I tend to think that this world is made up two kinds of people; those who are more comfortable with numbers and those more comfortable with words. I am also convinced that I belong to the words group because numbers have never really been my cup of tea.
I struggled with mathematics throughout school and I still break a sweat when I find myself having to do some sums related with money. I often leave shops wondering whether it is me or the shopkeeper who has cheated the other.
However when you hit me with words then I feel like a team playing at its home ground. I make a living by mainly turning thoughts into words and arranging them in the best way I see fit. I generally understand the world better using words than numbers and therefore always feel disturbed when human beings are viewed as mere statistics.
The way the current refugee crisis facing Europe has been handled has all hallmarks of a time where people are seen as mere numbers. I have been lucky not to ever have to live as a refugee but I have met so many and I can tell you with a straight face that it is not a situation one thinks about the same way you would think of a vacation to a far off land.
Often because of war or political persecution people find themselves in a situation that dehumanises them to the core. They are compelled to quickly cut their possessions down to just those that they carry as they flee leaving behind their land, jobs, homes and everything they consider to make up their life.
They trek long distances to lands they consider safe so they can try to live again. The major obstacle that often stands between their old messy situation and the safety they need so badly is that thing we now call an international border line. The way poorer countries respond to refugees is quite different from how richer countries do.
In poor countries, refugees are often let in without anyone asking about their numbers. East Africa provides so many examples. Rwandan refugees mainly fled to Tanzania, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) and Uganda where they started new lives and many lived long enough to see a new prosperous Rwanda they can call home.
Uganda having experienced so many years of war also sent refugees to Tanzania and Kenya during Idi Amin’s era while the Post election violence in Kenya saw Kenyan refugees settling in Uganda, majority of whom just returned to Kenya about two months back. The ongoing political crisis in Burundi has pushed refugees into Rwanda and Tanzania. DRC refugees can still be found in Rwanda and Uganda while Somalis and South Sudanese refugees are a common sight in Uganda and Kenya.
None of the countries mentioned above wasted time trying to work out how many refugees they should take in or debated a quota system like the Europeans have been doing regarding the huge numbers of mainly Syrian refugees fleeing war back home. For weeks the Europeans debated numbers of what they called immigrants while cheap boats poured lives in the sea.
In other words, there are some places where life is good but not good enough to be shared by those who seek the bare minimum in the name of security. The sight of a dead toddler washed up on the beach by the harsh waves served as a reality check for Europe to stop and think about life and not numbers and let in more refugees.
Ultimately we as human beings need to find better anger management ways besides wars that lead to people fleeing their homes in the first place. From the invasion of Iraq then Afghanistan and now to the wars in Yemen and Syria, the region has become a major source of refugees. Things are so bad there that Somali refugees who had settled in Yemen had to flee again back to Somalia or Djibouti.
For East Africa, I just pray we get lasting peace in South Sudan, Somalia and Burundi so that the citizens of these countries can rebuild their lives and contribute to the growth of this region.
Let me end by adding my condolences to the families of the 12 Ugandan (African Union) peacekeepers that perished in Somalia after an attack at their military base by the Al Shabaab rebels.