The Promised Land

by Vivian van Klaarbergen, Klas V5A, Almere College

For sixteen years of my life I lived in one of the smallest countries in Africa. The Gambia is one of the smallest, least developed countries in Africa with a population of just over two million. It faces a major problem: their youth has been leaving the country in massive numbers. Many people had already lost hope in their country long before ex-President Yahya Jammeh was removed from his position, but it has not returned with the come of the new president. Though there is more freedom, the promised economic growth has not been seen yet. Unfortunately, The Gambia is only one of the many more African countries suffering from declining population and an economy that remains stationary while the rest of the world blossoms.

This is caused by the growing issue of economic migration. Economic migration has become a popular topic of late in Europe, due to the increasing numbers of refugees seeking asylum in European countries. They cross the sea from Libya and arrive on the shore of Greece and Italy, but many do not survive the journey. For political refugees, the risk is smaller than the chance that they survive in their home country, but economical migrants have so much to lose. Their families back in Africa, whom they are hoping to support by finding a well-paying job in Europe, would never hear from them if they were lost at sea. This is why I believe the African economy should be given the aid it needs. Without addressing and solving the underlying problem, economic migrants will without a doubt continue to arrive on the Italian and Greek shores.

Africans have been emigrating to Europe for years, due to war and political unease, but in stable countries like Gambia, they usually pack their bags to find financial stability. The Gambia’s main income is tourism, which hit a low when the Ebola virus had an outbreak in neighbouring countries in 2013. They also export groundnuts and other locally produced crops, but this has been affected negatively by drought. Most of the produced vegetation in Gambia is consumed by its people, and so they do not export nearly enough to make up for the costs of imported goods. The country is also disadvantaged due to its lack of natural or valuable resources. Unlike, for example, Sierra Leone, it has no diamonds or gold. Because of this, The Gambia is ranked as the 12th poorest country in the world.

With the former president having plundered the treasury, The Gambia was offered 225 million euros, although they did have to do something in return: allow migrants from Libya to come home. This all happened after Yahya Jammeh, the former president who ruled for twenty-two years after committing a coup d’ètat in 1994. He was a former military lieutenant and was notorious for his alternative ‘cures’ for asthma and aids. He was more or less a dictator, who assassinated many journalists and even filtered out social media when the elections did not appeal to him. He led the country into a spiral of disaster, with no light at the end of the tunnel.

Over the years many teenagers and adults left The Gambia and ventured through Niger and other African countries to Libya. Many more people joined them on the way, from Eritrea, Ivory Coast and even countries such as Nigeria and Morocco, even though these are seen as countries with a better economy. I’ve seen and heard stories of families who sell their most precious belongings, sometimes even their house, to fund the trip. That is how desperate people have become to find stability.

With this said, it seems unethical to withdraw or budget the funds needed to rescue the migrants and refugees. The number of deaths have ranged from 3500 to 5500, with the highest estimated number recorded in 2016 at 5096. There has been a significant drop in 2018, but the crossing has become deadlier every year. This means that if the E.U. stops helping Italy and Greece, the number of deaths will once again soar.

Aside from aiding the European countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, there are a number of other solutions. One of these would be helping the countries in Africa develop, and though there is already a significant amount of aid being offered, most of it gets lost to corruption. Greedy leaders and power hungry dictators are the reasons that investing in Africa seems like a money pit. But once one looks farther than the deceitful facade, they will be able to see the opportunity and the beauty of the continent. It is rich in resources, and could blossom into an even greater continent if the corruption were stopped.

By increasing the income per household and motivating the people to work for their money, and hereby giving them sufficient salaries that will cover their monthly costs, Africa could develop rapidly. In many countries, the prices of imported goods are rising significantly, but there are only a particular group of people who can afford these prices and this results in the gap between rich and poor becoming bigger every year. Another factor that plays in the bad state of the African economy, is the overall poor quality of education, especially the institutions that offer free education for those who cannot afford it. Improving the quality of education would therefore motivate people to find better jobs, and improve the economy.

Thirdly, introducing a programme to develop the countries in areas such as infrastructure, architecture or technology could also help improve their economy. By starting small, the country, for example Africa or Eritrea, could stimulate their people to develop their skills. Then over time, the programme could aid the country in establishing a name for themselves. An example of this can be seen in South Korea, a country that had the same GDP as Ghana, but copied technological inventions from the West and even improved them. Now, they are one of the best in the field of technology.

In conclusion, the problem of economic migrants can’t be resolved without major changes. These problems are linked to the poor state of the countries in Africa, and therefore the solution mainly lies here. By improving the common wealth by offering better, higher paid jobs and a higher quality education, or by ridding the governments of corruption, African countries could grow and expand with an investment of time and money. The investment would not be a waste, because they are a land of great promise.