African Migrants: Not EU’s headache but AU’s failure

Posted by News Express | 7 July 2018 | 1,012 times

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These are certainly highly perilous times for a modern-day African. 

As I watched the international news channels and see little babies strapped to their mothers’ backs in some derelict boats off the shore of the perilous Mediterranean Sea, my heart jumped to my mouth in trepidation and un-moderated consternation. Why Africans? 

These times, for Africans, seems like the mid-1940s Europe, when World War II (September 1, 1939 – September 2, 1945) has just ended. European nations faced tumultuous times with internal displacements of her citizens, especially within the front-line states. Hundreds of Europeans were actually compelled to flee by boats into exile in some safer places around the world, as refugees.  In those days of the post-World War II Europe, the United States of America implemented the Marshall Plan, an initiative to aid Western Europe with over $13 billion in economic assistance.

However, there are sharp and, indeed, fundamental differences of existential experiences between what the West European nations  went through during the post-World War II era to what Africans are going through now.

Whereas the United States of America generously aided the reconstruction of much or all of Western Europe soon after the devastating war, and most European refugees effortlessly settled in their host countries beginning a new life; most of the African nations which are ruined by wars, famine, poverty, arms proliferation and lack of good governance, are left to their cruel fate.  As a result, there is a deluge of migrants in their thousands who are fleeing these cruel situations back home in Africa in search of security and sustenance, and Western Europe seems the nearest safe haven.

The African, Union which ought to formulate and implement effective policy frameworks on migration, has consistently gone to the European Union cap-in-hand to beg for funding assistance. African Union, by the way, is a meeting of despots who in the first place are directly responsible for creating wars and poverty, which are factors that have continued to compel many youngsters to flee for their lives. Only the brave stay back! 

Africa’s refugee crisis are not basically due to economic collapse of the African nations, but due to a combination of external and internal factors; or, what I may sum up as centripetal and centrifugal forces at play.

African nations experienced years of colonisation from Western empire builders from the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, and Portugal, among others. At independence, most of these European powers – that carted away the choicest resources and had for years enslaved our people – left Africa in gross under development, with no reparations or compensations for these years of the locusts. Although the political independence was supposed to be used by the locals to build enduring homelands whereby prosperity of their people, equality of rights and equity would reign supreme, these were never actualised.

Rather, the different persons that gained power in various African nations abandoned developmental blueprints in preference for perpetuation of their class, clan, and ethno-religiously affiliated persons to control powers, thereby alienating other people. In most countries this led to crises, and in some cases wars set in, followed by devastation, poverty and famine.

In Nigeria, war was fought for 30 months in the Eastern Region, with the attendant destruction of infrastructure and the slaughter of 3 million people. Despite official pronouncements, the war-ravaged East was neither rebuilt nor survivors rehabilitated by the government. And neither did the Western powers that sold weapons to the Federal Military Government to battle the then Biafra provide any aid whatsoever in re-developing the devastated Eastern Region of Nigeria. The people of the region were abandoned to their cruel fate. But for their resilience and community development drive, the highly vandalised region would have remained in shambles. 

Again, Western Europe and the United States have never showed positive interest in demanding that those who hold political power in different African nations must play the game by the rules. The basic interests of the Western powers have always revolved around how they can exploit natural resources in some African countries to enrich their local economies. As I write, the Western powers are in competition with China on which of these blocs will gain stronger foothold in African countries where natural resources are found in commercial quantities. 

The Breton Woods Institutions – World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) – which were basically set up to carry out economic and infrastructural rebuilding processes in devastated West European nations, have remained more of a curse for Africa, and not a blessing.

Alongside the Paris and London Clubs, these funding institutions have conspired with some corrupt African nations to pile up dubious debts, which have become major obstacles to development. Not long ago, Nigeria paid out $12 billion to Paris and London Clubs, as part of settlement for some dubiously cumulated debts. These huge cashwould have changed the infrastructural landscape of Nigeria, if the political elite were mindful to put the funds into productive use. But, sad, the huge cash returned to the same advanced Western nations. 

Again, corruption among African political elite has impoverished nations such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, DR Congo, Kinshasa, among others. The Western nations have benefitted from the menace of political corruption in such places as Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Congo, Gabon, Angola, etc, all in Africa. 

This is because those who hold political offices divert public funds till date to their off-shore bank accounts and safe havens in Europe and the United States of America, even as these few privileged Africans have bought up several choice housing assets in Western countries. For example, Nigerian state governors divert public funds to buy choice housing assets in Europe and America, as I write. 

The African despots who continuously destroy their nations through corruption, lack of respect for human rights and poor governance standards, also educate their children in the best schools in Western Europe. That is, those children are far away from the poverty-stricken environment that much of African schools have become.

In Nigeria, 36 states of the federation have progressively become insolvent and rely heavily on revenues generated from sale of crude oil, which come from the Niger Delta. Yet, the Niger Delta remains poor, neglected, environmentally abused, while the state of infrastructure is near zero. As a result, poverty and violent crimes and youth restiveness surge within the region.

In the North-east and South-east, political corruption has left all the public utilities in very bad shape, thereby forcing parents to send their children to places such as Ghana and Benin Republic, in search of education in poorly standardised faculties. 

North-eastern Nigeria has been in a state of war since the last seven years, leading to girls being kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists at will. Unfortunately, the government is too weak or compromised to fight back. At times, the security forces sabotage the anti-terror fights for financial gains. 

So, when you look around the Mediterranean Sea and see thousands of Nigerians fleeing to Europe, they are not just searching for economic well-being; but they are forced to flee from un-paralleled violence, war, poverty and poor governance at both the central and sub-national levels.

Yet, Europe and America have continued to sale weapons of mass destruction to African despots, including Nigeria. These weapons find their way into the hands of Fulani herdsmen who deploy these sophisticated arms to wipe out, if possible, the entire Christian-dominated areas of Plateau, Benue, Taraba, Zamfara states, and Southern Kaduna, so they can occupy by force lands belonging to the indigenous communities. Despite the widespread condemnation of their horrific act, the Federal Government has done nothing to stop it. The Government of Nigeria is accused of nepotism in the appointments of top security chiefs who are all Moslems, same as the armed Fulani attackers. So, the issue of irregular migration from Nigeria is a disturbing phenomenon coupled with the fact that Nigeria has a leader who doesn't fully appreciate the enormity of the crises. Instead, he continues to tell the press that Nigerians abroad want to return. Since African despots, who created these problems of irregular migration, are unwilling to solve the problems, Europe has embraced the challenge. 

Now that the European Union’s leadership has moved to Austria, which is absolutely against migration, there has to be strategies in place both in Europe and America to stop the weaponisation of African despots; insist on transparent elections and respect for the rule of law and the human rights of Africans. By that way, irregular migration will reduce. The Western powers must stop the hiding of African wealth in their jurisdictions by African thieving political elite. If these steps are not adopted, then the European Commission under Austria's control may not achieve much, even if they stop the inflow of African migrants. 

We just read that Austria plans to use its presidency of the European Union this year to shift the bloc’s focus away from resettling refugees within the EU and towards preventing further waves of arrivals, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz reportedly said on Friday (see www.haaretz.com).

Kurz is governing in coalition with the anti-immigration Freedom Party, making Austria the only Western European country to have a far-right party in government. This follows an election last year dominated by Europe’s migration crisis. Austria will take over the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union in July, giving it an important say in setting the agenda at the many meetings among member states.

The bloc has been bitterly divided over immigration and Eastern member states, such as Poland and Hungary which refuse to take in their share of refugees, under a resettlement system. Kurz, an immigration hard-liner, has pledged to use his good relations particularly with Hungary to bring the two sides closer.

“Our aim is very clear - that in Europe there should not only be a dispute over redistribution (of refugees) but also at last a shift of focus towards securing external borders,” Kurz told a news conference outlining Austria’s priorities for the presidency, which it will take over from Bulgaria.

Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have repeatedly rebuffed requests from Brussels and western EU states to host some of the hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim refugees that have streamed into the EU, since 2015. The bitter row has undermined trust between the bloc’s members and weakened their unity. Austria has moved from calling on the Eastern Europeans to carry their share of the burden to, under Kurz, criticising the debate on quotas and calling for a new system altogether.

Kurz has said there is no point arguing over the current system of quotas because eastern states refuse to accept them. He has argued in favour of a system in which migrants rescued in the Mediterranean are returned to Africa, rather than brought to Europe, and pledged to stop illegal immigration altogether.

“Protection (of borders) alone will not solve the migration question. But the decisive question is what happens to people after their rescue - so are they brought to central Europe or are they taken back to countries of origin or other safe regions where they can be provided for?”

When asked what solutions he had in mind, he said expanding the mandate of Frontex, the EU border agency, was one option, but there were others; and it would depend on talks with leaders at events, including a summit on migration and security on September 20.

Other priorities Austria has set itself include promoting Europe’s competitiveness and working towards EU accession for Balkan countries, particularly Serbia and Montenegro, he said.

But the African Union must wake up and take responsibility for the deaths of Africans during the dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea.

Sede Alonge wrote in The Guardian of Britain that African Union must wake up.

“Thousands of migrants”, the writer stated, “many of them, Africans, have died trying to get into Europe this year alone. News stories of drowning and shipwrecks during hazardous sea journeys on the Mediterranean have become depressingly familiar.”

What can be done to prevent such tragedies? So far, one could get the impression that the problem is considered solely Europe’s to deal with; after all, it is the EU’s borders that are being besieged. But that would mean absolving the African Union of any responsibility for its own borders and citizens, letting it off the hook far too easily.

African societies pride themselves on their regard for culture, family life and community in general. The actions of individuals are considered reflective of their families and the communities they come from. If a son turns out to be a thief, this is deemed shameful, not just to his parents but also to the community he comes from. His family is expected to accept full responsibility for his actions; and to undertake to do something about the situation. Similarly, we are also fond of emphasising our sense of brotherhood and solidarity with our fellow African citizens.

However, it is difficult to reconcile all this with the seemingly indifferent AU response to the migrant crisis. What exactly is it doing to secure its borders and prevent smugglers from transporting thousands out of the continent, often to their deaths? What is it doing to encourage those Africans who feel compelled to leave their countries, or who are displaced, to choose African destinations rather than European ones? Not much: is the answer.

The fact that African migrants tend to seek refuge in countries that have well-developed human rights systems only accentuates the AU’s failure. Increasing Europe’s border security should not be solely the EU’s headache. Africa’s leaders have a responsibility to work towards solving a problem they helped create in the first place.”

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist (www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com), is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).


Source: News Express

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