Some years back, I took this photograph of young, innocent smiling girls from the West bank. They were warm and bubbly and were able to talk to me for some minutes before I took the photograph.
I asked them about what each wanted to be in future. Instantly, the first one told me that she wanted to have a decent education to prepare her to go into a decent college to become a teacher.
The second one told me she wanted to have a decent education then join a decent college from there she wanted to have a decent job with decent pay and a decent place to stay. Then with a smile she had added: “Probably later I could find my way to United States of America.’’
“Why USA?’’ I asked.
“ I think USA has more opportunities for people to live better lives.”
Her thinking was not any different from the youth in my country. These smiling girls wanted basic things in life first. The world having shrunk to a global village, they must be watching American films on the television and want what they see for themselves. Looking across the valley, I could see many satellite dishes hanging from the roof tops.
Seeing these girls once again, reminded me that worldwide, we all want the same things in life. Parents irrespective of colour , race, religion, and class; they all want the best for their children. They want them to live better lives than themselves and they would sacrifice everything to let it happen.
I was stirred up to read more about migration. We all read and hear often about the young Africans who risk their lives across the Sahara desert and take the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe in search of better lives. They choose to leave to save themselves: they do not want to be trapped in poverty or situations where there are no jobs and no future for them. They are so determined that they would rather die trying. They come from countries that are torn apart by civil wars or thrown into chaos and uncertainty by leaders who claim to know what is best for them. Others come from places where famine and drought have caused poor agricultural productivity.
Like businesses, these young people hate uncertainty so they would rather go out to look for opportunities to have a better future. Many die along the way but those who succeed in getting into Europe, take on any unskilled jobs for little pay. Then they start sending money back to the families they left behind. Remittances from these migrant workers contribute greatly to the growth and development of their countries. Remittances from both the voluntary and forced migrants from our country have for some years beaten coffee to the first place as the main source of external finance.
According to the National Population Census of 2014, 78% of Uganda’s population are under 30 years of age- a young dependent population. Records also show that universities produce 400,000 graduates each year but only 90,000 get employed. 70% of youths are unemployed. It is not surprising that young women and men are forced to look for jobs elsewhere and many have fallen in the hands of what I may call the ‘slave traders’ of our time.
In the 70’s many Ugandans voluntarily worked in Kenya, in the 80’s and 90’s many moved willingly to work in South Africa, Europe, USA and Canada. The current trend is to work in the Middle East but they are all driven by the search of better opportunities or Greener pastures.
Many of us have read and heard about the Boat people of Australia- thousands of migrants that every year risk to take the perilous journey from Indonesia across the Indian Ocean to Australia. Majority of them are fleeing troubles in countries like Afghanistan, Iran and Sri- Lanka. They sell everything they have to pay for this passage to Australia to look for opportunities of a new life and a better future.These asylum seekers have to be screened at Detention centres to either be taken in or be sent back. Australia has developed tough policies to stop the influx of these asylum seekers.
Migration is as old as man himself: In the Bible, sixty -six members of Jacob’s family were forced to migrate to Egypt due to the great famine in their land of Canaan. Four hundred and thirty years later, their male descendants numbered over six hundred thousand.
In South Africa, between 1835 and 1841. The Dutch – speaking colonialists moved from the Cape into the interior to live independently of the British colonialist. They moved in search of freedom and independence. Their great journey inland is known as the ‘ Great Trek’.
The great potato famine in Ireland of 1846-1851 caused the first mass migration of the Irish to USA. They were even called Irish Famine Immigrants. In USA , they worked hard and were determined to improve their lives and those of their children. They seized all the opportunities available and it is little wonder that John . F. Kennedy the 35th President of USA(1961-1963) was a descendant of these migrants.
By sheer coincidence, the 44thPresident of USA (2009-2017), Barack Obama also happened to be a son of a Kenyan economist who was sent by his government to further his education in USA.
As I write this , the youth in Britain have already taken it upon themselves to voice their concerns like the high cost of living in Britain,the high university fees, the high cost of homes, Britain’s exit of the European Union and turned up in big numbers to vote in the general election of 8th June 2017. In so doing ; they have caused an unexpected upset in the results and have left Britain with a hung Parliament. From this day on, their concerns will be taken seriously and hopefully they will be helped to get where they want to go.
Migration; forced or voluntary, will continue whether border walls are built or not or whether protectionism is practiced or not but our governments should come up with policies and strategies to keep the youth home. The youth should be given an all-round quality education: knowledge, attitude and practice then skills that can help them to develop themselves and the economies. Governments should have acceptable policies to create peace and security and then create jobs. Our countries should woo investors from the rich countries to set up industries where the skilled youths can take up jobs and earn enough income to pull themselves and their families out of poverty. The locals should also be facilitated in starting up some industries and in the marketing of their products and services.
The youth should be consistently engaged and their concerns listened to so that locally appropriate policies are developed to get them where they want to be. Governments have to learn to think out of the box and like the Labor Party of Britain exploit the Internet culture to engage them . They need to feel to be part of what is going on in their countries. A conducive political and economic environment will help them thrive and have hope about a better future.
Remember what they hate most in uncertainty and what matters most to them is having a decent education, a decent job with decent pay and decent housing. The smiling girls from the West Bank told me so years back and the youths of Britain voted because they had something to vote for.
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