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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Better late than never?

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With Aisha Jallow

Several times I have written about our young men, but also some women, who suffer immensely while they are fleeing from the hopelessness and poverty in The Gambia. News flashes show us overfilled fishing boats, battling the waves of the Mediterranean Sea. It is mostly men who flee this way, but sometimes it happens that young women escape the poverty for a hope of a better life in Europe. Some of these women take their small children with them, and never has so many prayers been said from desperate people fleeing a desperate situation.

The facts are almost too awful to be true:

The Gambia is one of the countries mostly affected by the illegal migration phenomenon with a mass exodus of youths from the country to Europe. More than five thousand Gambians died or went missing on the journey between 2014 and 2018 alone, according to the International Organization for Migration. These are the facts that suddenly seems to come as a surprise for a lot of stakeholders who indeed had the capacity to change this several years ago. The data is from 2014 and forward, a period that started 10 years ago. Why has it taken this long to begin the work to deal with the situation?

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People fled from The Gambia even before the data was collected, but the sad thing is that this is a continuing tragedy too many have turned a blind eye to. We hoped that the situation in the country would have changed for the better after 2017, but not much has changed. The so called democracy is only like a polish, it’s like putting lipstick on a pig. It is still a pig, no matter how much you try to cover it somehow. We all know that the democracy you were promised, is now too much for the man in charge and he is trying his level best to tie you to the ground.

I am sorry, but I don’t get the feeling that this initiative from the government and partners to organise a two-day national dialogue on the matter will matter. The dialogue, called the National Consensus on Migration Intervention seeks to “establish a frank national conversation on the migration phenomenon with a “whole of government” and a “whole of society” approach in mind.”

With a ”whole of government ” and a ”whole of society” ! What does that even mean? It sounds like something children could say when they make a roleplay at school. Do they mean that this dialogue is going to include everyone, from the government and down to common people on the street?

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When have they began to listen to people and their problems? Do they need a special program for that, where their minds are suddenly focused on this national problem everyone but the stakeholders knew of?

Government officials, including other stakeholders such as political parties, IOM, German Development Cooperation (GIZ), Gambia Immigration Department (GID), the academia, migration focal points, returnees, youth organisations amongst a host of other stakeholders will discuss and deliberate over the issues underpinning the crises and chart a way out. Sounds lovely, don’t you think, but will the cost of this dialogue be justified by the result? Perhaps we should give them the benefit of the doubt, but I don’t hold my hopes up high for this.

In an interview, Musa Camara, the director of diaspora and migration affairs, said that the magnitude of this issue demands our attention, cooperation, and collective will to forge a path towards safer and more secure future for our citizens. A united response is called for because this irregular migration has claimed too many lives.

I agree, Mr Camara, but what saddens me is that it has taken this long for most stakeholders to wake up. What made you all to finally decide to deal with the problem? I am glad that you have decided to do that, but why have so many of you been deaf and blind to this problem until now?

A cut from the interview with Mr Camara:

”Our objective is clear – to bring together stakeholders working tirelessly with our youth and on migration, to openly discuss best practices, challenges, and most importantly, to forge a national framework for comprehensive migration intervention, one that not only addresses the immediate crisis but also caters to the growing demand for youth empowerment.”

I pray that the dialogue will be successfull and lead to something that will benefit the whole Gambia, otherwise it will only be a waste of money. There is so much talk all the time, but it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere.

It doesn’t require a brain surgeon to understand why the youth flee the country. Where is the development? Why is the education system still oldfashioned and not adequate to the demands of a modern society? Why the high rate of unemployment? I have told you this before, but I will tell you the same again; your leaders don’t want you to get a better life. They don’t want people to become educated and able to demand their rights. They keep you down, just as the colonialists once did. This is your own people we are talking about! It’s a shame!

I agree with Yahya Sonko, a Germany-based migration activist, that the ideas and recommendations from the gathering must be implemented to the letter, otherwise it is meaningless. This will be yet another money-seeking venture that tend to make institutions look good. One very important matter they need to discuss at the dialogue is the returnees. During 2023 we have received about 600 returnees, but what are they returning to? They come back to what they fled from, and their situation is even worse now. We all know that parents have sold land to pay for the fee for their young ones.

Some parents have had their savings stolen and for that money their sons have paid the fee for a cross-over that many times was paid back with their lives. How is it possible for the parents to forgive that? Even if the son returns to his home, he has put shame on his whole family and he knows that. How will he recover from that, especially as he knows that he will never be able to pay back the money he stole?

Shame and fear is holding you back, fear is narrowing your mind and poverty is suffocating every ounce of your creativity. You are not brought up to be creative and be a valuable part of the society. Your only value is as someone who pays taxes that feed others. That you don’t have enough money to feed your own family doesn’t seem to matter for them who gather to pat each other’s backs.

What you need, to be able to get somewhere with this dialogue about the current migration situation, is a neutral panel where you have people who don’t belong to any political party, or the government, or others. This panel should be the moderator of the discussion and ask the questions others don’t dare asking because they don’t want to appear hostile and suffer for that afterwards. The panel should control the discussion and make sure that everyone gets to speak, but also make sure that everyone will be forced to stand by their words afterwards. Talk is cheap, so let us see where this dialogue will lead us.

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