Monday, April 27, 2015

AU and the Mediterranean Sea: ceding Africa’s humanity to European protectionism?


For Europe, the Africans emigrating from the continent may be a burden they must stem, but we are the ones who must treat it as a continental emergency. We must work concertedly toward a better Africa, not only via strategic reports and plans delivered at AU summits but in our ability to respond to the challenges the people on the continent are facing. We must return to the Pan African path not only in words and meaning but in action

This past week, European Union (EU) leaders held an urgent meeting to discuss the influx of refugees illegally trying to reach their continent via the Mediterranean Sea. Yet despite the fact that the majority of those 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. The problem therefore appears to be more urgent for Europe and we, as Africans, are not treating this as a humanitarian crisis that requires our immediate attention.
Of course there are self- serving reasons for this. 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 Africans. Likewise African governments remain silent about their bad economic and political policies which have forced a great many to look for opportunities elsewhere. Some leaders have even blamed the NATO intervention in Libya which left the country with porous borders and no central government.
All the same, the overall muted response of the African Union is a cause for concern. 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 the crisis probably for lack of funding or lack of further prodding by affected member states.
The larger question however is why are people from countries such as Eritrea, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, the Gambia and Libya trying so hard to leave? The reasons are many: war, unemployment, political repression, Ebola outbreaks and a lack of opportunities to build a sustainable livelihood.
Coffins laid out in a warehouse in Lampedusa, Italy after a sunken boat killed 360 people. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
Coffins laid out in a warehouse in Lampedusa, Italy after a sunken boat killed 360 people. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
These are issues that are cited not only by those that decide to undertake the perilous journey across the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats (a journey that also includes being trafficked across the Sahel desert).  Even those few well off Africans who can 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 those reasons that remain most important for Africa to address much more concertedly.  This may seem a token point given the fact that there is already a development programme, Agenda 2063. It however becomes even more important when 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 just to get to 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 a coherent message from the AU creates the impression that this particular challenge can only be solved by the same people who would prefer that Africans don’t burden their political economies.
It is not only tragic but dehumanizing for many an African like myself to know that an increasing number of us are willing to die rather live here. It is even more distressing to know that our appointed representatives do not take this issue as seriously as they should.
A would-be immigrant crawls onto Gran Tarajal beach on Spain's Canary Island of Fuerteventura. Photo: Juan Medina/Reuters
A would-be immigrant crawls onto Gran Tarajal beach on Spain’s Canary Island of Fuerteventura. Photo: Juan Medina/Reuters
Even if some African leaders want to blame NATO and its liberal interventionism, the fact of the matter is that it is people from the continent who are drowning in the Mediterranean. 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 the continent may be a burden they must stem, but we are the ones who must treat it as a continental emergency.  We must work concertedly toward a better Africa, not only via strategic reports and plans delivered at AU summits but in our ability to respond to the challenges the people on the continent are facing.  We must return to the Pan African path not only in words and meaning but in action.

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