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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Guinea: Unstoppable exodus
BBC News Online's Joseph Winter is tracing the route of an African migrant, Mamadou Saliou "Billy" Diallo, who made it to Europe after a long and dangerous journey across the Sahara. Here, in the first of five articles, he visits Billy's home region of Fouta Djalon, Guinea, which has seen many of its men leave for the West.

The Fouta Djalon region of northern Guinea is among the most picturesque parts of West Africa. Its lush rolling hills are covered in coconut trees, orange trees, banana trees, mango trees - just about whatever you plant will grow.

Billy's grandfather, Diogo Diallo, 94
Diogo Diallo, 94, wants the younger generation to stay in Guinea
It is also the region's water tower, boasting the sources of the Rivers Niger, Senegal and Gambia.

But despite its abundant natural wealth, its biggest export is people. This is where Mamadou Saliou "Billy" Diallo comes from.

Many of his relatives are still here - living off the land as subsistence farmers.

Because the soil is so fertile, no-one is starving but the younger generation are no longer content with mere survival and a way of life which has hardly changed for generations.

They want to build houses out of bricks, not mud, they want to drive cars and they want to own televisions.

Billy's uncle, Mohamed Diallo, says that unless you have modern equipment such as tractors, it is hard to move beyond the subsistence agriculture.

"Look at my father, he was born in 1922 and has worked hard all his life. All he has is the house he built himself, he does not even have a bank book," he says.

Visa question

In order to seek a better life, Mohamed tried to stow away on a ship bound for Europe, but he was caught and spent five years in a Mauritanian prison.

Oury Diallo and Djindhini Kante have not heard from their husband since he went abroad three months ago

Billy's great aunt and uncle, Fatoumata and Mamadou Saliou Diallo were the first people from the village of Dande Toling to go on the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca - their trip was paid for by their daughter in France.

In Timbi Madina, the town where Billy went to school, lavish mansions are sprouting like mushrooms, invariably belonging to people working in the West: Portugal, Spain, France, Italy or the United States.

The emigrants have also contributed most of the funds for the town's impressive mosque.

Such blatant displays of the purchasing power of the emigrant dollar only encourage more young people to seek foreign pastures, which cannot be any greener, but where hard cash is more readily available.

Here, as elsewhere in West Africa, one of the first questions visiting Westerners are asked is: "Can you get me a visa?"

And one way or another, many do succeed in going, like Billy.

'Stay here'

Billy's grandfather, Diogo Diallo, 94, must have been one of the first people from the area to go to Europe when he fought for France in World War II.

After the war, he was not tempted to stay in France and went straight back home to grow potatoes.

But now most of his children have left - if they are not in the West than they have gone to Guinea's richer neighbours, such as Senegal or Ivory Coast.

"It's a real shame that our young people are so desperate to go to Europe," he says, relaxing in a hammock on the veranda of his mud hut.

"They spend $4,000 or $5,000 on their tickets and visas but then they are sent back home and they lose everything. They should stay here to work in the fields and look after us old people. But they refuse to stay."

And while the young men are abroad seeking their fortunes, the women are often left behind to look after the old and the young.


Billy's cousin left home three months ago - first for Ivory Coast and then Europe, if he gets enough money and finds a way to get there.

He left behind his two wives, Oury Diallo and Djindhini Kante, and their three children but has not been in touch since he went to seek his fortune.

"I am worried about him, I don't even know where he is, what he is doing or whether he is safe. Although we are a big family, it's very lonely without him," Oury said.

Billy's wife, Idiatou, had to manage on her own for more than four years before Billy was able to go back and visit her and their children.

"I worried so much that I had two breakdowns," she recalls.

"I really suffered, especially when people started saying that he must have a girlfriend in Italy."

Way out

While most see emigration as the only way to become rich, Moussa Para Diallo (no relation) has done exceedingly well out of the region's fertile soil.

He owns several houses and four-wheel drive cars and has a satellite dish in the garden to supply the latest international programmes to his large flat-screen TV.

Soon there will only children, women and old people left here
Moussa Para Diallo
In 1992, he persuaded many of the region's farmers to pool their resources and the Federation of Fouta Djalon Farmers now sells potatoes all over Guinea, as well as in some neighbouring countries.

Because mangos and other tropical fruit are so common in Guinea, potatoes are far more lucrative.

He says there are too many obstacles to exporting to Europe and wonders whether Europe's leaders are serious when they talk about stopping the flow of migrants.

"Despite all the talk, people continue to leave and Europe does nothing for those people who stay behind," he said.

But he does not only blame Europe for the problems in the Fouta Djalon.

"All we have to do is work together, work hard and resist the temptation to go abroad in search of an easier life.

"It can take a long time to earn a good living from agriculture but if you lay the right foundations and work hard, it will work out."

But most young people in the Fouta Djalon, let alone West Africa's less fertile regions, don't have time for such advice and Moussa Diallo is worried.

"Soon there will only children, women and old people left here."

Your comments:

How do you expect to stop the influx of migrants when nothing is done about corruption?
Tokunbo Akins, Maryland, USA

Now the chickens are coming home to roost
Daniel Rogers, Brixton

Is it a crime when people migrate? British people migrate to America, Australia, and the Middle East etc. The Irish migrate to UK and USA. What's the matter with that? Europeans arbitrarily created borders in their hunger for foreign lands. They carved up Africa, raped her and shared the spoils. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. What's the crime in that? As long as the West is industrialising at the expense of Third World countries, migration to the West will never cease. Who wants to live in utter poverty?
Daniel Rogers, Brixton, London

The problem of migration will continue because we, the African youth, believe that our treasure lies within the West. It's like going on a treasure hunt. Our countries have failed us with many things and so we go looking.
Perry Bleemie, Chicago, USA

It is time for the West to really help the African continent get rid of the ruling dictators who are abusing the continent and making life almost impossible for its citizens. Young Africans are compelled to leave their natal continent, and their family and friends whom they love dearly, to seek for better jobs that would secure a decent living. This exodus is hurting the continent for it is not only losing its natural resources, but its human resources as well. With the help of the industrialized countries, Africa can overcome this matter.
Diallo Mamadou Saliou, New York, USA

The students rioted in the streets chanting, "If the government cheats during elections, why not us during exams?"
Thierno Diallo Telli, Conakry

Guinea's population, not only do Fulanis have no choice but to try for a better life far from their homeland; no opportunities, no hope because of the incompetency of the crooks in power in Guinea who deny students a decent education or opportunities. Conakry University looks like a pound and unless your parents are well off forget about private schooling in a country with no electricity, almost no water in the taps, sewage in the streets and thugs in military fatigues harassing the population at every turn. A few years ago, the baccalaureate exam was declared a fraud because some students got prior access to data on the subjects. The students rioted in the streets chanting, "If the government cheats during elections, why not us during exams?" The government relented... poor Guinea, caught between a rock and a hard place.
Thierno Diallo Telli, Conakry, Guinea

I'm a Nigerian here in Spain trying to integrate myself into the new society that is cold to their visitors - though I came in with a visa. The developed world wants our resources and they take these resources leaving us with nothing. Until they recognise our importance to benefit from our resources we will keep pressing at their borders whether legal or illegal. And as for Billy he persisted because life means more to him than living in shambles with nothing.
Anthony Umeh, Segovia, Spain.

As a British citizen living in Africa I understand the feeling of young people wanting to explore the world outside their own. Migration can be on cultural as much as economic grounds. Could there be scope for government sponsored schemes rewarding socially productive people in places such as Guinea with financing and assistance with temporary migration?
Richard Murray, Cape Town, South Africa

It's a crying shame for a whole country to subject itself to such a great exodus, but you can't blame them when they make it big each time they try. It's high time the West came in to develop less developed countries to minimise the exodus. Parents should also give their children a good education so that they can stand on their own feet. Africans will be proud to make a living!
Abubakar Ibrahim, Accra, Ghana

This is the common problem faced by Africans! The failure to realise that we live on goldmines but would rather migrate to Europe and do menial work is sad. If Africans cannot develop their own homelands with abundant natural resources - who else will do it for them? Africans need to realise that it is only them who can change their home land through developing their areas. And to do this they must be willing to stay home and change their homelands to what they want them to be.
King Muzo, Lusaka, Zambia

Young Africans will continue to migrate to the developed countries if their governments fail to create jobs and encourage private enterprises such manufacturing, industry, agriculture etc.
Barrie Amadu, New York, USA

The BBC's Joseph Winter
"There's not a single young man working in the fields"


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