By Elshaddai Mesfin Haileyesus*
Vision 2063 promises the fulfillment of the Pan-African dream of the creation of what Kwumah Nkrumah called the United States of Africa. This is beyond federating African governments for the smooth transaction of goods and services; it is about the free movement of people as well. Although this is in 50 years’ timeframe from now; the work should start today as Africa is in dire need of policies that govern its migration.
These past months the media has been filled with reports of struggles and horrific images of migrant workers trying to reach destinations they believe will offer them a better future. Death counts in the Mediterranean during the crossing of Lampedusa are over 700 among which Africans account for more than half of the victims (BBC, 2015). The 28 Ethiopians recently executed by ISIS were caught on the way from Sudan to Libya. Another 4 migrants supposedly from Ethiopia and Eritrea have been killed by local residents as a result of xenophobia spurring an eventful week of violence in South Africa (Karim, 2015). This is far from the scenery where many African leaders signed the Charter for the Organization of the African Unity (OAU) in 1963.
The Guardian in a recent article argued that Africa, under the leadership of the African Union (AU) has to take its share of responsibility for the rise of migration to the European Union. In fact, a series of processes were started in partnership between the AU and EU as a way to govern irregular migration. The Rabat Process in 2006 followed by the Khartoum Process in 2014 are two initiatives that attempted to alleviate the problem through patrolling frequented smuggling routes. Both created a dialogue between members of the European Community and African leaders so as to patrol borders, combat cross border crime and most importantly mitigate human trafficking. (European Commision-Fact Sheet, 2015)
Nevertheless, despite these initiatives illegal migration is on the rise. One in seven people today is a migrant and an approximate of 50 million are illegal migrants who have paid those same smugglers the AU-EU partnership on migration are trying to discourage (Rango & Laczko, 2014). Many Africans still consider Europe as the best refuge and are willing to take desperate measures even at the cost of their lives to reach it. But circumstances have changed. As suggested by the Guardian, “Illegal migration to Europe strains the recipient nation’s patience and resources, greatly decreasing the probability that even the African migrants who do manage to survive the journey will be treated well on arrival”. In other words, xenophobia and racism are attitudes to be expected. Yet again, the EU is also in dire need of migrants but educated migrants. Data suggests that countries such as Germany will experience labor shortage of up to 2.4 million workers by 2020. Some of their potential replacements are skilled migrant workers who do not make it to the shores of Lampedusa. Other migrants are an addition to the estimated surplus of low-skilled labor expected in the coming years. (Rango & Laczko, 2014)
What is alarming about these numbers is not that African migrants will face mal treatment in Europe, rather that the pattern of migration they are on is likely to disturb the pan-African dream of African brotherhood. The xenophobic inspired attacks on migrant workers in South Africa, as well as a retaliations to it in Zimbabwe and neighboring states has disrupted diplomatic relations. The dichotomy of “them” (them who stole our jobs) against “us” (us whose hospitality has been taken advantage off) is one that creates rifts for cooperation and good will between Africans. (Karim, 2015)
But then, these are also situations that can be turned by states to renew their commitment to fight illegal human trafficking and strengthen bonds of African brotherhood as witnessed between Ethiopia, Egypt and Khartoum. The immense public diplomacy work undertaken by the embassies of those states to rescue and return the smuggled Ethiopian migrants in Libya to Ethiopia via Egypt after a wish for safe journey by President Al-Sisi, a transit in Khartoum International Airport and a warm welcome by Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Teodros Adhanom is truly the evidence of African cooperation. The killing of the 28 Ethiopians did not result in enmity between religious groups rather an opportunity to mutual cooperation.
There is the need to create attitudinal change, to believe that people stand the chance for a better future in their own nations (and continent) but also an attitudinal change to fight xenophobia in African. Rescuing migrants is one thing but there is also the work of incorporating them into the national economy. This also requires African states to commit to AU initiatives like “Silencing the guns by 2020” as conflict is one of the main drivers of migration in the continent. Commitment to such frameworks will reassure an integrated Africa with free movement; or at least pave the road to it.
BBC. (2015, April 19). Mediteranean Deaths:Hundreds Feared Dead After Boat Capsizes. BBC.
European Commision-Fact Sheet. (2015). The European Union’s Cooperation with Africa on Migration. (pp. 1-6). Brussels: European Union Commission.
Karim, F. (2015, April 18). South Africa Xenophobic Attacks:How did we get here? CNN.
Rango, M., & Laczko, F. (2014). Global Migartion Trends: An Overview. International Organization for Migration(IOM).
*Elshaddai Mesfin Haileyesus is a research intern at the Africa Peace and Security Programme (APSP), a joint programme of the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) and the African Union. All views expressed in the AfSol blog are solely the views of the authors and do not in any represent the views of the IPSS or APSP. For more information on AfSol Blog, please contact email@example.com