Image credit: UNCTAD - Photo: 2018

Mamadou and Ramatoulaye Opt Out Of Migrating To Europe

Following is the text of an epilogue in Chapter 6, titled ‘recommendations and conclusions’ of Economic Development in Africa Report 2018: Migration for Structural Transformation, published on June 1, 2018 by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). – The Editor.

GENEVA (IDN | UNCTAD) – The news on the radio about Libya goes on. Mamadou listens again. The news report is about migrants who make it to Libya – only to get trapped into slavery.

His mind goes back to the sounds of the radio at his parents’ modest home one fateful day in early August 1999. Two Guinean boys, Yaguine Koïta and Fodé Tounkara, from Conakry had been found in the undercarriage of a plane in Brussels. They were dead. Lying next to them, in a plastic bag, were their birth certificates and a letter. Mamadou can still hear the voices of despair, commenting on the fate of those boys who had written of their hopes and of their anguish living in Africa in that letter.

“Excellencies, members and officials of Europe,

We have the honour, the pleasure and great confidence in writing this letter to tell you about the objective of our trip, and about our suffering, we, the children, the youth of Africa.

But first of all, we offer to you the most delightful salutations, the most loving and respectful greetings in life.”

The letter was written in the best French the two friends could manage. It went on, two full pages of candid and vibrant words. The boys concluded with:

“And do not forget that it is to you that we must complain of the weakness of the strength of Africa.”

Like Yaguine, Mamadou was 15 then. He remembers many sleepless nights, wondering about what the boys had meant with that last sentence. So many years have passed since then. In that time, he learned that the vast mineral wealth of Guinea includes the world’s largest recorded reserves of bauxite and billions of tons of its best reserves of iron ore. Aluminium is made from refined bauxite. Aluminium, one of the most vital metals in the global economy, with uses from kitchen foils and drink cans in the homes of the rich world, to aircrafts. Such as the one in which Yaguine and Fodé were found. As for iron ore, without it, and without steel, most of the world’s industries would not exist.

Mamadou’s vocation for welding came from his fascination with stories about the almost mythical Simandou iron deposits in the mountainous eastern territory of Guinea, just across the border from Senegal. That is what got him interested in doing metalwork.

Mamadou loves working as a welder. In the last year in Johannesburg, he has managed to get some small jobs welding, but it has been very difficult. He thinks back, remembering the first time he read about Simandou on the cover of newspapers at the stand at the corner of his street in Ouagadougou. That was some 20 years ago. And the deposits are still untapped.

He thinks bitterly about how unfair it was to have to leave his family and risk his life to go so far away, when steel could be produced in his home region. Steel constitutes the basis for vibrant industries. He knows that successive Governments, regional and continental organizations and many other bodies are advocating policies to try to create the conditions for setting his region on a sustainable path to industrialization.

Somehow, that path has remained elusive. Years ago, Ramatoulaye had told him about the role of actors far away who perpetuate the reality of “the weakness of the strength of Africa”. Those distant actors operate from the comfort of commodity trading hubs and offshore paradises. Then there are buyers of industrial products who are too busy consuming to hear about the realities of Africa that allow them to enjoy their luxury goods.

It is complicated, the older Ramatoulaye would say, if she were by his side today. It may very well be, he would answer. Someone has to be accountable. Who? How many deaths like those of Yaguine and Fodé do we have to bear before the world hears and acts?

Back in Ouagadougou, Ramatoulaye has also heard the news from Libya. It was hard to listen to. She has been wide awake since the early morning hours, listening to the dogs barking in her neighbourhood. She remembers how one day, she met Mamadou in front of the newspaper stand at the corner of the street where she lived. They were part of a small group who could not afford to buy newspapers and stood there reading the news on the cover pages. She had come later than usual that morning, when Mamadou came to read that day.

Finally, she stands up and makes a few phone calls, repeating a simple message to the different brokers for her trip: she is no longer considering leaving for Libya. She opens the small notebook where she records joyful moments and sad ones. She crosses out “Migrating to Europe” from her list of dreams, as she realizes that she will never be a leading female historian from Africa.

In the year Mamadou has been away, Ramatoulaye has slowly managed to become the owner of a market stall of agricultural produce transformed lightly into products she can sell. Her fellow market traders appreciate her informed commentary of African and world affairs. She just wishes she had a larger audience. It reminds her she had wanted to write books and articles based on an African narrative of the continent’s vital role in the world.

At breakfast that morning, Ramatoulaye tells Binetou and her younger siblings about the origins of the world, about the journey of humans.

“It is established,” she explains, “that all human beings evolved from a common ancestor in equatorial Africa. These ancestors crossed the Red Sea into Southern Arabia many, many years ago. Over time, many of their descendants never stopped walking. They moved, sometimes to improve their lives, other times because they had to flee for their lives and security.”

Binetou raises the index finger of her right hand. She pauses and in her distinctive way asks, “But mother, can’t one move simply because one wants to? Isn’t that a basic freedom that one should have?”

Ramatoulaye smiles as she looks at her daughter. Binetou will be 19 in 2030. She will be one of almost 250 million young people on the continent demanding to see how their countries have fared in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Growing up at the time of greater United Nations communications efforts on the Sustainable Development Goals, Binetou and her peers will want to level the playing field in fulfilling their dreams. They will understand the development potential of their continent and will expect to contribute in efforts to make it great.

Ramatoulaye often worries that 12 years might be too short a time to fulfil such expectations. She too, was young once, and hopeful. She expects Binetou and her peers will be more impatient in their quest for fairness. In the digital age, they are more exposed to global lifestyles. They will want to find their rightful place in the world and enjoy the freedom to choose where to call home. Whether in Africa or elsewhere. [IDN-InDepthNews – 2 June 2018]

Image credit: UNCTAD

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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