How Europe can stop migrations from Africa

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Most of the migrants arriving in Europe are from West Africa, although those from Syria, Afghanistan, and other wartorn countries understandably dominate the headlines. This very visible migration crisis is at the centre of European attention, and actually tearing the EU apart.
No solutions are in sight. Analysts see that Europe cannot cope: although Angela Merkel is right to say that the numbers arriving are small enough for rich Europe to manage, support and deal with. That is an economic point which ignores the politics. Politically, Europe is proving incapable of dealing with it, and it is setting European countries against themselves undermining free movement and putting the whole European project in jeopardy.
Analysts have understood that Europe cannot deal with the numbers arriving. And that it is no solution to push people back across the sea. It follows that the causes must be tackled that push families to the level of desperation of risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.
For the war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, this is a much-discussed military, strategic and developmental issue about failed states, terrorism, the West and the Islamic world. But in West Africa, where the majority of the migrants come from, the issues are quite different, and in fact would be easier to address, given the political will.
Yet, the EU is squandering the one thing that would ensure that most migrants would stay in their countries. At the same time that Presidents and Prime Ministers are holding press conferences on Europe’s migration crisis with all the word’s media reporting in one part of Brussels, an obscure department of the European Commission is negotiating agreements that hold the key to solving this issue for this part of the world where most of the migrants come from in another part of Brussels.
Right now, the European Union is negotiating an economic partnership agreement with the countries of West Africa. One would think that there would be a common interest in securing an agreement that helps build the economies of these countries. After all, most of these African migrants are being driven by economic necessity. If they could get decent work in their countries, they wouldn’t risk life and limb to get to Europe at all. Yet, the proposed agreement is the usual mix of stale ideas that will not lead to anything but the same old story of short term profits for European companies shared with a small elite in the region, fuelling inequality and conflict, and deepening poverty.
All that stands in the way of the passage of the EPA are just three of the sixteen countries involved in the negotiations – Nigeria, Mauritania and Niger. Most of the other countries in the region depend on Europe’s ODA programme for budget support and have long succumbed to pressure. Or perhaps, they simply think that this is the best deal they can get. But in Nigeria, which represents 78 per cent of the region’s economy and has 180 million of the region’s 330 million population, the pressures of insurgencies in the northeast and in the south-south render clear what is at stake. Only an agreement that offers broad economic opportunities for larger segments of the domestic population will do. It can’t be otherwise, when 56 per cent of those between 15 and 34 years are unemployed or underemployed.
Our Nigerian economists say that this agreement would not be good for us. Going against the findings of the regional body, ECOWAS and the World Bank, they say that the agreement would turn our markets into a dumping ground for European products. That it would not only undermine our small and medium sized enterprises – which are also the largest employers of labour outside agriculture – in the medium to long term but would also reduce revenue to the government significantly.
When one considers that our governments can barely deliver essential services of basic education and public health at this time and also need to improve on the delivery of law and order, all of which takes resources, how such an agreement can be considered to be a good idea is beyond my understanding.
Sometimes it takes the political courage of one country to show that a better way is possible. In the 1997 banking crisis, Malaysia went against all the advice of the IMF to liberalise its banking and currency markets – and it weathered that crisis far better than predicted, and far better than its neighbours. Malaysia’s impudent rejection of the Washington experts has now become the new orthodoxy, who now recommends Malaysia’s approach under the slogan of the “need for sequencing of reforms”.
One definition of madness is doing something the way it has always been done while hoping for a different result. A small handful of countries can hold out on the ratification and implementation of the proposed agreement since it requires unanimity, but there is no guarantee that we can get a better deal. For that, the EU must be willing to do things differently. Coming to Africa looking for a quick buck even if it is at the expense of the continent is so passé. Really, by now Europe should be able to do better.
But who in Europe will speak for a different way? Who will make the case for Europe opening factories in the West African region so that people can work and earn decent wages with which to buy what Europe wants to sell? African migrants may have been bumped off the front pages of dailies today, but their bid to seek better opportunities elsewhere hasn’t stopped. Indeed, since January of this year, another 50,000 people migrated to Europe from the continent and now sit in detention centres, wasting away. 3,000 died trying. The dead and the living are an indictment on us all. If truly Europe does not want the mass exodus of economic migrants to Europe, the time to speak up is now.