ONE of the best known idioms around the world is: “East or west, home is best.”
For the vast majority of those living on this earth, this saying … widely known in its shorter version of “home is best” is an expression of an abiding truth. For citizens of most parts of the world, home is literally the best place for one to be at. But alas, for the vast majority of Africans who happen to commemorate Africa Day tomorrow — May 25 — home is bitterly sour and therefore not necessarily the best.
A public holiday in Zimbabwe, as it is in many other countries on the continent, and particularly recognised by millions of Africans in the diaspora, the day is specially set aside for celebrating and acknowledging the successes of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU, now the AU) from its creation on May 25, 1963, to date, in the struggle against colonialism and apartheid.
On this day, Africans also reflect on the progress that Africa has accomplished in improving the lives of her citizens, while examining the challenges that the peoples of the continent commonly grapple with today. For now, reflecting on current challenges might assist us in thinking about appropriate solutions, which could lead to the much-needed enhancement of the continent.
This year’s Africa Day comes at a time when hundreds of thousands of African migrants continue to flock to the East and to the West, that is: Asia, Europe, America, and other far-flung destinations. Intra-African migration is also high. In response to what many European nations and the American government now consider to be a migration or “refugee” crisis, the governments of those nations have now placed this issue high on their policy agendas, from political, economic, security and social standpoints. Extremist, nationalist and far-right parties or politicians have gained significant popularity in Europe and America, directly as a result of their anti-immigrant or afro-phobic stance.
In recent years, dozens of migrant vessels sank on the Mediterranean Sea, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Africans dreaming of better life out of Africa. That is a clear case of poverty-stricken or terrified Africans resolving that, for them, home in Africa is not quite the best.
Indeed, in many cases, the dangerous trips from Africa to foreign destinations are driven by utter poverty at home. A number of studies confirm that the poor performance of African economies push millions from Africa to Europe, America and other destinations, including the arms of former colonial masters.
A recent paper from the Centre for European Governance and Economic Development Research (EGEDR) notes that relatively lower personal income at the source countries in comparison with per capita income at the destination countries motivates potential migrants to actually migrate.
In the case of this continent, therefore, the EGEDR paper posits that “the actual economic deprivation and abject poverty of most African countries likely have an enormous push effect on the migrants and refugees of Africa. On the other hand, economic development and relatively high personal incomes in Europe attract immigrants”.
As we celebrate this year’s Africa Day, employment prospects for multitudes of educated and less-educated Africans, tend to be brighter in foreign markets than those at home. The standards of life out-of-Africa are generally better by a mile, at least for the majority of Africans living in Africa.
Non-economic drivers of the desertion of Africa by her children include political factors such as human rights abuses, bad governance, ethnic fractionalisation and polarisation, and tyrannical patterns of authority at home. The consequences of these ever-rising migratory traits are grave.
Besides the tragic deaths of migrants on the high seas, many families have fractured due to resultant geographical and emotional distances emanating from migration.
The African economy is suffering immensely from brain drain, thereby worsening the continent’s economic and intellectual growth. Now, the pan-African spirit and patriotism that ought to reside in every African have austerely waned in the hearts and souls of too many sons and daughters of the soil.
The decline in the enthusiasm for Africa by resident Africans is exacerbated by the realisation that, considering the rich natural and human resources of the continent, Africa should not be economically poor. The human-made misery afflicting the continent is completely avoidable.
Skewed global political and economic frameworks and climatic factors are often blamed for Africa’s economic problems. Bad weather patterns, sanctions, neo-colonialism and “sabotage by the West” are frequently cited by politicians as the reasons for the prevailing poor living standards of the generality of the African population. Corruption and bad governance are rarely acknowledged as contributory factors for the bad state of the economy and, therefore, as drivers of migration from Africa.
Amid the misery and devastation that drive Africans away from home, political, industrial and sometimes religious elites in Africa live in astonishing opulence.
In Zimbabwe, for instance, rulers travel in hired expensive jets, and brand new mansions are constructed year after year from state coffers. Millions of United States dollars and euros are splashed on cabinet ministers and other state officials’ top-end motor vehicles.
While the general populace struggles for basics such as water, electricity, communication channels, clothing, shelter and food, African elites and their families swim in abundant comfort. They fly out to better-developed African and non-African countries for medication, education, or recreation because in their minds or in reality, home does not offer the best.
Today, millions of Zimbabweans live with the curse of visibly dirty tap water — if the taps do dispense any water at all — or water from unprotected sources. Electricity outages, long queues for what feels like the most expensive fuel in the world, generally unaffordable prices of goods and services, a dysfunctional health system, poor and expensive public transportation, a costly justice delivery system, and a string of other sore distresses constitute what is supposed to be “home” for a regular resident African in Zimbabwe and in too many other nations on the continent.
The gap between the rich and the poor in Africa is staggering, and in many African states, thieves and crooks masquerade as leaders. It is on account of these gross misnomers that many Africans in the diaspora consider it unwise to come back home, and those who are home would love to escape to foreign lands. It now seems as if, for many Africans, a home in the East or the West would be the best.
This year’s Africa Day is a good time to reflect on the practical steps that could be taken by African governments, political parties, business leaders, the church, civil society, and by society at large, to reinstate Africa as the home that can truly be the best.
Closing the wealth gap, making African elections and governments more democratic, managing all resources for the common good as opposed to self-enrichment, combating corruption, respecting the law, and love of neighbour would be crucial first steps towards restoring Africa to the status of a home that is best for all, or at least most Africans and for non-Africans, who love Africa.
May God bless Africa, and long live Africa!
Chris Mhike is a prominent local law practitioner.