Why the back-way syndrome persists

Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Thousands have tried, thousands have died, an oft-repeated yet jaw-dropping statistic which apparently hasn’t stopped thousands more from attempting to gain illegal entry into Europe.

The scorching desert heat, the perils of the seas, the exorbitant smuggling fees, and the possible encounters with rebels, have surprisingly not deterred the youth.

In fact, they have become more defiant in their quest to enter the so-called “promised land”. The question therefore is: “why does the back-way syndrome persist.”

I posed this question to Eric Samuel Ketter, president of the activist group - Young People in the Media (YPM), and his reply was “Concept and Mentality”.

A very short witty answer, shorter than I had expected from him, but he needn’t say more; the message was clear. People, especially the youths, risk everything including life and money to embark on this dangerous journey because of the concept they have of Europe and the mentality of most Gambians and, by extensions Africans, towards people living overseas.

Poverty, low standard of living and underdevelopment in Africa has led many to believe that a better and more prosperous life can only be found overseas.

Indeed, we all want to live the “good life”, build luxurious houses, drive fancy cars and own fat bank accounts, but it takes a lot of work to achieve that in the present socio-economic status quo in Africa.

The gap between the rich and the poor in Africa is too great, and that gap widens with every passing day. The masses, therefore, in their pursuit of living the “good life” embark on the back-way journey to Europe in the hope and belief that they will achieve their high ambitions over there.

Indeed, many of the educated elite, religious leaders and government officials have condemned the back-way journey to Europe.

They consider the concept or idea of Europe as an “economic paradise” a fallacy, and with good reason. Unlike popular belief, Europe is not the economic superpower it used to be, the global economic crisis, the worst in modern history, which started back in 2008, has taken its toll on the European economy.

Unemployment in Europe is at its highest level ever and the standard of living has dropped significantly, as people no longer have the spending power they used to.

The present conditions in Europe, therefore, are not best suited for illegal migrants to undergo personal financial rebirth and growth.

The director of planning at the Ministry of youth and sports, Musa Mbye, made a blunt statement with regard to illegal migration back in March, 2014.

He stated that “there is no genuine reason for Gambian youths to go back-way to Europe or America” citing that “the government has created enough training and job opportunities for them here.”

One cannot entirely agree with his statement as there are some genuine reasons why our youths whether legally or illegally go overseas.

According to a World Bank report in 2013, there are more than 60,000 Gambian professionals who live and work abroad and their remittances make up nearly 10% of the Gambia`s GDP and contribute a good chunk of our foreign exchange.

Gambians living abroad are also held in very high esteem by the locals in The Gambia and are seen as role models by the youths who want to emulate them and gain the same prestige.

True, Europe and America are just starting to recover from the global economic depression, but it doesn’t put Africa, The Gambia, in particular, in a better economic situation than theirs. The standard of living in Africa is still deplorable, unemployment remains high, and income rates remain low.

Facilities, which include high educational institutions and health facilities in The Gambia are below standard, and cannot be remotely compared to the facilities found abroad.

It is no surprise then that affluent Gambians, including government officials, the same ones that condemn the back-way and tell the youths to stay here, send their children overseas to acquire the best college and university education money can buy.

With regard to health, the truth is health facilities are not up to standard and are inadequate. A friend of mine once paid D500 for an ambulance at the Brikama hospital to transport his sick mother who was referred to the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital, whereas in the US or Spain, a 911 or 112 emergency call respectively would get a patient a free ride to the hospital for treatment.

It is all these petite factors coupled with the grand economic problem that reinforce the concept our youths have about Europe, and spur them on to embark on a journey of life and death.

The solution to this problem would be changing the present socio-economic status quo.

Rapid development must take place; current infrastructural, medical and educational facilities must be improved.

In short, Vision 2020 must come to fruition as soon as possible. Reason being, I do not see our youths risking their lives to go to Europe if The Gambia becomes as developed as Singapore.

But for now the reality is: the back-way syndrome continues to persist and spread among our youths today.

Source: Picture: Nasiru Deen, student, University of The Gambia