The African Exodus, which the British Guardian newspaper recently reported had already amounted to 150,000 refugees in 2014, cannot be allowed to go on increasing. The reason is not that Europe can no longer tolerate such an influx (after all Europe has been accommodating such influxes since the Indo-Germanic invasions of the mid second century BC.) but rather that we can no longer turn a blind eye from the prospect of more and more of them dying at sea, and nor can we afford to spend large resources on rescuing them from the Med. Their settlement in Europe in larger and larger numbers also makes no sense as we are depriving the African countries of their future lifeblood - their own younger generations. Refugees from the middle east have greatly added to the total in 2015, but this must surely be a more temporary phenomena, depending on the setting up of more stable governments in the region. But the exodus from Africa is potentially a more lasting problem whose causes must be carefully analyzed if we are to find a permanent solution. The cynical exploitation by organized criminals and north African pirates to transport the refugees can also no more be tolerated. But what to do about it all? As usual, our response as Europeans has been based on a curious mixture of patronizing human sentimentality (rescue them from their own foolishness) and racial prejudice (fortress Europe – send them back). It has been Italy that has most reacted to and saved the lives of these precarious immigrants. Just imagine if it were UK and not Italy which was closest to the point of embarkation – how would the British react? Probably by a tripling of support for UKIP followed by an immediate closing down of coastal borders, and all attempts at crossing over to the UK being diverted to the Channel Isles, where refugees would be held in camps, similar to the Australian policy. We need to examine the reasons for this exodus if we are going to help these people in the right way and prevent the present trickle of refugees (the population of poor Africans wanting to come must be in the region of millions per year, not hundred thousands) from turning into a deluge.
Africans, firstly, are often fleeing local wars of their own or repressive regimes, such as in Eritrea, where all young people are forced to join the armed services. Secondly they are fleeing drought and starvation in some areas (especially the Sahel). From this and other causes they suffer from severe economic poverty and local elites mismanaging their countries' finances. Years of underdevelopment and exploitation by the west has also not helped improve the economic lot of most countries. There is a stubborn dependence on natural resources, rather than developed agriculture and local business opportunities in most countries, often forced on them by richer countries (Europeans included) whose companies pay low wages, import western experts, and control global market prices for exported raw materials. Most African countries are forced to import large amounts of food today where once they were largely self supporting. This is partly the result of decline in local agriculture, and the increase of exported cash crops, on land often owned by big food multi-nationals. But it is also the result of the population explosion and the huge migration to the cities from the countryside. This has added to the number of starving, or at least hungry mouths to feed, largely on western hand-outs or imported food. Tribal social structures have largely broken down, with nothing to replace them, so mutual support and reciprocity in economic matters have given way to fierce individualism, especially amongst young urban males. There is therefore less and less to hold them back from setting out to find the "golden pavements" of Europe. But in some areas where family structures are still intact, the family itself will put together the money to help a young man reach Europe, hoping that eventually their poverty will be relieved by the son's employment in high wage countries. But how many sons come eventually to send money back or ever go back? Often the new pressures and poverty they encounter for themselves in our world makes that impossible.
The attractiveness of our world in the west has also been made greater by changes in media and education over the past 50 years. Educational methods and subjects are based firmly on western models, western books and a western conception of the world. This has not only helped break down local tribal structures by helping to change values (eg a new disrespect for the older generations and a greater belief in the individual and the possibilities of the educated man) it has led to the influx to the cities with less and less valuation of work on the land, and promoted greater ambition in terms of seeing the educated west as a possible future. There are many qualified youngsters now in Africa with more than 10 years of education, but they are fit for western style jobs that are just not available in their own countries. Unemployment is incredibly high in the cities and most jobs that are available are unskilled and require minimal qualifications. This breeds enormous resentment amongst young people, and now on top of that their appetites for the "good life" have been stimulated by western style media in the modern global communication systems. What is not available to them in their own streets and shops is plainly visible on their TV screens and computers - but in Europe and America. This resentment rarely leads to local political rebellion, but results either in attempted emigration to richer countries, or in some youngsters, a radicalization to fundamentalist beliefs, particularly in countries where Islam is a prominent religion. Local mullahs with extreme views can easily recruit such disillusioned and educated youth for terrorist causes. This happens even more so in African countries where the local elites are Christian and access to power and jobs comes through Christian connections. Such is the case in parts of West Africa and also Tanzania, where there are great inequalities in power related to religion, something the catholics of Northern Ireland also suffered from, with disastrous consequences.
The real key to this is, then, the alleviation of poverty, a different style of education more fitting to local cultures and needs, together with a reversal of climatic trends and a re-greening of the land. Local agricultural production has to be prioritized and made more attractive, and multi-national dominance reduced. Responsible governments should be rewarded and strengthened, not as is now often the case, the dictators that protect western investments. But how can these enormous tasks be achieved so as to reverse the great exodus? More coming in the next blog!
Please leave your comments below.