Pressure on the borders of the European Union under the weight of illegal migration from Africa will continue unabated so long as policy makers in both continents do not pay the necessary attention to the issues of democracy, justice, fair trade and the expansion of economic opportunity.

Many of Africa’s most enterprising people routinely leave their rural areas and move to the cities and urban centers in search of quality education, formal employment, higher standards of living and channels for their creativity. What they find, however, is chronic unemployment, informal settlements and bureaucratic intolerance or political tyranny. The resulting material deprivation coupled with the lack of institutional arrangements for political participation and decision making means that the vast majority of the population is unable to transform themselves or their surroundings. What follows is the erosion of self-respect, the loss of self-confidence and finally desperate actions.

The illegal migrations to Europe also reflect the failure of international trade to raise the living standards of the poor: Africa is rich in resources but her people are poor because the value addition to her resources is carried out in the industrialized countries. Furthermore, the inability to negotiate better prices for her primary products means that Africa pays more and more for her imports while earning less and less for her exports thus entrenching poverty. A few years back I attended a public lecture by the renowned Ghanaian novelist, Ayi kwei Armah, in which he explained that Africans were not running away from their continent but were simply “following their resources.”

Africa’s illegal migrants are in desperate need of empowerment, personal dignity and self-worth. Many would have preferred to stay home but are now wasting away in European refugee camps or lie buried at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.

Analysis by Nicholas Okumu