The world’s greatest superpower is paralyzed. The USA is divided around the wall President Trump wants to build along the Mexican border. The conflict has escalated into a deep crisis of government around the question of whether building this wall would be treason against what the West claims to stand for – open-mindedness, liberal values, multi-culturalism.

Europe has long answered this question at its own southern border: Put up that wall! (Just do not let it look like a wall.) In recent years, the EU has built a defense system against migration from the south, which – unlike Trump’s wall – is not limited to its own borders. Today, it goes straight through the Sahara all the way to the equator. And there is no government crisis in Europe; the public just accepts it, as right-wing populists have demonized migration for too long.

For a long time, Europeans cared little about their southern neighbor continent. Africa stood for wars, climate change, diseases like the deadly 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa, or disasters like the 2017 famine in East Africa. But now the continent is back at the center of attention; there is talk of a ‘new era of partnership.’

It started when the situation along the Balkan route escalated in summer of 2015. Hundreds of thousands of unrestrained refugees, including a few thousand Africans, were heading to Central Europe. Shortly thereafter, the European Union (EU) invited 33 African heads of state to a summit in Malta. Billion-euro aid and cooperation programs were drafted. ‘A situation like in the summer of 2015 cannot and must not repeat,’[1] said German Chancellor Merkel at the time. Europe projected its panic caused by the uncontrolled movement of refugees along the Balkan route onto Africa, and that is where Europe now plans to solve its migration problem – through broad interventions in the countries south of the Mediterranean.

Europeans have been shaping Africa according to their own demands since colonial times. The map of Africa that hung on the wall of the conference room at the German Reich Chancellery in 1885 was over 16 feet high. Representatives of 13 European states, the USA and the Ottoman Empire had followed Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s invitation to the so-called Congo Conference in Berlin in order to negotiate the trading rights along the Congo and Niger rivers.

When the conference ended on 26 February 1885, the colonial masters had split up the continent among themselves, drawing many of the African borders that are now the target of EU migration control efforts. Nobody consulted its inhabitants.

A lot has changed since. What has remained are the colonial borders and the old fear of the “Black man.” Once the Europeans feared deadly tropical diseases, today right-wing extremists are fanning the fear of an ‘invasion’ or ‘population exchange’ (Umvolkung in German).

This goes along with a growing fear of terrorism, triggered by the attacks in Paris in November 2015, in Brussels in March 2016 and on the Berlin Christmas market in 2016. The attackers pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State (IS), which is also active in Libya and the Sahel Zone these days. Europe treats refugees and migrants as the usual suspects, which is why the domestic measures against terrorism – surveillance and control, biometrization and data collection – resemble the external measures used to fight irregular migration.

Every few years, the World Bank publishes how many people worldwide migrate from one country to another. It records the 30 largest ‘migration corridors’ between two countries.[2] There is just one Sub-Saharan nationality on the list: Burkinabés who leave their home country Burkina Faso for Côte d’Ivoire. The share of Sub-Saharan Africans in Europe among all of the world’s migrants is so small that they do not even make the Top 30, although the continents lie just a few miles apart.

In 2017, 132,750 Africans submitted their first asylum application in Europe[3]  – the population of a small European city, like Amiens (France) or Newport (UK). Compared to the EU’s half-billion inhabitants, the number is negligible. For Germany alone, a recent study set the annual demand for immigration from outside the EU at 146,000.[4]

However, the figure of annual arrivals from Africa has increased sixfold from 2010 to 2017, and many fear it could go on like this. The United Nations (UN) expect Africa’s population to reach 2.5 billion by 2050,[5] and only thereafter is this population growth expected to stagnate. In June 2017, just before the federal election campaign, German Development Minister Gerd Müller (CSU) claims: ‘Up to 100 million people’[6] could come heading north from Africa, if we fail to slow down climate change. This figure is not verified and shockingly exaggerated, most likely in order to stoke fears.

After all, those people are Black. Carlos Lopes, until recently the UN’s chief economist for Africa, reminds us that hundreds of thousands of labor migrants from Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru have come to Spain in the last decade – the same period when Spain, which lies just a few miles from Africa, implemented the Plan África to stop immigration from West Africa. Lopes calls Spain’s simultaneous admission of Latin American migrants a ‘cultural choice’: ‘There was no fear of migrants, but fear of Africans.’[7]

This fear, as with Islamophobia, is one of the drivers behind the right-wing swing, which has shaken the political structure of many European states. It is probable that the debate around immigration, open borders and asylum have affected the EU as a project more than the European sovereign debt crisis of 2010.

Law professor Ralph Weber claims that working-age Germans risk becoming ‘a minority in their own country within less than a generation.’ At the state assembly elections in the East German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, he won 35 percent of the vote in his district of Vorpommern-Greifswald III along the Baltic coast.[8] It was the best result for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) thus far. Weber does the math and estimates that 3.5 million ‘illegal immigrants’ have entered the country as of 2017. Should they ‘spread with the life-embracing proliferation strategy particular to these peoples, which means four or five children in ten years,’ there would soon be ‘eleven to twelve million illegal immigrants and their offspring.’ Utterly or completely unfounded arguments of this sort are common among the far right. Weber, however, claims these were just the issues the people brought up at his many campaign events in Germany’s northeastern corner.

The fear of African and Muslim immigrants is rarely voiced as candidly as in Ralph Weber’s election campaign, but it is spreading. It drives the increasing attempts to get migration in a globalized world back under control – especially migration from and within Africa. Most of the immense migration corridors on the World Bank list make no noise at all. Most of the people on the move are accepted without concern – as long as they are not Africans heading towards Europe.

In 2004, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) held a conference which referred to Africa as ‘the forgotten continent.’ This used to be a near-synonym for Africa, but these times are over. Africa is now the center of Europe’s attention.

This is basically good news and could be used to talk about food crises, land and resource grabbing, infrastructure, democratization or healthcare. But these topics are secondary to the European public and many politicians; they care about how to fend off refugees.

The multi-billion EU-Turkey deal is intended as a blueprint. It also has many critics, who say that Europe and Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had begun a new, appalling form of isolationism. In fact, however, the EU has long been paying off migration source countries through ‘neighborhood policies,’ ‘working arrangements’ and ‘partnership frameworks.’ Unlike the deal with Turkey, these treaties have rarely caused an outcry. The only exception was the 2008 deal between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Berlusconi offered Gaddafi billions of euros as a compensation for alleged ‘colonial injustice’ in a trade he later described as ‘less refugees – more oil.’[9]

Today the EU as a whole is trying to close many such deals with African states, making it harder and harder for refugees to find protection and more dangerous for labor migrants to reach places where they can earn an income. This is not the only effect, though. The more Europe tries to control migration from Africa, the harder it becomes for many Africans to move freely through their own continent, even within their own countries.

While this book is about the new approach to Africa, it describes Europe’s domestic affairs.

As the EU integrates, its borders are growing faster than its territory. First it acted like a nation state by controlling the access points to its own territory, but after a while, this was not enough. Following the collective failure to regulate immigration from outside among its members, the EU switched to trying to cut off migration streams outside its territory, especially in Africa. First the transit states, then the countries of origin were supposed to stop as many people as possible from entering the Schengen Area – a plan full of hubris.

The EU is upping the bid – while it paid around €2 billion from 2000–2015, it plans to spend another 15 million by 2020. The EU is paying for the costs caused by its own migration management: providing for intercepted refugees, jeeps or ships for the border police, deportations, ‘improved’ detention centers. As a bonus, it offers extra development aid for the border guards of its ‘coalition of the willing.’

This is why some African states, like Tunisia, have made the attempt to emigrate to Europe without valid documents a punishable offense.[10] Others skip the legal process and jail migrants arbitrarily – like Libya. Some build border posts out of the blue, like Sudan. Others introduce biometric passports which their citizens cannot afford, like the Democratic Republic of Congo. The DRC demands $185 for its new high-tech passports, which are produced by a Belgian-Arabic consortium.[11] Some take back deportees from Europe, even if they are citizens of other countries – like Morocco. Some states deploy soldiers to block the migration routes – like Egypt. Some states simply prohibit the transportation of migrants and abolish freedom of movement – like Niger.  Others allow European officers to take over – like Senegal. And others yet close the borders not just for transit migrants, but even for their own citizens, if they try to get to Europe irregularly – like Algeria. They are doing exactly what is still – rightfully – considered one of the gravest sins of former Communist bloc states in Central and Eastern Europe.

Increasingly, the money Europe pays for migration control is declared as official development assistance (ODA), more widely known as development aid – a misappropriation of funds intended for poverty and emergency relief. This also violates the principles of development aid, because labor migration is a blessing for poor countries – the money remitted by expatriates is spent directly with small traders and farmers.

This mix-up of development aid and migration control will increase. ‘Tackling the root causes of migration’ is the new development paradigm, although the African public hears very little of it, since most of the negotiations are held in secret.

Germany is the powerhouse of the EU’s new Africa policy. The Federal Government’s latest event was a conference in October 2018, which hosted more than a dozen African leaders in Berlin. Egypt’s military ruler al-Sisi was also invited. At a press conference, Merkel praised the general: ‘Egypt secures its maritime borders so well that there is effectively no migration from Egypt to Europe, although many refugees live in Egypt. This is worthy of great recognition […]and we are supporting Egypt with an untied loan of €500 million.’

That is exactly how Europe’s migration diplomacy works.

In autumn 2016, Merkel traveled to Africa for the first time in a long while. After her trip, a series of African leaders and delegations came to Berlin. The same happened in Brussels. Suddenly the continent had all the attention it would have needed during the 2014 Ebola epidemic. When Chancellor Merkel took over the presidency of the G20 states, one of her program’s pillars was ‘accepting responsibility – especially for Africa.’ The series of Africa conferences in Berlin continued until summer 2017; even German Africa pundits were losing track.

The agenda sounded as if written in a fair-trade shop: ‘Africa is not poor – we made it poor.’ Statements like these herald Development Minister Müller’s ‘Marshall Plan with Africa,’ which has no lesser goal than stopping ‘post-colonial exploitation.’[12] In November 2018, Müller reported to the Bundestag about his Marshall Plan – and in all seriousness referred to the notorious Congo Conference: ‘The Chancellor – I had the honor of attending – organized the largest Africa conference since 1884 three weeks ago.’[13]

While the government’s concern for Africa, including the term ‘continent of opportunity,’ is not new, the sudden concentration of diplomatic activity signalizes a shift.

This new policy is more disposed to use military means. ‘The past two years’ events were a wake-up call, which we have understood,’[14] said Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) in March 2017 at a conference in Berlin, which she organized with Development Minister Müller. Her statement was obviously tailored to the migration crisis Europe has witnessed on the Balkan route, claiming that a repetition of such a situation was to be avoided at all cost. If Africa’s problems were left unsolved, people would ‘start moving when they are threatened,’ said von der Leyen. She added that the ministries of development and defense had often seen each other as ‘antagonists in the past.’ This would have to stop, since Germany’s development and defense policies for Africa were now going hand in hand.

Müller referred to Nigeria, soon to be the world’s third most populous state, which would be ‘in flames’ if the Islamist Boko Haram militia advanced further. ‘Imagine the dramatic effects on all of us,’ said the Minister, ‘Africa’s future also determines our future.’

The ‘war on jihad’ really is one of the greatest overlaps between European and African interests. The EU helps, while also exploiting the situation. For example, it sends about €100 million[15] in equipment and training to the G5 Sahel Joint Force (G5S), which brings together military units from Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad. The G5S is deployed to fight the jihadist groups, which in fact pose a great problem for these states. Hence, they gladly accepted the European support. However, the unit’s mandate is not limited to counter-terrorism, but also spans ‘human trafficking’ – a EU propaganda term for all types of irregular migration.

Whether more troops in the Sahel will pacify the region remains doubtful. The G5S committed grave violations against Mali’s civilian population in 2018,[16] causes tension between the involved states[17] and supports policies that strongly disadvantage the Tuareg, which might severely destabilize states like Niger.[18]

Just how Africa’s future might look is something Günter Nooke, Personal Representative of the German Chancellor for Africa, has thought about. In October 2018, he suggested that African states should give up parts of their territory for payment, so the EU could settle refugees. ‘Maybe some African heads of government would be willing to lease out a piece of their territorial sovereignty and permit free development there for 50 years. These areas could become special economic zones for settling migrants, with the support of the World Bank, the EU or individual states.’[19]

Statements and policies like these are one major strain on Europe and Africa’s relationship. African public opinion increasingly finds that the Europeans prefer having the Africans drown in the Mediterranean instead of letting them in. This impression was solidified when CNN published a video of a slave auction in Libya in November 2017. Many Africans changed their social media profile pictures to ‘Stop Slavery’ images. They saw Europeans as the main culprits, since they are the ones equipping the Libyans to hunt migrants.

This is also one reason the November 2017 summit of the African Union and the European Union ended in a diplomatic scandal, without a final resolution. Olawale Maiyegun, Secretary of the AU, said during the summit that the European migration policy was to keep the Africans out at all costs. The results, he said, could be seen in the Sahara or the Mediterranean, and added that he found it inconceivable that the EU, a professed champion of human rights, was deporting Africans under these conditions.

Europe, on the other hand, is promoting the notion that migration happens only in reaction to an evil. There has to be a ‘push factor,’ something driving people away. These factors should be identified and addressed by political means, such as development aid. If this succeeded, people would stay at home.  This opinion also finds supporters in the EU Commission, the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) or the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). The political left also tends to interpret these evils as arms exports, unfair trade relations, resource grabbing, colonialism or climate change. They all want to ‘tackle the causes of migration’ to prevent displacement. This armchair approach reduces migration to armed conflict, poverty, hunger or global warming.  However, migration is a fact of human history and as easy to stop as globalization. On a world scale, migration has been a routine social process, whether in Europe, Africa, Asia or the Americas. People migrate whether the climate changes or not, whether trade is equitable or unfair, whether Germany stops or continues its arms exports. Many parts of the world accept this.

The AU is also promoting this stance. ‘We all immigrated from somewhere, and migration will always continue,’ says its secretary, Olawale Maiyegun.

Europe will have to deal with it – in a way that prevents suffering and promotes development. There is no other solution to the migration problem.

More than three years of intensive European migration diplomacy in Africa show that few countries are willing to collaborate. Migration is too important for Africa.

In three years of talks, only one state – Ethiopia – signed a readmission agreement with the EU as a whole. In February 2019, the AU proposed a resolution prohibiting its members from setting up the ‘regional disembarkation platforms’ demanded by the EU on their territory. The EU wants to detain refugees and migrants who are rescued in the Mediterranean at these camps. A draft joint position paper by the AU states: ‘The setup of “disembarkation platforms” would be tantamount to de facto “detention centres” where the fundamental rights of African migrants will be violated and the principle of solidarity among AU member states greatly undermined. The collection of biometric data of citizens of AU Members by international organisations violates the sovereignty of African Countries over their citizens.’[20]

Africa has formulated its own vision of the future, particularly the AU’s 50-year plan of 2013, the Agenda 2063. Drafts for a common African passport were presented at the AU summit in Addis Ababa in February 2019.[21] Africa’s strategy is more integration and more migration – all Africans should be able to work and travel throughout the continent without a visa.

This is exactly where Europe’s and Africa’s interests part ways – the demand for more border controls is incompatible with the goal of free movement throughout Africa. Europe is ignoring this and once again tries to force its own ideas on Africa.

Berlin/Kigali, March 2019

  1. Spiegel Online (2016) ‘Eine Situation wie im Sommer 2015 darf sich nicht wiederholen’, 6 December |
  2. World Bank Group, (2016) Migration and Remittances Factbook 2016, Third Edition, Washington DC, World Bank
  3. Eurostat
  4. Bertelsmann Stiftung (2019) ‘Deutscher Arbeitsmarkt auf außereuropäische Zuwanderung angewiesen’, 12 February |
  5. Unicef (2017) ‘Generation 2030 Africa 2.0.’ Unicef Online Publication, November 2017 |
  6. Spiegel Online (2017) ‘Müller warnt vor 100 Millionen Flüchtlingen aus Afrika’, 18 June |
  7. Personal interview on 1 June 2017
  8. Election results for Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, final result for District 30, 4 September 2016 |
  9. Corriere (2008) ‘Berlusconi da Gheddafi, siglato l'accordo: “Uniti sull'immigrazione,”’ 01 September |
  10. Badalic, V. (2018) ‘Tunisia’s Role in the EU External Migration Policy: Crimmigration Law, Illegal Practices, and Their Impact on Human Rights’, Springer, February 2019 |
  11. Lewis, D. (2017), ‘Special Report: Congo's pricey passports send millions of dollars offshore’,  Reuters, 13 April |
  12. Stern (2017) ‘Entwicklungsminister Müller erwartet “gewaltigen Migrationsdruck Richtung Europa” - CSU-Politiker will “Marshall-Plan” für Afrika’, 18 January |
  13. BMZ (2018) ‘Rede von Bundesentwicklungsminister Dr. Gerd Müller zum Haushaltsgesetz 2019.’ |
  14. Jakob, C. (2017) ‘Die Wiederentdeckung Afrikas’, taz, 11 June |!5416153/
  15. EEAS (2018) ‘The European Union’s partnership with the G5 Sahel countries’, 18 June |
  16. Ladurner, U. (2018) ‘Killer im Auftrag Europas.’ Die ZEIT, 14 November |
  17. Schnabel, S. (2018) ‘Mehr Sicherheit für den Sahel? Warum die Initiative der G5 Sahel Joint Force mehr Zweifel als Hoffnung aufwirft.’ Prif Blog, 7 September 2018 |
  18. DGAP (2019) ‘Angst vorm Aufbruch.’ March/April |
  19. Ruppel, U. (2018) ‘Wir haben lange Zeit zu viel im Hilfsmodus gedacht.’ BZ, 7 October |
  20. Boffey, D. (2019) ‘African Union seeks to kill EU plan to process migrants in Africa’, The Guardian, 24 February |
  21. African Union (2018) New Year's Message of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, 31 December |


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

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