Culture of Migration Faces Tough New Realities
2 November (IRIN) - Eighty-year-old Amadou Keita spent
his working life as a schoolteacher trying to understand and influence
young people. Knowing them well, he doubts efforts to stop the tens
of thousands of youths who migrate abroad every year will ever work.
have been travelers since the dawn of time," he said. "Some
go seeking knowledge, others to taste adventure and still others
to make their fortunes. Before Christopher Columbus discovered America,
a young Manding king named Aboubakri II left to discover the world.
He never returned."
Malians are migrating than ever before. Four million, or over a
third of the country's 11.7 million people, are currently located
in other countries, according to Mali's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
They join thousands
of other West Africans who are escaping poverty and joblessness
for a chance at a better life in Europe or elsewhere. Abroad, they
can make better money to send back home and achieve a level of success
and social status unattainable in their own countries. Through songs,
the Internet and word of mouth, the more young people hear of others
who make it to Spain, Italy or France the more there are who want
to follow in their footsteps.
Sally Findley dates Malian migration back to the 4th Century. And
she says that for at least the last two centuries rural Malians
have been leaving home during the dry season and returning for the
rainy season or when life improves.
is an apt response to the cyclical swings of poverty in this region,"
wrote Findley, a professor of population and family health at New
York's Columbia University, in a 2004 paper published by the Washington-based
Migration Policy Institute.
so deeply ingrained in the culture that in certain regions young
people are not allowed to marry until they have gone abroad, according
to Malian historian Amadou Sylla. He said that people aged 18-35
from all strata of society deeply believe that only migration will
provide a sense of worth, allow them to help their families and
eventually enable them to build a life back home.
The sums they
remit each year exceed over US $200 million, according to the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs. That is more than half of all of Mali's export
are making an investment in their country by migrating," said
Abdramane Cherif Haidara, chairman of the High Council for Malians
Living Abroad. "Some are funding schools in their home regions
and health centres."
On the other
hand, migration drains the country of its rural labour force, according
to a study from the Kayes region in western Mali. Yet the author
of the study, Flore Gubert of the University of Auvergne, also found
that remittances constitute the most reliable mechanism to protect
agricultural households from food-insecurity.
the financial support of the migrants, the two droughts of 1973
and 1984 would have had much worse consequences," he wrote.
to only travel to neighbouring African countries but that changed
during the colonial era, according to Findley.
began serving under the French in wars they were introduced to France,
and particularly after World War II, many former soldiers and a
long line of subsequent migrants headed for France to work in its
automobile factories and to serve the growing French urban populations,"
Today at least
a half a million Malians reside across Europe and North America.
And while European authorities are stepping up efforts to limit
arrivals, Malians are intensifying their efforts to leave home.
One reason is
that numerous armed conflicts in Africa over the past decade, including
one in northern Mali, have disrupted the old patterns of inter-African
migration. The most significant conflict for Malians is in Cote
d'Ivoire on Mali's southern border where many migrants once went
With the fighting
there partly over citizenship rights, tens of thousands of migrants
from Mali and Burkina Faso have been forced out and remittances
have plummeted. So has trade because merchants from landlocked Mali
are unable to access Cote d'Ivoire's ports.
additional pressures of the conflicts on their borders, the impetus
to go farther to Europe and the US is likely to continue to increase,"
Findley said. "The pressure is likely to come both from individual
families benefiting from these moves, and from the government, which
sees the enormous value added from the remittances."
She wrote that
the challenge for Mali's government is to "continue to balance
the significant stakes it holds in these migrations against pressure
from foreign governments, both near and far, to restrict emigration".
In the past
year, many nations have intensified efforts to stem illegal migration.
Hundreds of Malians and other West Africans attempting to illegally
enter Spain's North African enclaves at Ceuta and Melilla from Morocco
have been rounded up.
At least a dozen
were killed in 2005 while attempting to mount barbed-wire barriers
on the border. Some were shot dead; others were crushed to death,
according to London-based Amnesty International. Other migrants
brought to the Sahara Desert died of dehydration and exhaustion
as they walked south, crossing those on their way up north, Amnesty
migrants take different routes. Police at Bamako airport recently
told IRIN of a young man they arrested in September with fake travel
documents attempting to board a plane for Europe. He had sold his
family property for the 3 million CFA [US $5,820] to pay his travel
costs and now had nothing, the police said.
have abandoned the old overland routes north and head west instead
to the coasts of Senegal and Mauritania. There they join the tens
of thousands of West Africans who each year head into the high seas
on fishing canoes for Spain's Canary Islands.
drown along the way. The Spanish government says it knows of least
500 suspected migrants who have died at sea. The bodies of others
can be seen washed up on the African shore.
also committed suicide," said Mamadou Keita, chairman of a
Malian association helping returnees called Return-Work-Dignity.
It is an endless traffic going nowhere in which few ever make it
to the top where they want to go, he said.
Faced with the
compounded risks and dangers he and other Malians are looking for
us wouldn't go if we could just find jobs at home," said Alfousseiny
Kampo, who tried but failed to make the journey and is a member
of Return-Work-Dignity. "We dream of the West only because
we think it is our only chance of having a real life."
the European Union promised to give Mali's government 426 million
euro (US $542 million) over five years "to control the migration
flow". The money, however, was not given to increase border
controls but for projects that promote job creation.
is not going to be magical solutions," Irene Horejs, the head
of the European Commission's delegation in Bamako, said at the time.
"We must attack the fundamental problems of Mali's poverty
Few Malian leaders
believe the money will change things.
is going to continue unless we address fundamental issues like the
unequal terms of trade,'' said Malian Foreign Minister Oumar Hamadoun
Dicko, referring to the subsidies that Western governments give
their farmers. "African farmers can't compete and are out of
world markets." Mali's cotton farmers have been especially
For Malian sociologist
and former minister of culture Aminata Dramane Traore, the West's
war on illegal migration is really a war on Mali's youth, who on
the one hand can't work because the West has undermined Mali's agriculture
base and who on the other hand can't leave to find work elsewhere.
Worse still, she said, "African governments are not speaking
out about the biased and superficial polices emanating from Europe
because of the promise of new aid."
forms of seasonal migration, Malians who end up in Europe find it
hard to return home. That has been devastating for mothers such
as Coumba Diallo.
born, Madou, got up and went on his adventure one bright sunny morning
in 2000," she said. "I have never heard from him again;
I don't even know if he is dead or alive. I want him here again
more than all the money in the world."
Yet the way
Moussa Maiga sees the world he has no choice but to leave.
a bachelor's degree four years ago and was supposed to be the hope
of my family," he said. "I can't just sit here and not
to leave for Spain soon, choosing the risk of drowning at sea over
dehydrating in the desert.
"I am not
afraid," he said. "Everyone must follow their destiny.
If I die or go to prison it is my destiny and nothing can change