The Mediterranean Migrant Crisis: The Option Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea

A boat carrying refugees and migrants, seen from a rescue vessel. Photo: Italian Navy/Massimo Sestini


The tragic accident in the Mediterranean sea of asylum seekers and ‘illegal’ migrants from Africa to Europe has exposed the deficiencies of multilateral immigration policies in the European Union. It equally exposed an unfortunate reality on the human security and poor governance situation in Africa, which by every modest standard could be described as disturbing. As EU is pushing hard to rectify the loopholes that caused the tragic and avoidable death of about 1,800 migrants in its territorial waters in the first quarter of 2015*, attention should also be focused on domestic conditions in Africa that encourage and sustain such perilous journey. Why is the number of ‘illegal’ migrants from Africa to Europe increasing every year? What situation could push a large number of productive age group (the youth) from the same continent, towards a life threatening trip or a journey of no return? To understand why this trend is growing, is to understand the human security factors and motivations within Africa, which calls for this sort of migration.

Migration is a natural tendency, people moved from one location to another from the beginning of time, for various reasons. In other words, there are several motivations that make people migrate from their original abode to another, partly or wholly influenced by man-made (human) and natural factors. The man-made factors are in many cases influenced by political, economic and social factors, while the natural factors are environmental. For example, drought, famine, earthquakes, floods and diseases to mention five factors, have a lot of influence on migration. Sometime, the combination of man-made and natural factors is interwoven, which have many observers to assert that these factors are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the interplay between these has found a strong reckoning in Africa. This combination in Africa, especially the man-made or human factors have been so dire that it compels many Africans with the option of either staying in the continent or leaving. Many Africans have chosen to migrate and among them are those who are migrating through illegal and dangerous routes.



The recent death toll of vibrant, youthful and energetic adults in the Mediterranean Sea in April 2015 and since then has been a huge embarrassment to the human security situation in Africa. Even though the victims are not entirely Africans, a great number are, especially from sub Saharan Africa. As the European Union (EU) is looking to fix the illegal influx and perhaps the mishaps that come along with it, there is an urgency for a domestic action that rest squarely on the shoulders of the African leadership and policy makers to rethink and provide an environment for a better life in the continent. It is pertinent to know that despite having ten of the fastest growing economies in the world, Sub Saharan Africa in particular, has witnessed a series of actions or inaction, including leadership deficit in the last three decades, that have plunged the region into a political, economic, social and geographic affliction.

Although Africa is blessed with some visionary leaders, the leadership quality in the continent has left little to hope for. Since the end of the cold war, majority of African leaders, and their family and friends, are living on more per capita income than their European counterparts. Yet, their citizens are enmeshed in a recurring atmosphere and tradition of poverty. Governance and political power has become centralized, personalized and idolized, and so is the luxury that comes with it. Such luxuries have motivated many African leaders to seek tenure elongation and go for blatant political persecution of opposition parties and individuals, in a bid to hang on to power at all cost.

Dictatorship reigns in a democratic environment. There is rampant corruption and nepotism to favor a few over the majority, and opportunities are only given to tribal patronage or political and ethnic affiliations. Due to this attribute, the rule of law is subverted, individual or small groups of people siphon the resources of the state into private use, and appointments into institutions are not merit based. The consequence is then reflected on poor implementation of policies, misappropriation of funds and wanton corruption. While this in going on, the leadership ignores the impact on these on the society but worry more on becoming a dictator in the continent. They are only concerned with holding on to political power as is common with most dictatorship.

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It is pertinent to note that holding on to power, tenure elongation, personalizing leadership or dictatorship, may not be a problem in itself. As the economist Dambisa  Moyo says a benevolent dictator can push through the reforms required to get the economy moving, but many of such dictators in Africa seem not be benevolent ones.

The leaders are detached from the living conditions of the larger population, whereas; their families and cronies get major government contracts for development projects that are paid for, but rarely executed, and sometimes even deprive the citizens of basic means of livelihood.

Poverty and inequality rampant and economic capital seem to be scarce in Africa. However, resources in Africa are not really scarce, but the distribution of resources has become the biggest test to leadership quality in the continent. This condition has perpetuated poverty and seemingly institutionalized a sense of deprivation that gives little or no hope for a better life to Africa’s young generation.


The security atmosphere in Africa can only be compared to a continent at war with itself. Africa is the worst hit continent in terms of the man-made factors that contribute to insecurity. Unlike the Middle East, which is plagued by civil wars and extremism, Africa has too many devils.  It is plagued by both man- made and natural causes of insecurity. The human factors can be seen almost in every regions of the continent. Ethno-religious and political violence in Central African Republic (CAR), Burundi and Burkina Faso, civil war in South Sudan, Libya and Congo, religious extremism and terrorism in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Mali, fatal epidemics like Ebola, in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, xenophobia in southern Africa, to mention a few. Indeed, insecurity of lives and properties is one of the most unfortunate motivations in the migration saga of Africa.

The crisis in Somalia is resonating in Kenya, and the spillover is affecting most of East Africa. The civil war in Libya is fuelling human trafficking and has its impact on Mali, Egypt and the Maghreb. There is still a growing displacement of Africans escaping the violence in the East, West and Southern Africa, along with its consequent impact on development. These insecurities have been going on for many years now, and many haven’t yet seen an end in sight to the menace. All these have created a volatile continent that seems to always be at the mercy of the devil.

The statistics of mayhem speak for itself in Africa. For example, according to Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (Acled), Boko Haram in Nigeria has killed 6,347 civilians by 2014, 2,116 civilians were killed the CAR violence in 2014, the conflict in South Sudan killed 1, 817 civilians. Al-Shabaab in 2014 was responsible for 4,425 deaths, out of which 633 were civilians. This number of deaths is further made tragic by the number of displaced persons and refugees as well as the economic losses and disinvestments.

Many states in Africa are failing to provide their basic responsibility to their citizens in terms of security. The consequence is pronounced in the human security deficit that is reflecting in the length and breadth of the continent, as well as the chaos and vulnerability that often generates a breakdown of political and social order. The breakdown of order and stability creates ungoverned spaces and security vacuum, where terrorism and proliferation of small arms and light weapon flourishes, drug and human trafficking becomes enduring, and armed groups function as alternative governments. Such desperate realities have created a generation of disillusioned youths who flee from the calamities that threaten their lives, pushing them to seek the shortest route to Europe, which they consider as stable with a lot of promises.

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The severity of such crises affects economic relations, trade and productivity at the expense of secured and sustainable development opportunities. In desperation, threat to life and the attendant consequences have forced many vulnerable Africans to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea.


Infrastructure deficit is more pronounced in Africa than any other continents in the world. The under development of Africa is largely blamed on the dismal provision of the tools of modernization. Infrastructure is a very vital means to an end, with a capacity to reinforce itself. However, the infrastructure condition in Africa is so glaringly inadequate and affecting the growth of every sector. According to the World Bank “In most African countries, particularly the lower-income countries, infrastructure is a major constraint to doing business, and is found to depress firm productivity by around 40 percent. For most countries, the negative impact of deficient infrastructure is at least as large as that associated with corruption, crime, financial market and red tape constraints. Until infrastructure in transport,  energy, communication, Realty, financial sector, etc, is visible and viable, many African population especially the productive age, will keep becoming restless, hopeless and desperate. African leadership and think tanks, despite the introduction of Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), are still unable to provide or accelerate infrastructure that could accommodate the youthful energies and productivity of their populace, thus sending them away to other attractive climes.


Subservient mentally has been another factor as to why many African youths get so desperate to travel to foreign countries, especially to Europe. Subject to colonial history, the social environment in many African countries is conditioned in a success versus failure regime. The citizens of many African countries define success as living in the country that granted them political independence. To this perception, many African youths feel opportunity only knocks at your door in Europe or in other developed countries. A francophone African youth will do anything to find him or herself in France, even if there is little or nothing waiting for him or her in Europe. An Anglophone African will do the same to get to the United Kingdom (UK). They would rather pledge allegiance and struggle to build their future and the economy of Europe, rather than of Africa. Europe has become what a famous South African musician called the house of exile.

As the disconnection between the state and citizens in Africa widens and couples with the mental bias that no opportunity abound in Africa, the admiration of many young people to go overseas is stronger than the threat that such trips poses along the way. The number of asylum seekers and refugees is still growing in number, and many young Africans are still nursing the thought of migrating through the Med Sea to Europe.

Most countries in Africa are in a state of disequilibrium and there is a disconnection between the leadership and its citizens. Over a long period, this situation perpetuated poverty and desperation among the population and would continue to enshrine poverty and hopelessness until a solution is found. The diplomatic solutions being sort to address the migration challenges of the 21st century must be exhaustive and all encompassing.  Addressing the root causes of the massive exodus of a generation of the productive group of Africans must be the responsibility of African leadership in particular, and the international community in general. International effort between stakeholders should put more pressure on the quality of governance, availability of infrastructure and massive investment on domestic stability and economic development of Africa. The quality of governance in Africa is low, the human security standard is deplorable, violent conflicts, corruption and many indices of under development is condoned in the continent. If these conditions do not change, there is no guarantee that these illegal and dangerous migration trends will ever come to an end.