The European Union is setting up development projects across Africa to stem African migration to Europe. Ironically, neo-colonialism might be the force driving African migration to Europe in the first place.
Gunter Nooke, Germany’s Commissioner for Africa, presented last his so-called ‘voluntary colonialism’ plan in Africa and said Europe should build enclave ‘economic zones’ and run cities in African countries.
Nooke claimed in the BBC interview that by leasing their lands to foreign entities, African nations would grow and prosper.
And that will, according to Nooke, significantly reduce the African migration flow to Europe.
Understandably, the German commissioner has faced strong criticism for using ‘leasing lands’ and ‘Africa’ in the same sentence - which seemingly ignores Europe’s brutal colonial history in Africa.
Nooke previously glorified European colonialism in Africa when he said: “The colonial times contributed to detach the continent from archaic structures.”
But, the last time colonialism visited Africa it didn’t end well for Africans. Germany, the country Nooke represents, is well-known in the continent for what is widely considered the first genocide of the 20th Century in which nearly 100,000 Ovaherero and Nama people of Namibia were killed by German colonial forces between 1904 and 1908. Estimates show that more than half of the Ovaherero and a third of the Nama population were lost under German rule.
Dr John Campbell, from SOAS University of London, tells TRT World that this notion “fails to recognise the impact of European colonialism on Africa. He should admit that he is not concerned about the development of Africa but rather with preventing Africans from reaching Europe.”
However, Nooke’s ‘voluntary colonialism’ plan is just the tip of the iceberg. The European establishment has been trying to stop the migration flow from Africa to Europe.
African migrants en route to Europe
The total of sub-Saharan migrants who landed on the shores of Europe between 2010 and 2017 numbers at least one million, according to the latest Pew Research Center report.
European countries first attempted to stem migration from Africa by applying a classic approach: foreign aid. The European Union (EU), in exchange for stopping migration flows, agreed to pour billions of euros into some African governments such as Niger and Libya, which have been accused widespread human rights violations and corruption.
But using foreign aid as a short-term plan has damaged some of the countries where it was employed. Countries such as Egypt and Sudan, through their cooperation with the EU to stem migration, have sought to legitimise their regimes which are accused of crimes against humanity. Measures to toughen security controls in countries on migration routes has resulted in increased smuggling profits and led migrants to find alternate, and often more dangerous, routes.
The EU then proposed to set up ‘reception centres’ in West African countries where the migrants could be documented and their applications processed. But soon after, it became clear that no African country was willing to take responsibility for hosting migrant screening centres.
As Europe’s efforts to externalise and outsource issues dealing with African migrants have not had the desired effect, the EU has decided to instead ‘develop’ the continent.
In September 2018, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker proposed a European Investment Plan that potentially includes a $51 billion investment that would create nearly 10 million jobs in West African nations over the next five years.
However, research suggests that boosting youth employment and local economies in the poorest countries encourages migration in the long run as migration only begins to drop when the country reaches beyond middle-income status.
New research published by the Center for Global Development (CGD)argues that while “greater youth employment may deter migration in the short term for countries that remain poor… economic development in low-income countries typically raises migration,” in the long term.
The demographic changes, on the other hand, show that migration flows from Africa to Europe will most likely increase. Sub-Saharan Africa, which currently has more than 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, will see new 800 million-strong labour force within 30 years.
Olivier Milland, a political risk analyst, is sceptical about whether the EU’s development assistance will enable African countries to absorb such a huge number of young people in local economies.
Milland tells TRT World: “Creating job opportunities for large groups of the population is key, but remains a huge challenge. The question is in what sectors?”
He believes that the continent’s deficit infrastructure will prevent millions of low-skilled workers from being absorbed into their economies. And then, they will likely migrate.
However, the question remains: how will Europe deal with African migration flows?
Masood Ahmed, the president of CGD, believes, “the policy choice for Europe is not whether there will be large scale migration, but how to manage it in a way that is economically beneficial and socially sustainable.”
This is exactly the point where the EU development projects seem to be coming into play: upskill Africa’s low-skilled workforce that is potentially willing to take the dangerous journey to Europe.
Camille Le Coz, a political analyst from the Migration Policy Institute, supports the idea. She tells TRT World: “The point of EU's development interventions should not be to reduce irregular migration flows, but to ensure migrations take place in a way that is safe, orderly and regular and that they benefit to countries of [Africa] origin and [Europe] destination.”
Is neo-colonialism the reason behind African migration?
Lorenzo Kamel, who teaches the History of Colonial and Post-Colonial Spaces at the University of Bologna, believes that Europe only focuses on the final rings of the chain, which is African migration flow.
He tells TRT World that, although, “some European policymakers, activists are actively and sincerely working to boost African economies,” the European exploitation of the continent must be addressed.
Kamel adds: “The fact is that the natural resources (fuel, gold, gas etc.) of most, if not all, African countries… are still being syphoned off through offshore companies that, to a large extent, are linked to European and American companies and businessmen. As the Panama Papers confirmed, anonymous companies (about 1,400 in total) and tax havens are used to exploit the natural wealth of some of the world's poorest countries”.
In addition to Kamel’s claims, a UN report recently revealed that Africa is estimated to be losing more than $50 billion annually.
According to the report, estimates prove that, over the last 50 years, the continent has lost “in excess of $1 trillion in illicit financial flows” that are operated by Western corporations.
Moreover, the central banks of 14 African countries – mainly former French colonies –are obligated to maintain at least 50 per cent of their monetary reserves in the French Treasury.
These countries, including Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali and Niger, have no control over their monetary policies. France, by maintaining its post-colonial hegemony, makes billions of euros from African countries’ reserves.
The structural problems in the imbalanced relations with Europe and Africa, Kamel stresses, fuels destabilisation that fosters migration and human trafficking.
Dr Campbell says “over the past two decades … billions of euros have been spent unproductively,” to stem African migration and, it has happened, “without adequate thought or consultation with African countries and without addressing the interests of African people.”