The Refugee Challenge and Responsible Leadership in Africa.
I was not pleased with the way the last refugee’s day was celebrated world-wide, particularly in Africa countries. The reason is not because I’m one and was expecting something from the day. The reason has to do with the hypocrisies which characterized those speeches that were made to mark the day.
The World Refugee Day is a special day set aside by the United Nations General Assembly and the Organization of African Unity (O.A.U, now AU) to be celebrated on the 23rd June of every year. While long speeches were delivered to traumatized refugee audience all over their camps across Africa and other parts of the world where they are found, the cardinal challenges they are faced with in their daily lives are seldom given reprieve. So the celebration would have meant much less to them considering the condition under which they live.
Refugee cases were given prominence by African leaders in the 1950s due to the upsurge of civil conflicts that were taking the centre stage in Africa nations. Taking a cue from the United Nations definition of who refugees are, the then O.A.U defines them to be ‘persons forced to cross national boundaries because of ‘external aggression, occupation, foreign domination and events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of their countries of origin or nationality’. This definition excludes the issue of internally displaced persons within a particular country. Moreover, the pronouncement made it possible for persons from war-torn countries to seek asylum in other neighboring countries. From ‘Rwanda Genocide’ era, to ‘Blood Diamond’ days in Sierra-Leone cum the dark days of Liberia civil conflict, to the recently election-induce crisis in Cote d’Ivoire, their situation has not improved despite the huge amount of money been expended by United Nations Humanitarian Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other donor nations and agencies.
A good perusal of the issue will clearly give a lead to the main cause of this external displacement of persons from their country of origin, to where they seek refuge. Apart from colonization and decolonization rhetoric of countries of these externally displaced persons, the cause of African refugees as in elsewhere in the world is bad governance. Most African leaders have not come to terms with the tenets of democracy as is being practice in the developed parts of the world. Besides, to them governance means keeping large segment of the population in perpetual poverty and feed their families fat with the state’s resources. While democracy has its own peculiar hitches in terms of its domestication in African soil, its observance still remain the best mode of governance system that promotes human freedom, dignity and equality as well offers alternatives to citizens. From Angola to Uganda, Rwanda to Guinea, from Sierra-Leone to Liberia; Mozambique to Somalia, Cote d’Iviore to Egypt, Tunisia to Libya or Sudan, the insurrections precluding persons’ displacement are as a result of failed state-leadership, sit-tight-attitude of incumbents, repressive governments and incessant clamp-down on opposition. Therefore, avenues for the resurgence of refugees are created in many African countries by leaders without due regards for how to make life meaningful for their people.
Furthermore, the presence of refugees has not only created humanitarian concerns in countries that play host to them, but they have also visited a lot of challenges on the victims. The first challenge that refugees pose to host countries is that of security. As people fleeing conflict-ridden areas, proper checks are seldom made, so some of them (rebels and civil population) journey with arms into the new territories where they would be camped in the same place. This may well create problem for the civil population of host country. Again experience has shown with the case of Rwanda refugees, that there were reprisal attacks by Interahamwe and the former Rwandan army members responsible for the genocide in the refugee camps they have control over. Also, camps close to the Rwandan border were allegedly used by to launch attacks. This was because they traveled with arms in their possession.
Moreover, healthcare situation in refugee camps is nothing to write home about. Medical supplies are usually limited, so hardly would everyone in medical need would have all s/he is supposed to get full dose(s). Due to the nature of the living condition in the camp, certain diseases are rapidly spread easily. In most cases the need may overwhelm the support staff.
Another challenge they are faced with is that of xenophobia from the host countries. There is always this hostile feeling and resentment towards refugees, from some of the host country’s citizens that they (refugee) are wont to take their jobs. Thus, would be less likely to act friendly towards the refugees. This has been demonstrated in few African countries with particular reference to South Africa and recently Ghana. However, there are many countries who have acted very friendly and helpful in many instances towards refugees they are hosting in their various resettlement schemes.
Sexual exploitation is another challenge that teenage ladies and married women are faced with in various camps. Proofs abound how ladies have exchanged sex for bar of soap or food items. They are being taken advantage of by gullible men, or in most cases men (soldiers) who are charged to guard and protect them. The net outcome of this immoral indulgence would be teenage pregnancy which would pose a bigger challenge for these teenage mothers-to-be or mothers and the humanitarian workers in such a precarious environment. Another fall-out of this exploitation is this transmission of sexually transmitted infections and sometimes, HIV/AIDS which has more profound implication for their health.
The challenges of refugees are enormous. But there are solutions. The main solution to the challenges of refugees in Africa as in elsewhere is responsible and responsive leadership. The major problem with the continent is that of irresponsible government in many countries. When leaders are responsible, they will know when the ovation is loudest, and also know when to leave office instead of manipulating the constitution. They will honor election results to forestall post-election violence. They would create thriving economies that would empower more persons. They will allow space for the civil society group to operate to broaden the polity. History has shown that less repressive governments which give expression to all manners of opinions to flourish are the most successful and prosperous. Until our leaders place the state interests first, there will always be favorable conditions for citizens especially women and children to be uprooted from their homelands.