Sub-Saharan Africa: Rescue Responsibilities In Maritime Misadventures

by Adebayo Adejare

“This is the end of my life in this big Moroccan sea” wrote a Senegalese man named Diao Souncar Dieme in a final note before he drowned. “I would like to send to my family in Bassada (Senegal) a sum of money. Please excuse me and good-bye.” The note contained the telephone numbers of his brother and best friend. The story is typical. Fifty-two people left Africa Christmas eve of 2005 to seek a better life in Europe. Fares between $1540 and $930 were paid for the boat ride from Morrocan coast 200 miles to Spain’s Canary Islands. Six months later only bodies of 11 young men were recovered from the broken pieces of the 20-foot fishing boat having maximum capacity of 6 to 8 people which had drifted 2000 miles west to Barbados (AP) The Barbados Authorities who retrieved the bodies kept them temporarily in a funeral home for eventual disposition in a mass grave if, as usually happens, no relatives show up to collect.

In another more recent case in 2009 of similar maritime misadventure the countries concerned tossed responsibility for maritime rescue one to another for several days before one of them eventually rescued the drowning distressed boat and passengers. What an embarrassment to the black race!

Some misadventures are non-maritime yet requiring similar urgent intervention as evidenced in another news item of the following headline: “Nigerian lady dies in the desert giving birth”. This happened in Oran, Algeria, while being delivered of a set of twins. Nigeria’s ambassador to Algeria, Jeremiah Hassan, speaking through News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Algiers, said the lady was among Nigerians and other Africans who have lost their lives in their bid to travel to Europe illegally. Lamenting the rate at which Nigerians and other African immigrants were dying in the Sahara in their desperation to get out of their countries, he observed that some survivors who got lost or stranded end up victims of scammers along the route who fleece them of their money and belongings and turn them into laborers and prostitutes.” He reported another case of 14 Africans including their driver and his son who was the conductor in the bus who died in the desert after they got lost, ran out of fuel and water” More recently, a Nigerian stow-away encamped in the nozzle of an aircraft was detected dead in Lagos.

The desperation of West Africans to emigrate to Europe and America not in search of any “golden fleece” but in search of a better life is mind-boggling. Thanks to our heartless, corrupt and incompetent political leaders conditions in the entire West African region have continued to deteriorate since independence. In spite of stupendous wealth from minerals (oil) and other natural resources including precious stones, the masses of the region are still steeped in grinding poverty, mass ignorance and disease in epidemic proportions. Political leaders see no compelling duty to enlighten citizens on the dangers of such perilous sojourn or to discourage immigration outright. Youths across the region continue to be potential victims of the type of misadventure that terminated Diao’s youthful life.

When misadventures like Diao’s and friends occur, all that the West African leaders do is utter a hiss and look the other way. Not even official documentation is mandated. Where then is the social contract? Where is the compassion and humanitarianism? (assuming that social contract flew out of the window long ago.) Where is the good neighborliness?

Govts of sub-Saharan Africa must be made to take their consular responsibilities serious. Though overwhelmed by internal displacement and refugee problems arising out of famine, civil and tribal wars, political and religious violence the current abdication of responsibility for their citizens involved in maritime misadventures is scandalous. The matter needs urgent attention. Those vested with duty of rescue need ask no questions. In short we need to clean up after ourselves. But do we have to be told?

There is also the sister issue of frequent mass deportation of their citizens as illegal aliens. Our Governments should not also look away when foreign Governments subject citizens to onerous, unfair discriminatory and atrocious practices and procedures right in their own counties.

Regional International Organization – ECOWAS whose protocols and programs have taken forever to take effect place little priority on International search and rescue nor does it have programs that have so far impacted tangibly upon the common man. The Protocol on Free Movement has taken forever! Govt initiatives to stimulate intra-African trade as well as realistic steps to stimulate foreign investment just seem so infective. But for sheer providence the spread of diseases in epidemic proportions could have been more problematic than it is now. Even the mere recording of data has been a big issue hence there is no effective monitoring of the movement of goods and services as envisaged under international law institutions.

Prevention is better than cure. Govt ought to move beyond mere propaganda but practically address the obsession of West Africa youths with overseas sojourn. Nigeria once had an administration (1984-85) that mounted media propaganda against overseas immigration. Head of the Administration General Muhammadu Buhari’s mantra was: “Nigeria is the only country we have and we have to stay there and salvage it together.” The media persona was the famed citizen “Andrew” who condemned everything in his country to justify immigration overseas. But that was only rhetoric! His Government was toppled before he had time to do anything!

Beyond good governance there is need to have specialized programs targeted at youth especially those not benefiting from current educational and other opportunities. In the sixties and seventies the problem was addressed partly with govt coordinated foreign training opportunities especially in the communist countries including Russia, Bulgaria, Hungary etc. We could do similar arrangements even within the region just like Nigeria currently exports manpower to some African and West African countries under the technical exchange programs. Nigerian youths have been traveling to Egypt and Sudan for education by private arrangement for a long time. There are a few African countries who have done better than Nigeria in the area of technical and vocational education (as opposed to didactic) education. Anything, just anything, must be done to help our youths as their situation deteriorates daily. Contesting the situation and blaming youths will get us nowhere and amounts to an “ostrich” approach. Africans are already basking a in a very negative perception despite the termination of slave trade and colonialism.

Nigerian Government in 1990 addressed endemic overseas travel in the academia (Ibidapo Obe Commission) there is even greater need to address in a more aggressive way the current craze for overseas travel by West African Youths. Youths energy and creativity must be officially controlled in a very creative manner. There would be no maritime disasters during overseas sojourn if conditions in their countries are livable or just tolerable.

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