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Mercy Abang | Rebuilding the Berlin Wall: How Europe’s Anti-migration Agenda Threatens Stability in Africa

Image Caption: African migrants sit atop a border fence during an attempt to cross into Spanish territories, between Morocco and Spain’s north African enclave of Melilla, Oct. 22, 2014. | Credit: Jesus Blasco de Avellaneda /Reuters

By Mercy Abang

On August 13, 1961, the Communist government of the German Democratic Republic built a wall between East and West Berlin. The intention of that action to build a wall was to keep “fascists” from entering East Germany but importantly, it stemmed mass defections from East to West Germany.

In 1885, the Berlin Conference resolved to divide the geographical expression known as Africa into more governable parts. My country Nigeria was assigned to Britain as its colony – and by 1914, the conference participants had fully allocated the fragmented region of Africa among themselves.

A prevailing popular notion remains that Europe underdeveloped Africa. Our continent is in a critical situation with sub par development indicators, in stark contrast with most of Europe and Germany, one of the European Union (EU) countries that has become a favorite destination for determined immigrants escaping the stark reality of poverty in their countries with the hope of a more assured future. The EU is concerned about its creation.

Estimates available from the EU Parliament Chief in March 2017, projects that protracted violence, civil wars and poverty may force up to 30 million Africans to migrate to Europe within the next 10 years. This  poses new security challenges to the European continent – and this is a cause of grave concern to Brussels.

Margaret Louis, a researcher of African history based in Lyon, France tells me “the African leaders [need to] act fast to alter the  Marshal plans”.

Angela Merkel’s Policy for Africa

Forced by the projections and growing pressure from anti-immigration opposition in her country, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been forced to roll out new policy initiatives through the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development such as ProAfrica!the African Marshal plan, and the Compact with Africa – implemented by the treasury. The plans were unveiled on the 18th of January 2017, and there is no evidence there was any input by Africa in its development. The plans would according to the Ministry, mobilise more aid and private investment on the continent.

Merkel’s agenda is anchored on the following pillars: Economic Growth, Jobs and Trade; Peace, Security, and Stability; and Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights. Many believe the policies were not well thought out.

“Reading between the agenda closely is an underlying policy that will hurt the continent much more,” said Ms Louis, a French Researcher who will be called by her first name to protect her identity for the purpose of this report.

 One, the internal EU paper understates the issue of repatriation of billions of dollars of looted funds by African politicians stashed in the continent and used to ‘develop’ it.

Nigeria was the first country to sign a migration and mobility treaty with the EU, which would allow for the mass deportation of its migrant citizens. This is far from the issue.

A study by Taz, German-based watchdog revealed that the EU is possibly fencing off the African continent. “In order to make the road to Europe more difficult, many African borders are being equipped with high-tech infrastructure and fence systems – winners of migration control are Europe’s leading arms companies”.

“We of the left party are convinced that this is a very dangerous strategy, it does not tackle many problems of African states like lack of jobs, poverty and inequality” – Niema Movassat, Chairman of the Left Party in the committee on Economic Cooperation and Development tells me in Bundestag in Berlin. “The plans will rise the debt profile of the African states and thereby could lead to a new debt crises”.

ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement Stalled

The [German/EU] policy would stifle free movement within African states. So far, this migration treaty has been established in countries like Egypt, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Ethiopia – most of the member nations that constitute the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

ECOWAS maintains a protocol of reintegration and that permits migrants from any of its member countries to reside any where in the sub-region for up to 90 days. The “Protocol on Free Movement of People, Residence and Establishment“ was ratified in 1979.

The EU policies backed with “financial rewards” poses a great threat to African integration as many of the countries are either too poor or dependent on some form of aid to balance their budgets.

For instance, the European Development Fund would provide an assistance of 596 million euros to the Republic of Niger between 2014 and 2020. In the works are plans to further provide EUR 30 million for agricultural projects in Tahoua and Agadez through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa.

Samir ABI, a civil society member with West African Observatory on Migration says, “the free movement of persons in Niger (an ECOWAS member state) is now stopped – after accepting funds from Angela Merkel.

“The Nigerien President is implementing the orders of Merkel against the protocol of his sub-regional body that allows for free movement of persons and goods”, fiery Abi alleged.

Abi argues that the actions of the European Union does not only violate human rights but also makes authoritarian regimes stronger in Africa as well as hinders economic integration within the continent

“You stop Africans from Migrating within Africa and at the same time ask Africans not to migrate to Europe.” He maintains that the ECOWAS sub-region is now the worst hit as a result of Merkel’s policies.

The majority of migrants, who arrive in Niger and Nigeria for instance, migrate from neighboring West African countries of ECOWAS and most of the times do so for trade and economic activities.

European Union Pays Countries Willing to HALT free movement

Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou during German chancellor Angela Merkel’s state visit to Niamey in October 2016 solicited a US$1 billion package to create jobs, prevent conflict, and reduce migration. Issoufou, according to experts on the subject, habitually demands for EU funds with the promise to stop free movement within his borders.

According to the Taz study, the EU has selected “priority countries” with which it negotiates concerning migration over billion-euro aid packages. These countries are believed to be facilitation zones and working with them could effectively curb migration.

Larger sums of money have already been invested for migration control

“This strategy includes regionally important countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and Mali. Many rejected asylum seekers are to be deported into these countries of origin – corresponding institutions are already present in these countries, migration control can be implemented quickly.”

Germany has invested in training and equipping security forces and border patrols of many African states – a project which the EU has established a special fund to finance.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs, during an informal dinner in Brussels, reportedly threatened that funds should be cut to African countries who do not collaborate enough in preventing the free movement of Africans within their shores and borders.

This position seems to be reechoed in official EU position. A paper released by the commission in November 2015, clearly states, “the EU is mobilising all relevant policies including foreign policy, development assistance and trade to incentivize our partners to cooperate on readmission, on the basis of a more for more principle”.

African states accept the European diktat, trying to turn to their advantage the additional resources released by the EU. There is nothing like the EU-Africa partnership, an expert on migration told me.

“While the EU Promotes free movement of persons within its shores, the same EU moves to stop Africans from moving then insist to shut their borders against same Africans” Mohammed Conte, a Nigerien immigrant from Lampedusa.

Mohammed, 37, questions the rationale behind the Merkel led EU funding to African leaders to enforce unfriendly policies that stalls economic development in Africa despite closing their borders against migrants. He referred to this as “modern day colonialism”.

Nigeria benefits more from Migration than aid

Europe continues to deploy the instrument of development aid to the countries of origin of African migrants. Available evidence suggests that migration is more beneficial to these countries than the assistance. Countries like Nigeria make a great example.

The Taz study captures 520 million Euros in EU development aid to Nigeria between the year 2014 to 2020. The Nigerian diaspora with an estimated population of 20 million Nigerians remitted at least 21 billion dollars according to the Central Bank of Nigeria in 2015. The study disclosed that, “the remittances from migrants to their countries of origin is much more beneficial than development aid to poor countries. Almost everywhere, remittances outnumber aid. In addition, this money directly reaches families and small businesses.”

Beyond the increasing restrictions on thousands of refugees and migrant workers seeking to enter Europe, nomads and ethnic groups living on both sides of the borders have been trapped. The EU policy continues to limit free movement.

Africa’s integration efforts such as a plan for free movement in the West and East Africa bloc and a common passport regime might be jeopardized. EU’s approach jettisons the sub-regional blocs as it seeks to make one-on-one deals with African states.

An opposition Lawmaker in Germany who spoke to me appears to side with Mohammed’s argument. He is of the opinion that the G20’s compact with Africa constitutes a huge risk in terms of sustainable development – highlighting the proposal to privatise infrastructure or manage it through public private partnerships.

Uwe Kekeritz of the Green Party, “the PPP has never worked in Germany or France but they want it to work in Africa”.  The lawmaker believes lawmakers should be let into Europe, to gain education and to acquire skills that would prove more useful to the African continent rather than growth stifling, unsustainable policies. 

The Disturbing Numbers and migration flows

Africa, with an estimated population of 1.2 billion people, is central to the migration issue. Nigeria specifically accounts for the highest numbers of African migrants across the Mediterranean.  Intra-African migration is significantly higher than the migrants’ flows from Africa to Europe. According to the International Organization of Migration, out of 32 million African migrants around the world, half are in Africa, where South Africa, Ivory Coast and Nigeria are among the top three destinations.

Joshua Massarenti, head of a non-governmental organization working on migration issues in Brussles tries to give reasons about the policy, “they are terrified that the African continent will host more than two billion people by 2050, with hundreds of millions of young people looking for jobs, increased pressures on natural resources, more food insecurity, etc.”

Already, Nigerians in their hundreds are being deported back home world over, with no plans for the deportees in their home country. The National Bureau of Statistics in its reports released in June of this year revealed that 2.1 millions Nigerians lost jobs within the last two years and more entrepreneurs are facing tough times amid difficult economic conditions. The unemployment crisis, and the possibility of closed west African borders, triggered by unfriendly EU policies, offers no hope.

Statistics from a 2017 United Nations report indicates that out of 37,000 Nigerians, who tried to cross over to European countries in 2016, 68% of them were graduates. The report showed that at least 9,000 of the emigrants, who tried to enter Europe through the desert and sea, lost their lives in the process.

Nigeria is projected to be the world’s third most populous country by the year 2050, according to a report released by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The report, titled ‘World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision’, said with such development, Nigeria would overtake the United States in terms of population just as world population would reach 9.8 billion people. The report said “by 2050, the third most populous country will be Nigeria, which currently ranks seventh, and which is poised to replace the United States.

Integration rather than regulation could bring development for the continent.

This article was written as part of the 2017 BudgIT Media Fellowship

Mercy Abang is a Freelance Journalist, focusing on development Journalism – She doubles as a media fixer with Sunday Times of London, BBC, Aljazeera and a former Stringer with the Associated Press – She tweets at @abangmercy.. She is the 2017 United Nations Journalism Fellow and BudgIT Media fellow for 2017 .


Follow us on Twitter at @thesignalng

Copyright 2017 SIGNAL. Permission to use portions of this article is granted provided appropriate credits are given to and other relevant sources.

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