The propellers of the white UN plane whip up the fine desert sand. The aircraft takes off with a roar, carrying almost 100 Somali refugees: men, women, children, elderly. The safe neighboring country of Kenya has sheltered them for nearly a quarter of a century, but now the UN refugee agency UNHCR is taking them back to their homeland. Civil war is still raging in Somalia and the Islamist militia al-Shabaab controls large parts of the country, including the border region.

Until 2016, the world’s largest refugee camp was not in Syria or Turkey, but in Kenya. The vast city of white plastic tents in the middle of nowhere was called Dadaab. Almost half a million people lived here at the height of the war and drought in Somalia in 2011 and 2012. Dadaab does not appear on any map, but it became notorious for photographs of emaciated children dying in the desert sand. Now it will be demolished. Kenya will build a border fence in its place.

In 2016, Kenya’s government announced it would stop hosting refugees and set a deadline for Somali refugees to go home voluntarily.[1] The official reason was the terrorist threat. In 2013, gunmen in Nairobi killed at least 71 people and wounded up to 200 more, holding Westgate Shopping Mall under siege for several days. The attack decided the fate of Somali refugees: investigations led to Dadaab, 300 miles away, and framed refugees as the bad guys. Now the UNHCR is paying them $150 each to voluntarily board the plane. The authorities stress the term ‘voluntary’, since free choice is a condition for repatriation under the Geneva Refugee Convention.[2] But in reality, all sides are exerting pressure – particularly the Kenyan government, as the German daily taz describes.[3]

Somalis had once fled here on foot. The border is barely 60 miles from Dadaab: an invisible, perfectly straight line in the barren desert sand, no demarcation, no border posts, not even a barrier – a typical African border. Nomadic groups drive their cattle herds across these lines, which exist only on maps, especially during drought periods; herders must sometimes drive their cattle hundreds of miles to the nearest watering hole, across national borders, to keep them alive. Drought has haunted this region for centuries, most recently in spring 2017.

The days of free border crossings are over. ‘Whatever it is going to cost us,’ Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto emphasized, as he announced the construction of a wall along the border with Somalia in 2015 – almost 435 miles long, right through the desert.[4] Like many African borders, it is still disputed. On top of that, oil has been discovered in the disputed territory; every square foot could be worth a fortune and trigger a turf war. Kenya is getting down to business and staking its claim to a large part of the resources.[5] So refugees and terrorists from the neighboring country have to stay out. A wall solves many problems. Kenya follows the EU’s example.

Just a few months after the Deputy President’s announcement, the first excavators arrived, escorted by Kenya’s counterterrorism units. It’s a risky venture: al-Shabaab controls the region just across the border. Several attacks on engineers have halted the construction. The plans include fences and walls several yards high, surveillance cameras and patrol vehicles.[6] To cover the wall’s construction costs, Kenya increased its 2016/17 defense budget to $2.6 billion. This budget has been growing for some years. Kenya now spends more than any other African state on security and defense.[7] It invested most of the money in technology. Today, surveillance cameras are mounted all over Nairobi, and even supermarket or bank entrances have full-body scanners. The international airport was upgraded with surveillance technology so that it could offer direct flights to the USA again, a business worth billions.

German companies have also been attracted by these major contracts for the new border facility and the airport. In 2015, the German Chamber of Commerce Abroad (AHK) in Nairobi organized a ‘market reconnaissance trip’ for civil security technologies to Kenya. The agenda included meetings with the defense minister and counterterrorism units. Germany’s leading defense and security firms expressed their interest: Airbus Defence and Space (formerly EADS), Siemens and Rheinmetall.[8] In the end, however, Kenya awarded the contract to Israeli company Magal Security, which also offered to build the border wall with Mexico for President-elect Donald Trump.

When Trump announced during his campaign that he wanted to erect a barrier along the southern US border, many Europeans jeered. However, the EU is the border-building pioneer – even in other countries. Along the border between Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the EU has recently built ten ‘border infrastructure sites’ to stop drug trafficking.[9]

Saudi Arabia boasts one example of a high-tech border ‘Made in the EU’. Three parallel fences supported by 21-foot-high sand walls run straight through the desert. Any approach is detected by underground motion sensors, cameras or one of the 50 radar systems in surveillance towers or patrolling jeeps. The system instantly sends all information to a control center; over 9,000mi of fiber-optic cable ensure fast data connections, and 3,400 border guards are on duty.[10]

The European defense corporation EADS (now Airbus) delivered this luxury border gear to the kingdom in 2009. It upgraded the 560-mile border with Iraq to an anti-terrorist wall for about $2.3 billion in an all-inclusive package spanning requirements analysis to border guard training by the German Federal Police. The officers’ allowances and travel costs were paid by the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ), which received Saudi funds through EADS.[11] The close ties between the development agency GIZ and the armaments industry are no coincidence: after leaving the Cabinet in 2013, German Development Minister and GIZ client Dirk Niebel became chief lobbyist of the Düsseldorf-based arms maker Rheinmetall. This company is expanding its portfolio of border control, sensor systems and surveillance drones. ‘I can’t use foot patrols to secure miles of borders between Libya and Egypt. They need protection technology as well,’ Niebel says in a February 2018 interview. The defense lobbyist explains: ‘Protection technology does not always mean erecting walls or fences. It can also be sensors, ground penetrating radar, flying objects – depending on the topography and general conditions, the possibilities are very diverse.’ Niebel asserts: ‘The technology is available. It just has to be paid for. And that’s usually the bottleneck you can’t get through. The countries that need these technologies often don’t have the means for what they would require to really do the job effectively. And if it’s in Europe’s and in Germany’s interest to implement such protective measures, then it must also be in their interest, first, to finance these measures where necessary, and second, to train the people who will work with them.’[12]

Fortified border fences with automatic firing systems

The EU has already penetrated Africa with the fences around the Spanish exclaves in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla. Migrants have stormed the fences often over the years, usually injuring themselves severely. The Spanish company ESF is regarded as the leading manufacturer of NATO wire worldwide. Its razor-sharp blades can sever human tendons effortlessly. ESF tested its deadly wire on the fences of Ceuta and Melilla and later sold it to Greece, Hungary and Turkey.[13] The Turkey deal was not just a political move; it was also a technical upgrade to the EU’s anti-migration shield. The border wall with Syria is monitored by drones and reportedly equipped with smart watchtowers. When they sense an approach within 300 yards, the towers first emit a warning in three languages and then fire automatically.[14] This equipment was manufactured by the emerging Turkish armaments company Aselsan, whose research budget for border fortifications comes from the European innovation fund Horizon 2020.[15]

In the 2017 Africa-Frontex Intelligence Community Joint Report, the European border control agency lists all African border fences fortified so far. In the 1980s, Morocco built around 1,700mi of border walls, secured with landmines and high watchtowers, against the Polisario Front rebels. There are already about 90mi of fence between Morocco and Algeria. Over 100mi of fence reinforce the border between Tunisia and Libya. With US aid, a wall is currently being erected between Niger and Nigeria to fend off the Boko Haram militia. According to Frontex, all these high-tech facilities are meant to protect against terrorists and smugglers, but also against migrants: ‘This artificial border also affects the migratory movements to the northern shores of Morocco towards Spain,’ states the report.[16] What the EU justifies as counter-terrorism combats all forms of migration in many places.

From ‘Central Asia … to Central Africa’, the EU is expanding its fortress by investing all the way to the equator in the ‘resilience of states’, according to the June 2016 EU strategy paper for its new common foreign and security policy to ‘guarantee Europe’s security’ and ‘sustainable peace’. As ‘crises’ plague the EU’s neighboring states, the EU ‘must counter the spill-over of insecurity’.[17]

In April 2016, Europe’s foreign and defense policymakers met for their annual conference in Paris. It was a symbolic location; the French capital had been under a state of emergency since the November 2015 terrorist attacks. The EU could no longer regard itself as a protected island in world affairs, warned the French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault. Europe had enemies, Europe had opponents, he thundered,[18] and added Europe would finally have to face this. He pinpoints the opponents not only in Syria, but also in Libya and the Sahel: in Africa. There, the EU should fight against people smugglers, human traffickers, passport forgers, and open or non-existent borders. The new EU defense strategy demands ‘homeland security’ – just like the USA after the September 11 attacks.[19]

To European policymakers, the neighboring continent is full of dangers. This shows in Frontex’ annual risk analyses, as well as the ‘African intelligence community’ reports, which focus mainly on migration flows.[20] Frontex Director Fabrice Leggeri opens the 2016 Risk Analysis by citing ‘1.8 million detections of illegal entries into Europe’. The migration ‘chaos’ of 2015, he writes, was ‘unlike almost any other year since World War II’.[21]

A fundamental pillar of the EU is the Schengen Agreement. However, when hundreds of thousands of refugees entered the Schengen Area via Greece and the Balkan route in 2015, EU member states were forced to close their national borders again. This shook the Union’s foundations. ‘Our aim is to lift all internal border controls as quickly as possible, and by December 2016 at the latest,’ states an internal Commission paper to the EU Parliament in March 2016.[22] However, this implies that the EU’s external borders need more protection, so Fortress Europe’s walls are now cutting into Africa.

What’s more, the Defence Action Plan drawn up by the EU Commission in November 2015 after the Paris attacks sees the real danger in Europe’s limited military capacity. National armies throughout Europe maintained 19 different types of infantry combat vehicles, the document states. The USA, by contrast, deployed only one type of tank, which was cheaper. EU states had cut defense budgets too far; they no longer invested in research and development of new security technologies. A secure Europe could only succeed if everyone worked together – to build a common defense industry.[23]

Europe’s leading military powers, especially Germany, France and the United Kingdom had so far been reluctant to join in. The German government had stuck to its principle that the Bundeswehr should buy from German manufacturers only. The scandal around the faulty G36 assault rifle, however, changed this attitude. Defence Minister von der Leyen and her French counterpart signed a declaration of intent for a joint air transport squadron in October 2016. The Bundeswehr is now supplying helicopters for Frontex to track down smuggler boats in the Mediterranean. ‘This shows how cooperation can work in Europe,’ said von der Leyen.[24]

Smart turnstiles and satellites over Africa

The common key technology of the future is Integrated Border Management (IBM), which the EU developed and first used in the Balkan states and later in Afghanistan.[25] It refers to ‘intelligent’ border posts, which let travelers with electronic identity papers pass easily and quickly, since their databases are connected to all relevant authorities: immigration, security, customs. Border control turnstiles scan the biometric passport and match the chip’s stored data real-time with global databases such as INTERPOL in order to track down potential terrorists or forged identity documents. IBM is also supposed to make customs processing simpler and safer. Border guards can use heartbeat monitors, breath scanners and x-rays to detect stowaways in trucks. The small but highly sensitive devices are expensive: a single truck scanner can cost a good $1.7 million.

Europe’s top defense and security companies have discovered IBM as a new, almost civilian market. Unlike major military projects, European suppliers work closely together here. Over 40 companies were involved in the construction of the border barrier in Calais, France alone – and it is barely over three miles long.[26] Beyond the barrier, all other possible ways across the border are sealed off by miles of fences and also monitored from the air.

The power behind EU border surveillance is the European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR). Since December 2013, drones have been monitoring the southern EU borders, supported by geostationary satellites over the Mediterranean. Boats along the coasts, trucks in the desert or wandering migrants – Frontex can watch them all live at its headquarters in Warsaw. Spain operates a smaller satellite monitoring system, Seahorse, in cooperation with Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde.[27] A joint system is currently being set up with Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt. According to the European Commission, EUROSUR cost the EU over $380 million.[28] However, a study by the Heinrich Böll Foundation of Germany estimates that it cost at least $994 million, including development costs.[29]

Since 2002, the EU has funded 56 projects with $359 million for border technology research. Leading defense companies such as Airbus Defence and Space, Thales of France, BAE Systems of the UK, the Italian group Leonardo-Finmeccanica, the Spanish company Indra, as well as the German Fraunhofer Institute, and even Israeli and Turkish companies had access to EU funds. They equipped the EU borders in Bulgaria and Hungary with the latest technology, like a high-precision Airbus radar system that can detect even the smallest objects 137 miles away.[30] Not even a fly can get through.

Dominant lobby groups based in Brussels are the force that drives EU investments in new technologies like border security. The most powerful lobbyist is the European Organisation for Security (EOS), headed by ex-Thales manager Luigi Rebuffi. There is also the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD), whose chairperson Mauro Moretti was also the head of Leonardo SpA (then Finmeccanica), as well as the think tank Friends of Europe. In recent years, these influential lobbyists have set up ‘working groups’: within the EOS, the Intelligent Borders Working Group, led by French companies Safran and Thales, or the Border Surveillance Working Group, headed by Italian electronics firm Selex. Technology partnerships link these working groups indirectly to Europe’s major corporations. For example, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen developed off-road vehicles that can be upgraded for border patrols. Over the past five years, Airbus has invested at least $8.5 million in lobbying; Finmeccanica and Thales each invested over $1 million.[31] Now this must pay off. The new technology has to go somewhere, preferably outside of Europe.

The African continent with its thousands of miles of invisible borders is the ideal market. With the escalating threat of terrorism, many African governments are following Kenya’s example: they want support to combat it, preferably in the form of EU equipment and training. By the same token, they are awarding contracts to international companies. Whether at the Airbus-sponsored Border Management & Technologies Summit in Ankara in March 2016, the annual Border Security Conference in Rome or the World Border Security Congress in Morocco in March 2017, Africans number increasingly among the participants, for example, the ECOWAS migration department director, as well as representatives of the Nigeria Immigration Service and the Ghanaian National Identification Authority.[32]

At the same time, the EU ensures that African governments must adhere to the logic of intelligent border controls, if necessary by force. ‘Integrated border management would benefit both the prevention of irregular migration and the fight against all types of trafficking,’ says a European Commission internal strategy paper on negotiations with Nigeria. Further, it states that money from the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa can be used to this end.[33] Hence, EU development funds may be spent to arm African states. The EU had already supported the establishment of a Nigerian migration police force. ‘Security and border control’ are major interests of the EU in Côte d’Ivoire, according to another internal Commission document.[34] The EU also suggests integrated border management for Mali as a transit country. ‘Support in the area of border management and control’ was important to Mali, and ‘equipment is a frequent request’,[35] writes the Commission to the Committee of Permanent Representatives of the Member States, which prepares EU Council meetings.

Upgrading borders with high-tech equipment is expensive, and hardly any African state can afford it. So EU member states pay out of their own pockets, motivated to secure lucrative contracts for domestic defense companies. In 2016, for example, the German Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office provided nearly $14 million from their joint budget for ‘strengthening partner countries in the area of security, defence and stabilisation’,[36] which is also used to fund security projects in Iraq, Jordan, Mali and Nigeria. A further $45 million were planned for Tunisia in 2017, according to a speaker for the Ministry of Defence. The EU is also contributing almost $16 million for Tunisian border upgrades. German Federal Police are training Tunisian border guards, while the Bundeswehr is providing speedboats and armored trucks. In 2017, the German government promised mobile surveillance systems with ground reconnaissance for the Tunisian-Libyan border. Airbus has supplied five night surveillance systems, 25 thermal imaging cameras, 25 optical sensors and five radar systems to Tunisia for training purposes. The German government paid for the devices with taxpayer money.[37] Tunisia gets its high-tech border virtually free.

The EU has earmarked more than $6.8 billion through 2020 to protect its external borders. Of this, $3.2 billion comes from its Internal Security Fund (ISF) and $1.9 billion from the EU Security Research Programme (ESRP). Around $1.7 billion are estimated for Frontex and EUROSUR. In addition, there are cash injections for non-member states: around $75.6 million to Libya, $18 million to Mauritania, $16 million to Lebanon and $26 million to Tunisia, according to a study by the Transnational Institute and the Dutch NGO Stopt Wapenhandel.[38]

Europe also financed border security measures in Mali and Niger. In 2016, the Cabinet of Germany decided to send up to 20 officials to Niger, a major transit country in the Sahara, as part of the Federal Foreign Office’s ‘Police Programme Africa’ implemented by GIZ. Niger received nine police stations on the border with Nigeria for around $1.6 million, three of which were paid for by the German Foreign Office and the other six by the EU. Germany donated nine pickup trucks costing $307,000 and 12 motorcycles costing $11,400 each to Niger’s border force, plus border police training sessions. In Chad, a facility was built on the border with Cameroon. The third phase of the police program, which was to run until 2018, planned to support police structures in Mauritania, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Sudan. The German government also funded INTERPOL’s Operation Adwenpa II, which trained border guards in 14 West African countries from 2016 to 2018.[39]

‘The African market is definitely interesting, because there’s a demand there,’ an Airbus spokesperson stated on enquiry. But the company found access difficult because Africa lacked ‘responsible local business partners who meet our high standards’. It was much easier for corporations to supply individual products like radar technology or cameras. Therefore, border security programs paid for by the German Foreign Office or the EU ensure companies’ access to African markets. ‘Generally, we consider all states facing the problem of illegal border crossings to be potential users of border security systems. We are also talking with individual African states in this direction,’ confirms a Rheinmetall spokesperson. But it was ‘still too early to speak of concrete projects’. As usual, when it comes to lucrative contracts, European security and defense companies are reluctant to show their hand. A spokesman for Airbus DS Electronics and Border Security (Germany) says: ‘Our customers insist that we not talk about their procurement projects.’ In 2016, Airbus announced its intention to open a subsidiary in Nigeria.[40]

Airbus delivered a Heron 1 surveillance drone to German armed forces stationed in Mali as part of MINUSMA, the UN mission there.[41] The Italian company Leonardo-Finmeccanica provided 15 surveillance helicopters to Algerian border troops. Airbus boasts on its website that it has supplied its Spexer radar, specially developed for border surveillance, to three West and North African countries. In 2015, a Dutch offshoot of French armaments giant Thales equipped the Egyptian navy with radar technology worth $38.7 million. Aerodata, a Braunschweig-based aircraft technology specialist, outfits aircraft and helicopters with radar systems worldwide. The Maltese air force ordered three systems at once and the EU’s ISF paid part of the cost. Aerodata has also become interested in Africa recently: the company promoted its products in Kenya and Tanzania in 2015, when airports there planned security technology upgrades.

Development aid on the wrong track

The German GIZ was founded as a state corporation for technical development cooperation. Its main clients so far have been the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Back in 2011, GIZ and the Federal Ministry of Defence (BMVg) closed an agreement on cooperation at home and abroad.[42] GIZ still hesitates to accept contracts directly from the BMVg. Lately, however, GIZ has been handling an increasing number of contracts for the Federal Foreign Office in which the BMVg is closely involved. The major aim of these programs is to support partner countries in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking, according to an internal paper from the two ministries dated May 2016.[43] In March 2017, GIZ held a conference with the BMVg in Berlin. It was their first public presentation of the joint projects consisting primarily of programs in Africa.

Hence, GIZ is now improving border security in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. In Burkina Faso it provides ‘expert advice on developing an integrated border management policy’, and it advises Mali ‘on revision of national border policy’, states the German government. In Chad and Mauritania, GIZ also supports the equipment and training of border guards and construction of border stations. In Niger, GIZ supports the EU training mission EUCAP with ‘border protection and the fight against criminal smuggling’. German funds finance navy training in the Gulf of Guinea in cooperation with ECOWAS.[44]

Development can occur only when security is established, German Chancellor Merkel had declared in her opening speech at the G20 Partnership with Africa Conference in June 2017 in Berlin. This precondition was largely absent in Africa. She warned that new thinking would be necessary: ‘For a long time, we felt virtuous when we were not dealing with military equipment.’[45] This means that security and military training will now become essential components of Germany’s development policy. Europe’s defense industry is delighted.

In November 2017, African states were well represented at the world’s largest trade fair for security and border technology, the Milipol in Paris. Niger’s top generals came; delegations from African state ministries of interior and defense showed interest in the latest surveillance devices being promoted there. The industry is enjoying a hearty upswing. Lionel Le Cleï of French arms contractor Thales praises the newest smart border surveillance technologies at the Milipol. ‘If you want to prevent border crossings, there are diverse possibilities for surveillance, control and alarm,’ Le Cleï states in an interview. ‘The solution is like a Swiss Army knife, you can select what you need,’ he says, adding that Thales expects contracts from Frontex.[46]

Thanks to all these programs financed with European tax money, the market for border technology is estimated to grow from around $17 billion in 2015 to almost $40 billion by 2022, predicts the market research company Frost & Sullivan.[47] At the moment, American and Israeli companies still dominate this sector. Europe’s leading defense companies want to catch up – in Africa.

Biometrics: transparent Africans

European security corporations are at the fore in another lucrative area on the African continent: the market for biometric ID cards and travel documents. Biometric documents are an element of border security programs, as they enable rapid passage through modern border posts. According to 2016 World Bank statistics, around one-third of the estimated 1.2 billion Africans had never been officially registered.[48] There are various reasons: Many African countries have no civil registry since their last census was decades ago, or the government has not issued any identity cards. In the DR Congo, for example, a driver’s license or an election card, just laminated scraps of paper, serve as ID cards. Without digital databases at the civil registry office, the colorful paper files and blue-checkered register books typical of African authorities stack to the ceiling in damp cellars. Centralized data storage systems, networked computers, servers, fingerprint scanners, digital cameras, reading devices: high-tech border equipment costs a fortune. Once installed, it still often fails due to a lack of electricity in the desert. But there is international pressure to change this. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a specialized UN agency, set a deadline: since 2015, international travelers have been required to carry machine-readable passports. Morocco, Senegal, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Liberia have thus introduced biometric identity documents in recent years. The six-country East African Community (EAC) is investing in an ePassport project. Scanners are already operating at international airports in Cairo, Nairobi and Accra in Ghana.[49]

The global biometrics market is booming. The research institute MarketsandMarkets assumes an annual growth rate of 19.9 percent through 2023.[50] Africa is the ideal market: over one billion people will be needing digital ID cards, passports or driving licenses. African states often award contracts to security document makers such as Bundesdruckerei in Berlin, which prints blank passports for Libya’s transitional government, for example.[51] Sudan has also declared interest.

‘Modern travel documents have a built-in microchip which stores the bearer’s biometric characteristics,’ explains IT expert Eric Töpfer of the German Institute for Human Rights.[52] Fingerprints, face shape, iris scans will soon be centrally stored and retrievable. EURODAC is one of the four EU biometric databases soon to be merged into one. According to the European IT agency EU-LISA, the fingerprints of more than 2.7 million asylum seekers across Europe were stored in EURODAC at the end of 2014, and the trend is rising.[53] ‘Currently the EU is working intensively on merging its databases. Since July 2015, police and law enforcement authorities of EU member states and Europol have also been able to access EURODAC for investigations,’ says Töpfer. Groups already marginalized would thus be profiled as suspects in the name of fighting terrorism. ‘The fact that the other databases also serve mainly to control migration shows how important biometric technology has become in this field.’

According to Frontex, more than 9,400 people were caught entering the EU with forged or borrowed travel documents in 2014 alone. In addition, there were almost 10,000 arrests at borders within the Schengen area that year. The EU border agency, which will be responsible for repatriations across Europe, called the identification of asylum seekers one of its ‘most pressing challenges’ in its 2016 risk analysis.[54] The European Commission, citing information from the European Police Office (Europol), speaks in a September 2016 paper of ‘increased document fraud in high-risk areas’. The document speaks of ‘threats to internal security’. Secure travel and identity documents ‘are crucial whenever it is necessary to establish without doubt the identity of a person’.[55]

Biometric identification is essential for deportation. Many migrants cannot prove their identity or have gotten by with forged passports. Hence, authorities cannot determine to which country they should be deported. In Germany, over 70 percent of asylum procedures handle seekers ‘without any identity documents’, according to January 2015 statistics[56] from the Central Register of Foreign Nationals. This has led to massive complications: ‘The lack of proof of identity among asylum seekers and persons obliged to leave the country is still quantitatively the most significant problem in implementing measures to terminate residence.’[57] Deportation to ‘countries without a functioning registration system’ is particularly ‘difficult’, states a 2013 study by the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). A deportation delay of one year can quickly add up to over $13,000.[58]

An imminent ‘system collapse’ would be ‘unavoidable’ without appropriate precautions, warns the Federal and State-level Workgroup on Repatriations (AG Rück) in an April 2015 evaluation of German repatriation practice.[59] Hence, at the November 2015 Valletta Summit on migration, the EU and over 30 African states adopted an Action Plan.[60] The plan announced extensive EU support for the ‘modernisation’ of civil registries and secure identity documents: biometric development aid, so to speak.

The EU has invested $5.7 million to develop the West African Police Information System (WAPIS).[61] The idea is that up to 17 states between Mauritania and Nigeria should store fingerprints collected by police in a central database, which INTERPOL could access in the future. This means that African biometric data could also be accessed in Europe. Pilot projects have been running in Ghana, Mali, Niger and Benin since 2015. The system is also intended for border controls and identifying forged documents. ‘This brings mass matching of data from undocumented African migrants for deportation purposes within reach,’ says Töpfer of the German Institute for Human Rights.

On his trip to the Maghreb in early 2016, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière proved that these are not just tales spun by privacy activists. Morocco had already agreed to biometric data matching for deportations, he announced.[62] About two weeks later, Veridos, a joint venture of the German Bundesdruckerei GmbH and Giesecke&Devrient (G&D) based in Munich, publishes a press release stating that Morocco has awarded it the contract to ‘develop and implement a national border control system’. The contract includes biometric scanners, passport readers, automated gates and servers for 1,600 checkpoints.[63]

Contracts like these are a strategically valuable investment for African states to control their own populations, but they are expensive. Introduction of biometric databases usually goes hand in hand with a switch to electronic voting systems. Before voters are allowed to cast their ballot, they must provide their fingerprints or undergo an iris scan. This is supposed to prevent duplicate votes and facilitate voter turnout surveys. Yet, it opens the door to electoral fraud.

In many African countries, these e-systems tend to work poorly. Registered voters do not appear in the databases, or the devices fail on election day. Electronic voting systems have not necessarily increased confidence in election transparency, which is often controversial in Africa. On the contrary.[64] Rwanda is one example: in the August 2017 elections in this small country of just 10 million inhabitants, voters do not mark a cross on a ballot but leave their fingerprint next to their candidate’s photo. Civil society voices criticize that the vote is no longer anonymous, since the intelligence service can now conduct a mass comparison of fingerprints.[65] In 2015, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame won 98 percent in the referendum on amending the constitution to permit him a third term in office. Only around 100,000 voted against this – with their fingerprints.[66] 98.6 percent voted for him in the presidential elections in August 2017. Human rights organizations describe Rwanda as a surveillance state, but this complete control would not be possible without biometrics.

Since biometric technologies are key to retaining power, it is no surprise that these contracts are awarded by top-level officials, usually without a tendering procedure. Back in 2010, the German family enterprise Mühlbauer of Bavaria made headlines due to a shady deal. As the leader in the African ID document market, it supplies six African states. Its African base is in Uganda. In the middle of a night in 2010, company head Josef Mühlbauer met with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to close a contract worth over $70 million.[67] This disregarded Ugandan public procurement law, which requires a public tender. Mühlbauer later faced corruption allegations, and Uganda’s government canceled the deal.[68] In 2016, Uganda awarded a contract to the German company Veridos, which is partly a subsidiary of identity document manufacturer Bundesdruckerei. The contract encompassed printing all of Uganda’s security-relevant documents and proofs of identity, including passports, driving licenses, ID cards and bank notes.[69] Here, too, the government ignored its own procurement law.

In Cameroon, a similar case of corruption arose with G&D, one of Veridos’ parent companies.[70] G&D was already involved in a scandal in Zimbabwe when it printed banknotes for the country’s dictator Robert Mugabe during hyperinflation.[71] Mühlbauer’s biggest African customer is now Algeria, where lucrative contracts await. A European Commission internal strategy paper states that the country was ‘highly skeptical’ about a readmission agreement with the EU as a whole. Only a quarter of planned deportations of Algerians had been successful in 2014. Aiming to increase the state’s compliance, the EU Council proposed financial and technical support for ‘the further development of a biometric database’.[72]

The largest market in Africa is Nigeria. With 182 million inhabitants, Africa’s most populous country ranks second on the list of irregular migrants to the EU and is a hub for passport forgers. In March 2015, the EU signed a mobility agreement with Nigeria that envisions biometric technology to make identification documents more secure.[73] In February 2016, a European Commission internal paper proposed expanding a civil registry with biometric information.[74] Seven months later, Nigeria’s President presented a new eID. The catch is that US company MasterCard has turned the IDs into bank cards, locking in 100 million Nigerians as potential long-term customers. The cards are printed by Dutch chip card manufacturer Gemalto.[75] Africa’s market truly offers boundless opportunity.

  1. The Nation (2016) ‘Decision to close Dadaab refugee camp final, Ruto tells UN boss’, 23 May |
  2. UNHCR (2011) Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Geneva, April 2011 |
  3. Schlindwein, Simone (2016) ‘Abschied von Dadaab’, tageszeitung, 3 December |
  4. IRIN (2015) ‘Kenya’s anti-terror border wall sparks heated debate’, 27 April |
  5. Müller-Jung, Friederike (2016) ‘Kenia oder Somalia: Wem gehört das Öl unterm Meer?’ Deutsche Welle, 19 September |
  6. Nkala, Oscar (2016) ‘Kenya Begins to Build Wall Along Somali Border’ DefenseNews, 26 April |
  7. Business Daily (2017) ‘Nairobi leads EA arms race with Sh96 (3 million) billion military budget’, 25 April |
  8. Press briefing with trip participants, Berlin, 14 October 2016
  9. ‘EU-Border Management in Northern Afghanistan (BOMNAF)’, European Commission, International Projects and Development, Brussels (accessed 17 March 2019)|
  10. Blechschmidt, Peter (2011) ‘Hart an der Grenze’, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 15 July |
  11. Bundestags-Drucksache 17/10358, Berlin, 20 July 2012 |
  12. Interview with Dirk Niebel, Berlin, 9 February 2018
  13. Monroy, Matthias (2015) ‘“Klingendraht 22” aus Spanien: Das Symbol der Festung Europa’, Heise Online, 14 September |
  14. Yeni Şafak (2016) ‘Turkey starts building automatic shooting gun towers at Syrian border’, 30 May | and: Arkin, Dan (2017) ‘Turkey to Install New Air Defense Systems on Syria Border’, IsraelDefense, 6 February |
  15. ASELSAN (2017) Annual Report 2016, Ankara, February 2017, p. 23 |
  16. Frontex (2017) Africa-Frontex Intelligence Community Joint Report 2016, Warsaw, April 2017, p. 39 |
  17. European External Action Service (EEAS) (2016) Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe. A Global Strategy for the European Union's Foreign And Security Policy, Brussels, June 2016 |
  18. European Commission EUISS Annual Conference (2016) ‘Towards an EU Global Strategy: the final stage’, speech by French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Déclarations officielles de politique étrangère du 22 avril 2016, France Diplomatie, 22 April |
  19. European External Action Service (June 2016) p. 53
  20. Frontex (2016) Africa-Frontex Intelligence Community Joint Report 2015, Warsaw, 28 January |
  21. Frontex (2016) Risk Analysis for 2016, Warsaw, March 2016, p. 5 |
  22. European Commission (2016) ‘Back to Schengen – A Roadmap, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council’ Press release, Brussels, 4 March |
  23. In the authors’ archives: European Commission (2016) ‘European Defence Action Plan: Towards a European Defence Fund’, Press release, Brussels, 30 November |
  24. Jungholdt, Thorsten (2016) ‘Von der Leyen leistet gleich zwei Offenbarungseide’, N24, 6 October |
  25. European Commission (2010) Guidelines for Integrated Border Management in European Commission External Cooperation, Brussels, November 2010, p. 14 |
  26. ‘Calais Research 40 companies profiting from the eviction and border violence’, Calais Migrant Solidarity, 17 October 2016 |
  27. ‘“Seahorse” Projects: Present and Future’, Presentation by Lt. Eduardo León, Guardia Civil, Project on Integrated Maritime Policy in the Mediterranean (15 March 2019) |
  28. European Commission (2011) ‘EUROSUR: Providing authorities with tools needed to reinforce management of external borders and fight cross-border crime’, Press statement, Brussels, 12 December |
  29. Hayes, B. and Vermeulen, M. (2012) Borderline: The EU’s New Border Surveillance Initiatives – Assessing the Costs and Fundamental Rights Implications of EUROSUR and the “Smart Borders” Proposals’, Heinrich Böll Stiftung, Berlin, June 2012 |
  30. Akkerman, Mark (2016) Border Wars – The arms dealers profiting from Europe’s refugee tragedy, Transnational Institute and Stop Wapenhandel, 4 July |
  31. Grieger, Fabian and Schlindwein, Simone (2016) ‘Das Geschäft mit Hightech-Grenzen’, tageszeitung, 15 December |!5363960/
  32. World Border Congress (2017) Programme and List of Presenters, World Border Congress, Morocco, 21-23 March |
  33. EU Council and EEAS (2016) Joint Commission-EEAS non-paper on enhancing cooperation on migration, mobility and readmission with Nigeria, Brussels, 24 February, p. 6 |
  34. EU Council and EEAS (2016) Joint Commission-EEAS non-paper on enhancing cooperation on migration, mobility and readmission with Côte d’Ivoire, Brussels, 24 February, p. 5 |
  35. EU Council and EEAS (2016) Joint Commission-EEAS non-paper on enhancing cooperation on migration, mobility and readmission with Mali, Brussels, 24 February, p. 5 |
  36. Author’s archive, German Ministry of Defence (BMVg) and Federal Foreign Office (2016) ‘Projektliste Ertüchtigung’, Letter from the respective State Secretaries Drs. K. Suder and M. Ederer to committee representatives, listing planned reinforcement initiatives, 17 May, and: German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) ‘Working with GIZ ’ (accessed 17 March 2019) |
  37. Author’s archive, “Deutschlands Beitrag zur Unterstützung des Transformationsprozesses in Tunesien”’, Bundestags-Drucksache 18/4550,  2 April
  38. Akkerman (2016) pp. 26-29
  39. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) ‘Programm: “Stärkung der Funktionsfähigkeit von Polizeistrukturen in Subsahara-Afrika”’, ‘Fachexpertise: Ergebnisse’, (accessed 15 March 2019) |; and: GIZ (2017) ‘Police Programme Africa’ |; and: Bundestags-Drucksache 18/11307, 20 February 2017 |
  40. Company speakers quoted from interviews conducted by Fabian Grieger for the tageszeitung article: Grieger, F. and Schlindwein, S. (December 2016)
  41. Federal Ministry of Defense (BMVg) (2017) ‘Aufklärungsdrohne Heron: Das fliegende Auge über Mali’, BMVg press statement, Berlin, 1 February |
  42. Bundestags-Drucksache 17/10721, Berlin, 23 October 2012 |
  43. From the authors’ archives
  44. Bundestags-Drucksache 18-5895, Berlin, 1 September 2015 |
  45. Speech by German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel at the ‘G20 Africa Partnership – investing in a common future’, conference, Berlin, 12 June 2017 |
  46. Interview with Lionel Le Cleï, Paris Milipol, 21 November 2017
  47. Proctor, Keith (2015) ‘Europe’s Migrant Crisis: Defense contractors are poised to win big’, Fortune, 10 September |
  48. Identification for Development (ID4D) (2016) ID4D Country Engagement, Updated version, World Bank, 31 January |
  49. This and the following citations from research by: Welch Guerra, Paul (2016) ‘Durchsichtige Afrikaner’, tageszeitung, 9 December |!5361733/
  50. MarketsandMarkets (2018) Biometric System Market by Authentication Type, July 2018 |
  51. Gieseke&Devrient (2013) Geschäftsbericht G&D 2013, Annual Report 2013 |
  52. Interviewed by Paul Welch Guerra, Berlin, 21 November 2016
  53. EU Agency for the Operational Management of Large-Scale IT Systems in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice​ (eu-LISA) (2010) Biometrics in large-scale IT: Recent trends, current performance capabilities, recommendations for the near future, 6 October |
  54. Frontex (2016) Risk Analysis for 2016
  55. European Commission (2016) Enhancing security in a world of mobility: improved information exchange in the fight against terrorism and stronger external borders, Communicaton from the Commission to the Institutions, Brussels, 14 September, p. 10  |
  56. Ibid., p. 11
  57. Arbeitsgruppe Rückführung (AG Rück) (Federal- and State-level Workgroup on Repatriations) (2015) Bericht der Unterarbeitsgruppe Vollzugsdefizite, April 2015, p. 11 |
  58. Ibid.
  59. Ibid.
  60. EU Council (2015) Valletta Summit Action Plan, 11-12 November 2015, p. 8 |
  61. European Commission (2016) ‘EU Trust Fund Action Document for operational committee decisions’, Annex document, 4 October |
  62. ‘Marokko, Algerien und Tunesien sagen Rücknahme ihrer Staatsbürger zu’, German Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) press release, 29 February 2016 |
  63. ‘Veridos Supplies Innovative Border Control Solution to the Kingdom of Morocco’, Veridos press release, Berlin, 21 March 2016 |
  64. Mungai, Christine (2016) ‘Dirty hands: Why biometric voting fails in Africa – and it doesn’t matter in the end’, PaZimbabwe, 28 December |
  65. Rwanda News Agency (2010) ‘Local observers cite intimidation in presidential polls’, Kigali, 11 August |
  66. BBC (2015) ‘Rwanda vote allows Kagame to extend term in office’, 19 December |
  67. Knaup, Horand (2010) ‘Um Mitternacht im Palast’, Der Spiegel, 26 July |
  68. Kalungi, Nicholas (2013) ‘The national ID scandal’, Daily Monitor, 9 March |
  69. State House Uganda (2016) ‘“Uganda being liberated from slavery of importing security documents” – President’, State House press release, Kampala, 12 June |
  70. I-Cameroon (2012) ‘G & D au centre d'une controverse’, Douala, 25 October |
  71. Grill, Bartholomäus (2008) ‘Blutgeld aus Bayern’, Die Zeit No. 25/2008, 12 June |
  72. EU Council and EEAS (2016) Joint Commission-EEAS non-paper on enhancing cooperation on migration, mobility and readmission with Algeria Brussels, 9 February 2016, p. 11 |
  73. tagezeitung (2015) ‘Joint Declaration on a Common Agenda on Migration and Mobility between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the European Union and its Member States.’ Brussels, 12 March 2015, p. 6 |
  74. EU Council and EEAS (2016) Nigeria, 24 February 2016 p. 6 |
  75. Gemalto (2017) ‘Nigerian national ID program: an ambitious initiative’, Press release, 14 May 2017 |


Dictators as Gatekeepers for Europe Copyright © 2019 by Christoph Links Verlag GmbH. All Rights Reserved.

Share This Book