African Migration: Should We Stem the Tide?

Published on 3rd October 2006

A European citizen wrote recently, "rather than pulling the Africans to our level which would be great in an ideal world, we are going to sink down to their level, I fear, sooner than later!" There is growing concern in Europe about migrants from Africa. Should open market policies apply to migration of Africans to Europe and the rest of the World?

European Union ministers are debating on how to stem the tide of African migrants reaching the Union's borders on the southern shores. An estimated 24,000 Africans are reported to have crossed over to Spain's Canary Island this year alone. Young Africans have been taking risky trips across the Mediterranean Sea in search for better opportunities in Europe.

While visiting Malaga (Spain), a friend described the pathetic situation Africans go through in search of a 'dream abroad'. "Bodies are swept offshore on the southern shores of Spain almost on weekly basis," she reported. Most of the time, Africans who make it after crossing the Mediterranean sea have no travel documents, and rarely talk about their countries of origin. "If one wanted to send them back, which country in Africa will receive them?" she asked.

The migration issue raises a number of critical questions. Should the World only argue for free movement of goods but restrict movement of people? In terms of human rights, should people who are born with inalienable rights to life and freewill be subject to restricted movement? What is the responsibility of the African leaders in the migration tension?

A friend once quipped, "During athletics championships, the world is presented with two sets of competitors: those running away from poverty (read Kenyans) and those running to win medals (developed-country athletes)!" No prize for the right guess on who emerges the champion. Some arguments point at a possible connection between the tapping of African resources by wealthy nations as the main reason towards the wave towards the core (developed countries). Some focus on leadership failure in Africa.

A casual tour of World history presents an interesting migration pattern. In the 16th century, migrations in the old world were driven by the quest for freedom from overregulation, taxes, and religious Puritanism. Another set of migrants were virtually deportees, or criminals being banished from their homeland. Great nations in the World today, such as the United States and Australia, were built by migrants. Are there lessons Africans and Europeans can learn from this history?

The Western civilization was able to conquer and tame Africa because of their advanced technology both in terms of food production, political organization and arms. Unfortunately, the transfer of the 'secret' behind their success to Africa has been slow due to paternalistic policies that have made it difficult for Africans to rise up and take responsibility of their destiny. This has played a role in creating a pull factor by which millions of young men and women grow up dreaming to either move to United States and Europe among other wealthy nations.

In general terms, the first picture of a successful European that the African people encountered was that of religious priest, preaching piety and love for mankind. The second onslaught was that of colonial civil servant with a bully attitude, seizing all there was to grab. At this juncture, thanks to the World Wars, Africans were already getting agitated to win their independence. Unfortunately, the first generation of African leaders shortly after the colonial period, focused mostly on imitating the Western civil servant instead of mobilizing populations to be productive.

The third wave of Africa's interaction with the Western world has mostly been through tourists who portray a false image of simply enjoying life (undiscerning Africans do not know that they work to save and travel!). Multi national companies - that offer better pay than African local counterparts - also provide the mentality of a successful 'core'. Weaving through all these waves, is an educational system that glorifies Western branded institutions as  icons of success. On the other hand, poverty, famine, war, diseases among other issues drive the young to look for new opportunities that the Western World offers through its well oiled marketing system in movies, music, novels and magazines.

The migration tide is set to continue unless the present circumstances that make it difficult for Africans to feed themselves remain the same. No amount of bribery in form of aid will stop it. Migrations can only be slowed down, if Africans embarked on a deliberate move to create a new African civilization that will give the masses a new sense of purpose. If wealthy nations want to avoid the African migration onslaught, they should rethink their short term goals that have made it difficult for business to grow in Africa through tariff escalation on value added products. Are the Western countries ready for this?

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