According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, one in 14 people who arrived in Spain by sea died en route; many from African countries drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. One would suppose it is more honourable to drown in pursuit of a better life than perish in a blast in Mogadishu or at the hands of Boko Haram.
South Africa has been the destination of choice for migrants from all over Africa and the world. In 1994, we were on top of the world, with exiles returning. In the same year, millions in Rwanda were desperate for a flight, taxi, bus or even a boat across Lake Kivu to avoid being one of the million Tutsi massacred in the genocide between April 6 and July 4.
Today in South Africa, Afro-phobic attacks, burning and looting have flared up so much that a special flight was donated to airlift Nigerians to safety in their homeland. Who would have thought?
Granted, not as many Nigerians left, but the trend is against the grain of intra-African migration.
Young South Africans attacked their fellow Africans in that shameful display of self-hate. When for 25 years, the promise of your land of economic opportunity pales into unemployment, lack of education, healthcare, and any shot at any gainful enterprise, self-love is a luxury. Naturally, given our history of white supremacy, economic desperation turned angry unemployed Black youth against those most akin to them.
Rwanda, on the other hand, this week offered to take in 500 of the 4700 asylum seekers stuck in Libya, because Europe is no longer that keen on African migrants unless they are rich. These economic and political refugees are among the thousands trekking annually across the Sahara Desert from African countries that offer no hope or threaten their existence.
Rwanda, in putting its hand up to rescue other humans facing the danger of modern-day slavery or death by starvation or drowning, did the most counter-intuitive thing if one’s only metric is self-preservation.
This country, which is slightly larger than Gauteng province in terms of size, is fresh from its own ethnic war which wiped out 10% of its population.
Why Rwanda is taking in the 500 refugees, guesses abound. For now, my preference is to go with the official statement by its Minister of Refugee Affairs, Germaine Kamayirese, as quoted in a recent BBC report: “It is just a humanitarian action, any African should do the same. I do not agree with those who are saying Rwanda has received any money from anyone”.
So what if anyone paid Rwanda to take the refugees in. That would still be a gesture of goodwill worth millions. No human should be without a place to stay in the world of such plenty. Maybe all of us have lost our humanity, or perhaps, as some Rwandese folklore claims, God does sleep in Rwanda.
He visits other countries, they say, but always returns to the Land of a Thousand Hills.
* Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, a media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.