This post was written in 2015. It contrasted 2 conferences in which ‘Africa’ was ‘summoned’ to an international table to attend to problems not completely of her own making. As the title suggests, the post takes its inspiration from A Tale of Two Cities, a novel that leans heavily on the idea of human connectivity, which tells us that the past is never dead, it merely sleeps… and only for a while. Africa may yet be recalled to life.
(It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. Dickens, Charles. ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ .)
2015 has been the best and worst of times, thousands of desperate bodies have been lost in the Mediterranean, and millions received with desperate hope the signing of a new climate deal in Paris. Paris itself witnessed terror on an intense scale; Paris has also been witness to unprecedented human solidarity in support of the environment. Our world in 2015 has been a kaleidoscope, a phantasmagoria of emotion. Indifference to the left; love to the right; hate on the one hand; help on the other. It is against this backdrop that Africa met twice with the West at Valletta, Malta in 2015.
What I call Valletta I held between the 11th and the 12th of November 2015. It was a summit on migration which brought together European and African Heads of State and Government in an effort to strengthen cooperation and address the current challenges of migration. Its premise was based on the idea that migration is a shared responsibility of countries of origin, transit and destination. Therefore, EU and Africa met to find common solutions to challenges of mutual interest. 36 African countries were invited. Documents available here
Valletta II, which was held between the 27th and the 29th of November 2015, was a meeting of the heads of states of the British Commonwealth. The theme of this meeting was ‘Adding Global Value.’ The intention was to discuss the best way to use the Commonwealth’s strengths in international politics to influence and eventually effect change on important global issues and the lives of Commonwealth citizens. The discussions included issues arising from peace and security, human rights and gender equality, eradication of disease, good governance and democracy, liberation of international trade, as well climate change. 18 African Heads/Representatives attended. Documents and press releases are available here
Valletta II could be said to have been the more fruitful meeting for Africa, despite the fact that the Commonwealth is intrinsically linked with a history of colonialism and ideas bordering on subsidiarity. The Commonwealth also has fewer African state members than states represented at Valletta I. It is interesting that the EU, which is more associated with pushing for good governance, democracy and human rights protections failed to live up to its lofty reputation at Valletta I. The reasons for this are inextricably linked with the lessons of the two Valletta meetings.
The Commonwealth in Valletta II showed that it has learnt from its experiences in North-South relations. [Though it is doubtful the lesson go beyond being better at messaging.] The Commonwealth has apparently understood the ineffectiveness of throwing money at a problem. The aim of Valletta I was encapsulated in the political declaration as follows: ‘We commit to address the root causes of irregular migration … Our common response will focus on reducing poverty, promoting peace, good governance, rule of law and respect for human rights, supporting inclusive economic growth….’ However, the recommendation of Valletta I was to set up a €1.8 billion trust fund, in return for which Europe requested the swift, unencumbered repatriation of undocumented African migrants as well as the cooperation of African states in curtailing the movements of their own citizens. Give money, get results. CF my previous post on aid. Valletta II, on the other hand, was the arena for an attempt at contemporary dialogue.
Valletta I, thus presumed that the promise of money would be sufficient to spur African states into action on Europe’s behalf. There also seemed to be within the political declaration a presumption of what Africa wants/needs. The presumption was settled without dialogue with Africans or their leaders. Somalia’s Prime Minister Omar Abdirashidali Sharmatke told the BBC: “What Africa needs today is not charity, but investment.” “The trust fund is not enough, 1.8 billion euros is far from enough,” said Mahamadou Issoufou, the president of Niger in the Sahel, which faces serious problems with migration and drought.“What we want is not just official development assistance in this form but reform of global governance. World trade must be fair. There must be more investment in Africa. Official development assistance is good but it’s not sufficient.“
Senegal’s President Macky Sall, told journalists on the side-lines of the summit that the money pledged was “not enough for the whole of Africa“. Macky Sall accused multinational firms of tax avoidance and conniving at corrupt transfers of Africa’s resources, costing countries many times what they receive in aid. Macky Sall’s supposedly controversial statement, splashed on the front pages of European media outlets, requires further scrutiny.
Let us consider this: The EU invited 36 African states to Valletta I and ‘launched’ a trust fund of €1.8 billion. If divided evenly, each invited state would be eligible to collect €50 million. What would each state do with that that would stop people fleeing? You could buy a jet with it, or a few houses, maybe build one hospital, or one school. There are football players who are worth much more than that. According to Forbes three of the richest people resident in Africa are worth €22 billion. Notably, two of those [Aliko and Dangote] are astute African businessmen whose business are mostly in Africa. In comparison to this, €50 million is a drop in a deep African ocean. We cannot realistically assume that the trust fund was meant to contribute in ANYWAY towards ‘reducing poverty, promoting peace, good governance, rule of law and respect for human rights, supporting inclusive economic growth….‘ The EU also indicated that the trust fund would be open to other states apart from the 36 invited states. Less that €50 million per state then. Therefore, one can understand Macky Sall’s sentiments, however, bluntly they have been put. The trust fund CANNOT solve the problem – even if the root cause was merely financial.
The other point to note here is the remittance [money sent ‘home’] to Africa from the diaspora [legal and irregular]. Remittances are notoriously nigh impossible to track. Africans tend to send money to Africa via unconventional means, sometimes due to the high charges imposed on African remittances by Europe’s finance houses [This point was also not satisfactorily addressed at Valletta I. It should have been]. However, it is believed that the remittances from the diaspora to Africa could amount to nearly €150 billion per year. Europe would have to bring in a colossally Cyclopean carrot to match the remittance. The ‘trust fund’ of €1.8 billion is completely dwarfed, no, annihilated by the remittances.
There is a further indication that Europe never really intended to do serious business with Africa at Valletta I. This is the deal done with Turkey in December 2015. In December the EU ‘paid’ [actually dashed] Turkey €3 billion for Turkey’s help with the crisis. This help includes the swift return of refugees entering Turkey. Turkey [population 79 million] gets €3 billion, Africa [population circa 1 billion] is promised €1.8 billion. €3 billion for a country’s deportation services; €1.8 billion for a continent to invest in development and eradicate poverty; stop conflicts and human rights abuses; support good governance and democracy; and ensure security; and curb terrorism in 54+ countries! Penkelemessi! And Shior!
To add to the mess of the foregoing is the logistics of the ‘scheme’ suggested for deportation of irregular African migrants. In essence, a destination state would attempt to determine the African’s state of origin, do so and then drop off said African migrant in the country the European state had ‘determined’ African to be from. This in effect suggested European usurpation of the sovereignty of African states through the issue of quasi-passports by the European state. (Someone will now come and tell me that colonisation is ended! Its ideology lives.) The intrusive proposal was dropped. The wording in the summit declaration licensing forced deportations also met stiff resistance and had to be changed. The final statement said: “We agree to give preference to voluntary return.”’ The fact that Africans refused this scheme was roundly decried by European media houses. Because as we all know, Africa is a country and you can drop off any African in the African capital city of Lagos. [Which by the way, in case you did not know, is not even the capital of Nigeria.]
What Valletta I ignored and Valletta II focused on is the increasing interconnectedness of the world. The world is one, even if its people are not – political events and international action, legal or illegal will have an effect on population movement. We cannot ignore this truth and continue ‘to talk of this terrible Revolution as if it were the one [and] only harvest ever known under the skies that had not been sown.’ To focus so rigidly on migration ignores the bigger problems and the smaller snowballing causes – the long fingers of history, climate change, illiberal trade practices, global hatreds, questionable trade relations etc. Things that are unaware of our artificial borders. A flood is not stopped by imaginary lines on the ground. Drought obeys the wind, not the map. History marches forward. By focusing on lines on the ground, international relations very often ignores the needs of the world’s people.
Valletta II did a better job by concentrating more on human security. To change the world you have to care about people, about their subjectivity, their positionality. This is hardly ever about just money. ‘My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead’ or the child whose name I cannot pronounce, whose skin is different from mine, whose parents believe a different God than mine, whose world-view is different from mine? Who decided which bodies and lives are mournable? Our capacity for compassion can multi-task. It may be human nature to feel more empathy with people we think we can identify with. But is not also human choice? Can we not choose to show empathy? Or are we creatures controlled solely by our emotions? Do we choose empathy or does it choose us?
So…. I have no solution to the ‘migration crisis’, just opinions, based on facts. But the lessons of Valletta I and Valletta II are for us to look at the big picture, to make up our minds based on facts not feelings.
My message to Africa has not changed, and will probably never change… stand your ground and look to Africa.
To the world… we cannot prop up dictators, get involved in unjust conflicts, engage in unethical trade practices, fail to combat climate change and not expect to feel the aftershocks of the earthquake we set off.
To world leaders…The challenge of every politician, leader, or head of state, is allowing for needs that they do not understand, speaking for ALL those they represent, acknowledging that the world you lead, is a minuscule part of the world that is ours. The EU leaders went to Valletta I to seek: border control, selectivity and repatriation. Reliance on the fallacy of the border-bound Westphalian state. A state that is dying. But as African leaders pointed out in their speeches and comments to the press, the contradiction between aid to Africa and the exploitation of Africa’s resources needs resolution. Definite figures [nearly €30bn] are put on aid ‘given’ to Africa by the West. No definite numbers are put on what leaves Africa to the West, there is a possibility that it is in excess of €180 billion. [Who is aiding who?] Essentially our view of the world is determined by the window we look through. Our view of Africa is coloured by misconceptions, and our view of the West is obscured by misdirection. The media adds to this confusion as shown by these contrasting reports of Valletta I:
‘“Financial aid to accept deportation of thousands“ declares Algerian daily El-Khabar, before quoting human rights groups warning that Europe was “forcing African countries to play the role of policeman”.
Germany’s tabloid Bild asks: “Why is Chancellor Merkel negotiating with Africa’s despots?“ in its account of the “tricky Valletta summit”.
Valletta I misunderstood the problem, and thus its solution. Valletta II engaged with the people, moving closer to a solution. Valletta I completely ignored climate change, which is one cause of migration and a result of unethical industrialisation. Valletta II tried to give some attention to climate change. The world needs to do more on climate change. We need to accept the inevitability of climate change. We need to take positive action. We forget that climate change is the silently advancing apocalypse, if not for us, for our children; if not for our children, for our grandchildren, for our grandchildren’s’ grandchildren. So that, when our time here is done, when the book is closed, when the music has stopped, when the bustling has ceased, when the threshing is done… we can say ‘It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’ [Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities (1859)].
Migration from Africa: a forgotten crisis
‘Well intentioned as it may be, the Valletta Summit was a waste and the EU leaders who called for it have missed an important opportunity to take any meaningful action.’
Migrant crisis: These numbers show that for Africa, $2bn EU aid deal no match for remittances or multinational tax cash
EU launches $2 [1.8 billion euros] billion emergency fund for Africa to combat migration
EU pays €3bn to Turkey in exchange for help on dealing with European migration
Experts raise concerns over lopsided EU-Africa migrant deals