Monday, July 9, 2018 at 7:37 AM

Colonial Ties Have Europe in Knots Over African Migration

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Sadly, the tragedy of African migrants dying in the Mediterranean Sea has become even more commonplace than the tragedy of American blacks dying in encounters with the police.

According to the International Organization for Migration, 1,412 migrants lost their lives on the latter-day Middle Passage – from Africa to Europe – just this year (as of July 5). This brought the tally for whom the bell tolled to 9,586 since 2014, when this crisis reached the tipping point … of no return.

Frankly, there seemed (indeed seems) no end to Africans fleeing their homes to be free. Here is how I bemoaned this (with apologies to Shakespeare) in “Europe’s Migrant Crisis: Sowing Seeds of Unintended but All Too Foreseeable Consequences,” September 7, 2015:

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,

So too will Africans take to the sea;

All changing place with those who went before,

In droves these poor souls will continue to flee.


‘Europe’s migrant crisis can be solved only in Africa,’ President Macron said in Nigeria yesterday. … ‘We need more Africans to succeed in Africa. … These people, given the magnitude of this wave, cannot be accepted, at least, not all of them.’

(The Times, July 6, 2018)

Surely no self-respecting African would disagree. The problem is that African leaders are the ones who created the conditions that caused this crisis. Yet all they’re offering to solve it are hollow words.

This was the case following a recent emergency AU summit at which they established an African Observatory for Migration and Development to coordinate response:

‘Africa should not just react to decisions taken outside. We should have our own narrative,’ Mr Bourita, Morocco’s foreign minister, told the BBC.

To curb migration, African states needed to invest in young people, who were ‘an energy’, Mr Bourita said.

(BBC, July 7, 2018)

Except that African leaders are not even reacting to the decisions European leaders are taking to combat this crisis. For a little perspective, just imagine the eye-rolling exasperation in the United States if El Salvador’s foreign minister were quoted saying that Central American states needed to invest in young people to curb migration to the United States.

There’s no explaining this shameful salutary neglect by African leaders. But here is how I have expressed my abiding lament:

I just hope the damning irony is not lost on any proud African that, 50 years after decolonization, hundreds of Africans (men, women, and children) are risking their lives, practically every day, to subjugate themselves to the paternal mercies of their former colonial masters in Europe.

(“African Migrants Turning Mediterranean Sea into Vast Cemetery,” The iPINIONS Journal, February 12, 2015)

Which raises the question: Why are European leaders trying so much harder to solve this crisis than their African counterparts? Put another way: When are African leaders going to finally relieve their European counterparts of the presumptive “white man’s burden” that rationalized European (and American) imperialism throughout the late 19th and early 20th century?

Nothing betrays this neocolonial burden quite like the political capital German Chancellor Angela Merkel has spent. Most notably, her attempts to treat millions of African migrants humanely had her fending off threats not just to bring down her coalition government, but also to blow the European Union asunder.

Arguably, xenophobia and racism blind her European colleagues to the potential benefits of assimilating young Africans to compensate for Europe’s rapidly aging population.

I commented on how she and they have coped (and are coping) with the challenges of African migration in “Europeans Erecting Fences to Maintain Good Relations with African Neighbors,” October 8, 2005, “Migrant Invasion Causing Humanitarian Remorse in Germany,” September 28, 2015, “Merkel Betraying Migration Policy that Won Her ‘Person of the Year’,” December 21, 2015, and “Truth about Viral Image of (Another) Syrian Boy,” August 24, 2016.

Unfortunately, EU leaders have been vacillating for years between assimilating and repatriating these “tired …poor … tempest-tost” Africans. This was the case following a recent emergency EU summit at which they produced yet another wishy-washy resolution:

EU leaders agreed Friday controlled migrant processing centers would be set up on a voluntary basis to help distinguish between legitimate asylum seekers and undeserving migrants, who will be turned back.

Under the agreement, the locations of the screening centers will be in countries where migrants first arrive, but it’s not yet clear which countries will host the centers. Nations in northern Africa were previously mentioned as possible sites.

(UPI, June 29, 2018)

“Nations in northern Africa … mentioned as possible sites”? Talk about a no-brainer!

It is truly remarkable that European leaders have been so averse to acting pursuant to the elemental proverb of teaching Africans to fish instead of continually feeding them – no matter how paternal/neocolonial that might seem.

Which brings me back to African leaders. Because only a symbiosis of European colonial guilt  and African umbilical dependence explains why migrant processing centers were not set up in Africa years ago. Specifically, I submit that it’s because

  • Europeans remain guilt-ridden over their colonial exploitation of Africa; and
  • Africans remain hell-bent on blaming their former colonial masters for everything, including tribal conflicts, corruption, amorality, and general administrative incompetence, which make so many African nations a living hell.

I feel obliged to assert here that I am not only of African descent but of colonial heritage to boot. This means that I am among those with unique standing to decry this crisis and demand African leaders do more – if only as a matter of racial and continental pride.

Alas, I’ve been decrying and demanding for years to no avail. More to the point, as indicated above, I’ve done so in too many commentaries to count. But other notables include “Lampedusa Tragedy Highlights Europe’s ‘Haitian’ Problem,” October 7, 2013, “African Migrants Turning Mediterranean Sea into Vast Cemetery,” February 12, 2015, “World Refugee Day,” June 20, 2017, and “Africans Selling Africans as Slaves … Again,” December 18, 2017.

Therefore, instead of venting my prideful concerns and frustrations anew, I shall suffice to reprise an excerpt from “African Migrants (Still) Turning Mediterranean Sea into Vast Cemetery,” June 1, 2016. It highlights the symbiosis that is propelling the waves of African migrants who are washing up on European shores … in sequent distress.


For pan-African reasons, I have focused on African migrants fleeing chronic privation and predation across the Dark Continent. …

Given that reports on this crisis over the past 18 months have smacked of Groundhog Day, this excerpt from “African Migrants Turning Mediterranean Sea into Vast Cemetery,” February 12, 2015, now seems prescient:


This latest tragedy affirms my foreboding that the bobbing crucible at sea will never deter Africans from trying to escape their living hell at home.

The slogan ‘African solutions for African problems’ has gained considerable currency in recent years. Well, no African problem needs an African solution more than living conditions that compel so many Africans to migrate, come what may. The abiding shame is that African leaders show no interest in even trying to solve this problem.

Meanwhile, European leaders are accusing each other of not doing enough to rescue African migrants adrift at sea, fleeing the abject misery African leaders have wrought.

Indeed, no less a person than Pope Francis has entreated all European leaders to do more — the enabling spectre of neo-colonialism be damned. Here, according to Reuters, is the edict summoning their noblesse oblige, which he issued during an address before the European Parliament on November 25, 2014:

We cannot allow the Mediterranean Sea to become a vast cemetery.


Only ending never-ending conflicts and chronic economic stagnation in the countries of origin will end this migrant crisis.

This is why I remain convinced that the most humane and effective way to deal with it is to provide safe havens in those countries. And it behooves European leaders to coordinate with Arab and African leaders to do so by any means necessary – even if that means enforcing naval blockades. This might seem farfetched, but it makes far more sense than European countries building Berlin-style walls – as Hungary and others are doing – to keep migrants out. I elaborated on this in “Europe’s Migration Crisis…,” September 6, 2015.

All the same, I’m acutely mindful that people have been migrating in similar fashion for similar reasons since time immemorial. What’s more, I readily admit that, if I were living in one of the countries of origin affected, I too would be migrating to Europe … by any means necessary.

Finally, I cannot overstate the comeuppance this crisis portends for Europeans — who are reacting to these Arab and African migrants with such hysterical xenophobia and racism. After all, Europeans used to hurl self-righteous criticisms at Americans for reacting to Haitian and Hispanic migrants the same way. I elaborated on this in “Europeans Erecting Fences to Maintain Good Relations with African Neighbors,” October 8, 2005.


God help them –Europe’s good samaritans and Africa’s poor migrants alike.

Related commentaries:
Merkel migration policy
Viral image of Syrian boy
African migrants Med cemetery
Refugee day
Africans selling Africans

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