Thursday, August 28, 2014

There's More to Illegal Immigration

Photo: Erik Brandt/ Typografika
The issue of illegal immigration is a complex one. One reason countries guard their borders jealously is that no country has infinite resources, hence there’s a need to ensure these resources are adequately managed and available to their citizens. 

There’s also the fear of the unknown that frightens people into rejecting those they deem ‘different’. As with social animals, we humans are innately weary of outsiders for fear that they may disrupt the existent social order, or worse, infect members of the group with a disease. But how far would we go to exclude foreigners – the ‘others’?

Consider company boards as an analogy. Diverse boards generally have more advantages than homogeneous ones. Not only are diverse boards more innovative and productive, they also spell profit for companies that are operating in an increasingly interconnected world. In a similar light, diversity has conferred a host of competitive advantages on countries like the US and the UK, over those countries with less diverse populations. 

That said, countries that have been historically open to immigration have become vehemently opposed, and understandably so, to the arrival of undocumented immigrants seeking a better life on their shores. But is illegal immigration merely a case of moochers looking to benefit from tax payers money? And should the issue of illegal immigration be treated as simplistically as black and white?

It is a fundamental human right to live peacefully, work and earn a decent wage, and these are what are at the heart of socio-economic migration. Being that we live in a globalized world, activities occurring in one country could create a socio-economic or political imbalance in another country. Case in point would be the demand and supply of illegal drugs plaguing the Americas.

Most undocumented migrants from Central America migrating to the States are simply seeking to earn a living and/or are escaping drug-related violence in their home countries, which is being indirectly fuelled by America’s deadly love affair with illegal drugs. Hence, it is not enough for America to ask the governments of these Central American countries to combat human traffickers; she also has to look inwards to determine how best to curb her drug appetite. It’s only when the demand for illegal drugs diminishes in America that Central America will be able to benefit from legal economic activities and growth, and then create job opportunities for the unemployed.

Another example of how one country can create an imbalance in another would be America’s invasion of Iraq. America’s invasion created more problems that existed in the Iraq prior to Saddam Hussein’s dethronement. The long, festering hatred between Sunnis and Shias that was suppressed under Saddam has reared its ugly head, while hardline jihadists have infiltrated Iraq threatening to rend it. 

Amid the turmoil and madness, Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes, thereby becoming refugees within and outside Iraq. Supposing Iraq was America’s next door neighbor, would they have considered invading Iraq knowing they’d have a refugee crisis to contend with at their doorstep?

Many countries in Africa have seen citizens flee the continent in search of greener pastures due to bad governance, oppression, war and lack of job opportunities. Notwithstanding the absence of leadership in Africa, it would be too simplistic to ask African governments to get their act together to stymy illegal emigration and brain drain, since these governments do not operate in a vacuum.

Part of Africa’s woes results from foreign interference. An example would be the government to government aid. This type of aid is detrimental to Africa’s economy as it corrupts and makes governments less accountable to their people and more accountable to their donors. It also disincentivizes African governments to find sustainable ways to build their economies, because at the back of their minds they know they can return cap in hand for more aid.

Indeed, donor countries are more interested in their economic interests and expect aid recipients to fully accept their conditions, even if it’s to their own detriment. These conditions may involve unfair trade practices like forcing recipients to open their nascent markets to foreign products, which in turn kills home-grown businesses and employment opportunities.

Foreign interference in Africa takes another form in the unhealthy relationship Africa has with her former colonizers. For example, France actively meddles in the financial and electoral affairs of her former African colonies. Francophone countries are mandated to deposit 85% of their foreign exchange reserve in France’s Treasury, and can’t access it as they please as there’s a limit to the amount they can borrow. 

Moreover, France is complicit in propping up corrupt and incompetent regimes, and will continue to support such regimes, regardless of how the electorate votes, so long as she has free reign over desired resources. Thus, this begs the question: If Francophone countries aren’t in control of their economy and growth strategies, how can they ever develop?

Off the coast of Somalia, large trawling ships from the West decimated the fish population and drove some Somali fishermen to resort to piracy to eke out a living. Some of these unemployed Somali fisherman turned pirates were recruited by the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, who for a time utilized profits derived from piracy to finance its attacks within Somalia and neighboring countries. Amid the chaos and instability, it’s only natural for people to gravitate towards safety and to places where they think they can make a living.

Another factor that may contribute to a surge in illegal immigration in the near future is climate change. Low-lying countries, such as The Philippines and Bangladesh, are already suffering the effects of climate change as water claims more land. Considering this predicament, one wonders if those countries that have been dubbed major polluters will be keen to accept migrants with open arms when they come knocking on their door.

The world is more connected than ever before, thus events are no longer insular to one region and are liable to cause significant ripples in other parts of the world. In light of this, every government has to accept their involvement in fueling illegal immigration and actively work to mitigate it. Treating undocumented immigrants harshly for seeking a better life doesn’t solve the problem of illegal immigration. Perhaps it would be more productive to ask ourselves what role(s) we may have played in ruining their livelihoods.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ebola's Revelation

Ebola virus
Photo: CDC
The recent Ebola outbreak that’s been plaguing West Africa has revealed to Africans and the rest of the world the unpreparedness of African leaders, as well as just how dangerous things can get when countries neglect their healthcare systems. When the first cases of Ebola were reported in Guinea, appropriate steps should have been taken by neighboring countries to prevent it from spreading beyond Guinea’s borders. Instead, there was a collective ‘it’s not our problem’ attitude, which ultimately led to further outbreaks in Sierra Leone, Liberia and, most recently, Nigeria. 

In Nigeria’s case, there was plenty of time to take preventive measures against a possible Ebola outbreak after it had spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone, but nothing was done until it was too late. For starters, the Nigerian government should have suspended all flights to and from infected countries, especially with the knowledge that such an outbreak occurring in mega city like Lagos (which is a hub for all regional flights) may prove enormously difficult to contain. But judging by the Nigerian government’s track record of handling critical issues, their slow response wasn’t surprising. 

The outbreak has also revealed just how toxic ignorance can be, especially when tainted with fear. Within days of the first reported case of Ebola in Nigeria, a ridiculous message, advising that people bathe with salt water or drink it for protection against Ebola, had spread like wild fire via text message and social media. Needless to say, some hapless persons heeded the erroneous advice and ended up either dead or hospitalized.

Assuming salt water was the vaccine against Ebola, wouldn’t WHO have announced it eons ago? Moreover, anyone with some secondary school education or access to the internet should know that osmosis will occur when a cell is placed in a solution of differing concentration. It’s the logic behind why people adrift at sea don’t imbibe sea water, as it will only make them thirstier. 

Ignorance also took the form of a well-known pastor based in Lagos. He made a proclamation urging Ebola stricken patients to visit his church for healing. Why would anyone attempt to endanger public safety by making such a comment? Fortunately, officials from the Lagos state government intervened and advised the pastor not to admit anyone with the disease. Meanwhile in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, armed men stormed and raided a quarantine center. What they’ve achieved by committing such an inexplicable act remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that some have unwittingly infected themselves. 

Apparently, thinking has become such an arduous task that people no longer process information. 

An inconvenient truth that's been brought to the fore by this Ebola outbreak is that African governments generally do not invest in healthcare, and on the rare occasion when they do, it’s for the elite. Take for instance the 705 million naira ($4.3 million) that was earmarked in the 2014 budget for the addition of a VIP wing to the presidential clinic in Aso Rock (the official residential area and workplace of the Nigerian president). Is it logical to invest such funds in a clinic that’s only accessible to a few individuals, when teaching hospitals are in dire need of medical equipment and well-trained staff? Moreover, it’s common knowledge that the President will be flown abroad, on taxpayer’s money, for any ailment that’s more than a headache. 

Conversely, in Rwanda, government officials seeking medical attention abroad are not allowed to use public funds. Essentially, this approach should incentivize Rwandans, especially those in government, to invest in their healthcare infrastructure. Furthermore, the Rwandan government has been able to provide health insurance coverage for all Rwandans. If Rwanda can achieve this feat, then other African countries have no excuse to not follow suit.

Africans are slowly paying the price for their government’s negligence to healthcare. Not only are they dying from inadequate medical care, they have inadvertently become guinea pigs for drugs that have yet to undergo clinical trial. What’s more, the World Bank has offered $200 million to countries battling Ebola, which seems like a sweet, genuine gesture until pay back time comes around. 

Consequently, there are three basic questions African governments ought to answer: Firstly, when will Africa stop playing Lois Lane to the West’s Superman? Secondly, when will they start investing heavily in pharmaceutical research and development, and adequately train and equip healthcare workers? And lastly, at what point will Africa take charge of her affairs, like Batman, and harness all the wealth, human resource and modern technology at her disposal for the betterment of Africans?

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Very Short Story: Saying Goodbye

There was a poem I read in my literature class in secondary school, the name eludes my memory, but I recall it was about a man visiting his family upon his death and being surprised at how everyone had moved on with their life. As a fly on the wall, he observed he wasn’t indispensable to his family and that his absence didn’t stop life from happening.

Upon reading the poem, two things stood out for me: The word ‘indispensable’ and the fact that people, no matter their status in one’s life, are dispensable. I know this sounds a little Machiavellian, but hear me out: Assuming we allowed our logical self to control our emotional self, we’d find that our adult existence isn’t dependent on the presence of a particular person. We’re beings capable of surviving independently, not fastidious parasites in need of a specific host to survive. Contrarian as it may seem, it is this mindset that has kept me remarkably lucid at the demise of any relationship.

Not too long ago, I made a painful decision to end a very close friendship. I made the choice because I felt the friendship lacked a certain level of reciprocity. Based on the length and depth of our friendship, I believed I should have been privy to certain information concerning Chudi, especially since I'd considered him my best friend.

Our friendship, as with most close friendships between members of opposite sex, began with a spark romance. I had a crush on Chudi, but fortunately for me, and I say fortunately because I can’t imagine having it any other way, we became best of friends – at least that was the lens through which I viewed our relationship.
Photo: Shayera
During our ten year friendship, Chudi was a friend extraordinaire. He was my confidant and my fiercest cheerleader. When I first moved to Lagos, he accommodated me in his tiny apartment before I found a place of my own. When I doubted myself, he reassured me of my capabilities. And when I lost my sister, he soothed me while I cried my eyes out -  I remember the incident with a smile because there hasn’t been a time I’ve been completely vulnerable with a guy and perfectly unabashed by it. We were so close that I had him approve every potential boyfriend prior to dating them. In effect, Chudi was a man after my heart. But as life rarely makes things perfect, our friendship had a few dark spots. 

There were times Chudi was vague, secretive, and irritated me with his senseless fibs. Every time I asked about his mother, as he seldom spoke about her, he would deftly change the subject. For a while, I tolerated his reticence, but when you’ve been close friends with someone for a while and you don’t know if their mom is alive, or why they went incommunicado for weeks on end, you start questioning your relationship.

One very strange incident occurred a year after I’d been transferred to Kenya. He’d visited Mombasa without breathing a word to me, and it wasn’t until a mutual friend mentioned in passing that she’d seen him at the airport, did he confirm he’d made the trip. Indeed, I was curious to know why he hadn’t informed me, but his answer was “I did tell you”. We both knew that was a huge lie, but I decided not to contest it. Also, when he started dating his wife, he never mentioned it to me, and I only found out through a mutual friend. Again, I inquired and he confirmed my inquest with the words: “But I mentioned it to you”.

Now, if I were 80, I’d have blamed my inability to remember on my senile mind, but clearly that wasn’t the case. What’s more, I have a weird, but good memory for trivia. For example, I can recall the name of my primary school friend’s pet monkey and also the birth dates of the family members of my best friend from secondary school. So obviously my memory wasn't failing me, he was just telling lies. But why, I would never know. What I do know though is the straw that broke the camel’s back, or in this case, our friendship.

I had returned to Lagos from Nairobi for a few weeks after years of being away. Naturally, I was excited to see Chudi and contacted him so we could hang out, but he would cancel plans at the last minute with a flimsy excuse. After making several attempts to schedule a meeting, I gave up thinking that if he really wanted to see me he should make an effort. When he made no effort to reach me, I came to the conclusion that he didn’t value our friendship as much as I did, so I downgraded our relationship from friendship to acquaintance, but not without giving him a piece of my mind. In retrospect, Chudi checked out from our friendship months before, but I was too busy rationalizing his actions to admit the change.

Although I believe in the notion of dispensability, I’d be lying if I said a part of me doesn’t feel upset, wounded and betrayed. As with any great friendship, saying goodbye to what I had with Chudi was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do. I have spent countless nights and days questioning myself, wondering if I could have done anything differently. Some days I feel I've lost an irreplaceable chunk of myself. Nonetheless, I’m hopeful things will get better in time. I’m hopeful because I know that the gap that’s been created by his absence will be filled with better memories and friendships if I allow it – and I will.