Friday, 24 April 2015

Mediterranean African Migrant Crisis: Ceding Africa’s Humanity to European Protectionism?

By Takura Zhangazha*

European Union (EU)  leaders this week held a meeting to urgently discuss the influx of refugees trying to illegally reach their continent via the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the fact that a majority of these emigrants are African, there are no reports of the African Union’s (AU) Council of Foreign Ministers doing the same, though there are some comments attributed to the AU commission.  Sadly so, the problem therefore appears to be more urgent for Europe than for Africa. 

The reasons for the differences in urgency between the two continental bodies probably relate to the fact that we, as Africans, are not treating this as an urgent humanitarian crises or those seeking to emigrate as people that have lost confidence in their respective African governments, economies and the entirety of the continent in serving their interests. 

European governments, wary of their citizens’ anti-immigrant sentiments and how it affects electoral outcomes want to be seen to be acting to fortify Europe from us, African ‘others’.  So their intentions are not about the Africna continent, but ensuring that they stem the 'African tide.'

This is not the same for African governments that  in most cases will not identify the problem as stemming from their bad economic and political policies at home and abroad.  In other instances, some African leaders attribute this to the NATO intervention in Libya, an intervention which has left that country with porous borders and no clear central government. 

The overall muted AU current response is however a cause for concern and has been noted in some sections of the media.  Not that the AU has not made some efforts to deal with migrant routes and the affected countries.  It has done so but is unable to respond as a continental body to this current and urgent crisis probably for lack of funding or lack of further prodding by affected member states.

The elephant in the room however is to be found in the reasons as to  why people from  African countries such as Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, the Gambia and Libya itself are really trying so hard to leave. And that even if their first attempts fail, they will try again and again, barring death on the sea. 

Some of  the reasons our African brother and sister give for doing so are given as either war, unemployment, political repression, Ebola outbreaks and the general impression of Europe as being a place where everything is good or works. 

These same reasons are cited not only by those that decide to undertake the perilous journey across the Mediterranean in crowded boats (a journey that also includes being trafficked across the Sahel and Sahara deserts).  Even those few well off Africans that manage to purchase air tickets or official ship rides to get to mainland Europe also claim to do so for the same reasons. 

So in both cases it is therefore the reasons for this stubborn and perennial intention to emigrate that are of paramount importance for for Africa to address much more concertedly.  This may seem a token point given the fact that there is already  the AU's strategic plan, Agenda 2063. It however becomes even more important where one takes into account the maxim, ‘African solutions for African problems.’  At the moment there is no sign of any urgency in finding solutions to this specifically African problem of people risking their lives to get to what in any event is ‘fortress Europe’.

Apart from giving the impression that those fleeing the continent are confirming the myth of the ‘dark continent’ where life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’, the current lack of coherent messages and action from the AU creates the impression that this particular challenge can only be solved by those that in any event prefer that Africans don’t burden their political economies.

It is not only tragic but dehumanizing for many an African  to see and know that an increasing number of us are willing to die rather than live here. It is even more distressing to know that our elected or appointed representatives do not take this issue as seriously as they should.

Even if  some African leaders wanted to blame NATO and its liberal interventionism in Libya, the fact of the matter is that it is our continent's inhabitants that are dying watery deaths. Or, even if they survive these perilous journeys, will inevitably be sent back to the continent, only to try and leave again. 

The point is not that we must hide our continent’s problems. It is however imperative that those that are elected to lead or represent the concerns of the continent need to act upon these problems with the greatest of urgency and at the highest possible level.

For Europe, the Africans emigrating from our continent may be a burden they must stem, but we are the ones who must treat it more as a continental emergency.  We must work concertedly toward a better Africa, not only via strategic reports and plans or at AU summits but in our ability to respond to the challenges the people of the mother continent are facing.  We must return to the Pan African path not only in words and meaning but  moreso in action.
*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (