Letter to European Commission President on Migrant Crisis
Dear Excellency Ursula von der Leyen, Perhaps it is a tad unfair to pick on you, but as I suspect we will both agree, personal feelings are far from being an issue in this self-initiated conversation.
My explanation is that at the moment, as the President of the European Commission, you represent the European conscience, such as it is; by extension, the collective West can be roped into your moral jurisdiction. I, on the other hand, hope that my side of the discourse will represent the perspectives of Africans, who, as a collective, cannot be differentiated from victims of our relationship dating back more than half a millennium.
The urge to write to you came to me when you rushed emergency-style to inspect for yourself more than 8,000 migrants, most of them described by various media outlets as coming from sub-Saharan Africa, who had arrived on the shores of Lampedusa in Southern Italy in one day.
You went there in response to the “migrant problem” Europe has on its hands. It is easy to understand your panic response. This year, according to a story in the French newspaper Le Monde, almost 126,000 migrants have arrived on Italy’s shores, up from 65,000 in the same period last year.
While in Italy, you pledged action to help Italy’s crisis-hit island during a visit after the island was left struggling to cope with an influx of migrants. There was no such pledge to the migrants.
The question to ask is this: why are hundreds of thousands of young Africans investing in the dubious privilege of risking their lives in unsafe boats across choppy seas to get to Europe? In their responses to the “migrant crisis”, European leaders have avoided this question preferring instead to look at the problem as if it were a maritime issue for which sea blockades and pacing barriers have been tried as solutions. Indeed, the Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni is pushing for a European Union naval blockade to prevent boats from crossing the Mediterranean to reach Italian shores.
Some governments pretend that this is a simple “refugee crisis” for which the most ridiculous responses, such as the case of Britain shipping them to Rwanda, have been offered. These have not worked because they have not addressed the real issue.
The time has come to have an adult conversation about this problem. Europe is not happy, and you wouldn’t think that the hordes arriving on European shores are happy tourists enjoying the Mediterranean breeze. So you’re not happy, they are not happy, no one is happy; why don’t we address the issue logically from its source?
Addressing irregular migration from Africa to Europe is a complex challenge that requires a multifaceted approach, including addressing the main root cause, which is the lack of economic opportunities, at home here in Africa.
The fundamental cause of this destabilisation has been known for centuries. This has been expressed most succinctly by the late great writer, Ama Ata Aidoo. [Since] “Some 500 years ago, we’ve given everything for nothing. You are still taking… Where would the whole Western world be without Africa? Our cocoa, our timber, our gold, our diamonds, our platinum, our whatever….Everything”.
That is the crux of the matter. Europe and the West have taken everything they want either through direct force or force in other guises. Under colonial rule, every African endowment that could be taken was appropriated.
Africa got nothing in return, but that was not enough. We had to pay for nothing, and in many ways, we continue to pay even today. There is a straightforward question here: in what logical market would the buyer solely determine the price of the commodity? This is what has happened to our “trade” with Western countries even in post-colonial times.
The result is that while African resources have enriched the West, Western enterprises have impoverished Africa. The West has used every means at its disposal to ensure that its dominance over our resources continues without disruption.
This has included the worst forms of degradation that can be visited upon any portion of the human race. Colonialism and slavery are mere words that hide the enormity of crimes committed against Africa and its people as we gave you everything and got nothing in return. Change the past tense to the present because we continue to give.
The human beings arriving on European shores are products of an unfair and unjust system now codified in neoliberal linkages in terms to which per our own leaders’ signatures, the pillaging continues in broad daylight. The effect is that Africa’s youth are not only living a horrendous present, they are facing a hopeless future at home.
Some of them, the ones whose skills you need are enticed in through the front door; the others who brave the Sahara and the Mediterranean are treated worse than chattel. They are the problem we are talking about. They are the humans counted as a problem of numbers.
Your Excellency, do you know how much Africa loses to the West every year? I don’t either. No one knows. There are estimates, guesses and guesstimates, and that is as far as we can go because the triplicates of billions which must form the computational baseline of the biggest theft in global history is hard for our minds to form, hold and communicate. If we must define the “problem”, this ought to be the starting position.
You are familiar with the proverb "As you sow, so shall you reap", which encapsulates the theme of cause and effect, emphasising that the outcomes we experience are directly linked to our actions and choices.
When applied to the European exploitation of African resources and its impact on the migration crisis, this saying conveys a powerful message. The message is that if we want to solve the problem of the dangerous migrations into Europe, we must sow seeds that will yield that result. In the past and currently, Europe is sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind. If we don’t address matters, it will turn into a tornado.
Your Excellency, the proverb also offers hope and a path forward. If European nations and other global actors take responsibility for the consequences of their actions and adopt fair and sustainable practices in their interactions with Africa, they can help reverse the negative effects that have contributed to the migration crisis.
I remain, as usual, per my email: