans, Ethiopians, Ghanaians, Gambians, Libyans, Malians, Mauritanians, Nigerians, Nigeriens escapees, among others, toss them into the perilous sea. For the immigrants, it’s the devil’s alternative – if he makes it, hell is awaiting him, if he doesn’t, he’s quickly expelled to his maker. What a life.

Over the pandemic period into 2022, I’ve met with Kenyans who have told me, they’re looking to leaving the country to wherever their fate will take them – the Americas, Europe, Middle East, even the Iceland – any country, but African. The desperation in their voices is unmistakable and unpretentious: They desperately want out. It would be an understatement to state that the economic meltdown Kenyans have been currently undergoing especially in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s second term, has been anything, but sheer torment.

Torment enough for several young mothers in their 30s and 40s to tell me they want to emigrate to Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE) to work as house helps or for any menial jobs that will be offered to them. “Any place is better than being here. Life has become unbearable, I cannot feed my children, since losing my job, I haven’t found another one and by the look of things I’m not expecting to get one,” said a mother of three, the eldest being just out of teenage-hood.

She wants to go to Saudi Arabia, because she been told there are lots of house help jobs in Riyadh. “Have you heard the stories coming out of Saudi,” I asked her. “Yes. My God will be my protector,” she said, giving herself undue hope. “And, I pray, I’ll not land into a bad family. In any case, how am I helping my situation by not trying?”

Stories of Kenyan workers (mostly female) marooned in Saudi Arabia, being flown back as cargo are, as heart breaking as their stories of perpetual suffering and torture under racist and rogue Saudi families. Just last week, a Kenyan mother from Kakamega County collapsed, then died afterwards, on hearing her daughter who was working Saudi Arabia had died unexplainably. She had been in Saudi Arabia for just four months, after going there in December, 2021. A double tragedy to a family that was so hopeful.

“Let me die trying,” said the mother of three. “Whatever will be let it be.” She used to work as a cook, until her employer laid her off in April 2020, promising to recall her if things improve. “He hasn’t and I don’t think he will, he must have found a way of doing without me, after all. The lady is from Kiambu County, ostensibly the richest of the 48 Kenyan counties. But these stats can be deceiving – poverty in Kiambu County is as endemic as is any other county. “I now cannot afford three square meals for my children, but I read that I come from the richest county.”

At a downtown posh restaurant, I met the supervisor who was a young man, possibly in his mid-20s. He asked me how he could leave the country, because he was fed-up with the daily struggles of life. “At least you have somewhere to wake up to, it could have been worse,” I consoled him. He told me I shouldn’t be deluded by his “big” title of supervisor. I’m paid peanuts, overworked and generally this is slave labour. Oftentimes, I can’t afford my transport fare. I’m expected here at 6am and will leave not earlier than 10pm. All the while, I should remain standing.”

Such sad, sob stories are galore especially wherever you meet the African millennial and zillennial (generation born at the turn of the 21st century): dashed hopes, unmet aspirations, lose of faith in their governments, botched up elections, mega corruption, theft of public coffers and unbridled poverty, which have led to fatalism and unmitigated afro-pessimism. To be sure, these are some of the reasons which are driving Africa’s potential and greatest investment – the indomitable youth – to risk their lives in the hands of ruthless sea merchants. To them, nothing seems to be working in Africa, and therefore, any risk is worth taking, if only to escape from bondage itself. You hardly can blame them.

South Africa, the great hope of the continent has been a huge let down since gaining independence on April 27, 1994. That has been 28 good years. A black South African born after the end of Apartheid, doesn’t know just how the Apartheid system was living hell and the great extent to which his parents and grandparents suffered for it, trying to uproot it, with the help of other like-minded African people. How, his country to be free from the shackles of the segregationist white supremacist regime, many African countries had to pool their meagre resources to support the African National Congress (ANC), which eventually deposed the Apartheid National Party (NP).