AIRSPACES IN AFRICAN COUNTRIES are already being declared open as the aviation industry returns to business and many international flights are beginning to operate in and out of Africa since the past couple of weeks. The implications of these are many and varied. On economic consideration, Africa is on its road to recovery as it gradually restores its link with the world. On the health and social considerations, however, Africa’s luck will best be determined by what happens elsewhere in the world as the continent risks a heightened prevalence of the Coronavirus infections, transmissible through global travels. A point can be made from the experiences of four notable countries in Europe after the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. Italy, Spain, UK and Germany have all experienced resurgence of infection and are working towards limiting its spread the second time. Spain, a country particularly notable for its vibrant tourism industry, is at risk of becoming another epicentre for other tourism-loving countries elsewhere, including those in Africa.
Africa was largely fortunate not to have had widespread infections of epic proportions since the beginning of the present cycle. The continent may not be so lucky in case of a new wave. This is particularly so as it may be difficult to lock people down like it was done earlier in the year and since the spread from elsewhere in the world may have become more of a commonplace, beyond the capacity of Africa in terms of containment efforts and needed resources for ensuring same. Of the various nations and regions in the world, European countries should be a source of concern for Africa in terms of Coronavirus re-emergence. The two regions stand the risks of circulating the infection for some time for a number of reasons. What affects Europe should be of concern to Africa in the same way Europe should be concerned about what happens to Africa. In a wider context, Africa and Europe need to re-examine their relationship within the framework of mutual threats and benefits. It is therefore important for both regions to recognise common opportunities and common predicaments.
Europe and Africa have shared future in a number of areas. Colonial history of Europe in Africa has shaped the present and will shape the future of Africa. In turn, the present is being shaped in Europe by Africa and will be more profoundly shaped in the future by Africa. Many things will be responsible. First is the geographical proximity of the two continents, separated by the Mediterranean Sea, while the two are closest at the Strait of Gibraltar. Many countries in North Africa and northern parts of the sub-Saharan Africa are just few hours’ flight away from Europe, compared with Middle East, Asia, North America or Latin America. This proximity will continue to favour trade, travels, tourism and transnational cooperation on either side of the divide. The proximity has, however, become a source of worry as many African migrants have chosen to migrate – legally or illegally – to Europe, either as a destination or transit route to other parts of the world, particularly the US. Between 2014 and 2017, the number of sub-Saharan African asylum applicants to Europe has grown steadily from 139,000 to 164,000 in 2015, to 196,000 in 2016, declining to 168,000 in 2017.
These illegal migrations are not without adverse consequences as many die while crossing the desert countries of North Africa or while crossing the Mediterranean as refugees and asylum seekers. It has been surmised that, 4.4 per cent of an estimated 11.9 million global migrant population come from Northern Africa and Europe is one of their destinations. Sadly, many of them do not escape the same economic crisis that led to their emigration even after their successful arrival in Europe or elsewhere. Upon arrival and settling down, many resort to criminal activities to get by. The illegal migration and the unsavoury outcomes at their destination have thus drawn the attention of natives to ugly trends, resulting in political tensions and some forms of intolerance or xenophobia within the receiving countries in Europe – one reason why Europe cannot afford to ignore Africa. Although the sub-Saharan migration to the United States is growing, the Pew Research Centre has shown that at least a million sub-Saharan Africans moved to Europe since 2010. The Pew Research Centre hinted that Nigeria and Ghana have been major sources of sub-Saharan migrants to both Europe and the United States. For the US, in particular, it stated that more than half – 51 per cent – of sub-Saharan African migrants living in the U.S. as of 2017 were born in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya, citing migrant population data from the United Nations.
Although the Council on Foreign Relations, in its reference to the European Commission, disclosed that migrant and refugee arrivals in Europe via the Mediterranean Sea were “134,004 as of December 5, 2018, down from 179,536 during the same period in 2017,” it was clear that the countries closest to the Mediterranean suffer most in the migrant crisis, particularly Spain, Italy and Greece. Only few weeks ago, the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece, was razed down by fire, leaving 13,000 without shelter until the government began to provide alternative shelter arrangement and some thousands among them were moved out to mainland Europe where willing nations would, hopefully, absorb them. In addition to economic inequality and relatively poorer development in Africa, environmental and political instability contribute greatly to the causes of emigration. Sadly, the African regional body such as the African Union has not been able to make any remarkable impact in prevailing on countries to stem the tide of illegal migration. A number of treaties and declarations have not achieved any significant mitigating impacts. Looking at some regional migration laws and policies might suffice. To what extent has the Joint Africa-EU Declaration on Migration and Development of 2006 or the Ouagadougou Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings Especially Women and Children of 2006 helped, as more and more people keep falling into the traps of desperate journeys? It will help to know the impact of the African Union (AU) Common Position on Migration and Development, AU Migration Policy Framework for Africa or the Declaration on the Establishment of Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Regional Consultative Process (IGAD-RCP) on Migration of 2008.
In this piece, attention will be focused on Europe in the search for some practical solutions. Realising that Europe is continually overwhelmed by the migrants, especially of African origin, the EU needs to take some steps beyond political solution. A business case could be made for reducing the migrants’ attraction for Europe and increasing their affinity for the home countries in Africa. Food security is a major problem of African countries. The EU could collaborate in solving this in part by taking part of the funds it uses for promoting its subsidy regimes under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and spending on boosting agricultural investment among the teeming African youth that dream of emigrating in the absence of hope for self-fulfilment at home. The same can be done to support Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) all across Africa. Through such arrangements, business champions can be groomed, who will become role models and would instil confidence in thousands of others, preventing them from embarking on dangerous journeys to the unknown. Africa has a number of growing philanthropic organisations that could serve as partners with Europe in the implementation of such ideas. Examples are Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Tony Elumelu Foundation, Steve Masiyiwa Foundation, among others.
Two events are happening in Europe and Africa in opposite direction now: while the predominant population of Europe is ageing, Africa is currently experiencing the youth bulge of about 60 per cent of its population under the age of 25. Europe, by contrast, has only about 27 per cent youthful population and another quarter of the population being the elderly above 60 years, whereas this age group in Africa is just about five per cent of the population. While many European countries face increasing challenges in keeping their farmers in production, Africa has the good prospect of becoming the last frontier for feeding the globe because of the vast swathe of arable land yet unused. The EU must therefore strengthen its ties with Africa, for supply of food, human labour and other items of trade. The relationship must increasingly emphasise inclusive and sustainable development at its very core, with a thorough understanding of the complex local dynamics and demands. It should occupy a prominent place in EU-Africa relations. The EU must also reckon with the increasing prospects of Africa in the global value chain, away from export of raw materials in commodity trades to the export of processed and finished products. Africa, in turn, needs partnership with the EU in setting and implementing climate stewardship standards for resilience. The long history of Europe’s involvement with Africa is a major reason why the EU must be close to Africa and be supportive of its development. Undoubtedly, Europe has the capacity to help with Africa’s economic transformation. Sadly, however, the EU seemed – for whatever reasons – to have been contented with the enlargement of the political bloc and its internal market, thus gradually downplaying the relevance of other regional arrangements, especially the African-Caribbean and Pacific (ACP), with which it embarked on negotiations spanning over decades as the importance and the effectiveness of such relationships have eroded in recent years.
Concluding, the EU needs to support Africa by investing in human capital within the continent. As manufacturing companies in Europe face high operational costs due to the cost of labour, Africa has great prospects in attracting European manufacturing businesses to take advantage of relatively lower labour cost, especially in the lower value-added activities, where they remain competitive. More and more areas of partnership and collaboration could be explored for the mutual benefits of Africa and Europe. The bottom line is: Africa needs Europe just as Europe needs Africa. But Africans no longer necessarily need to abandon the continent in search of green pasture in Europe. The green pasture could be cultivated right on African soil; and Europe must be prepared to help Africa to overcome some of its socio-economic and political problems. In doing so, Europe is helping itself.
Frontpage September 29, 2020