Interviewing the rock star turned global anti-poverty campaigner, Bob Geldof, back at the beginning of Band Aid, the music-led fundraising campaign he had launched in response to the 1983 Ethiopian famine, I asked him what he had to say about the then widespread political arguments as to why the West should not as a kneejerk response simply dole out charity to Africa. Those arguments, as I recall, had mainly to do with the alleged corruption of African politics, especially the hidden machinations of the Ethiopian regime; the condescension of post-imperial nations pretending to assist their own victims; the misplaced nature of a paternalistic philanthropy without any basis in a development strategy; the spurious “feelgood factor” which turned attention away from the true causes of the famine, and so forth. I listed them all off and demanded, “What do you say to that Bob, eh?” He replied, “I say, Fuck up and gimme a pound, because that pound will keep someone alive and your useless meandering philosophising achieves nothing!”
Fair enough, I thought at the time. Something is better than nothing. Lead with compassion. Walk, don’t talk. FUGAP has an honourable place in the vocabulary of charitable action.
The effects of Geldof’s intervention at that time (he later created Live Aid) was on balance positive. In the wake of the famine, deaths from disease, such as malaria, were dramatically alleviated, economic growth increased and the population of Ethiopia is today—at 105 million and rising—two and a half times what it was at the start of the famine in 1983. As a fire-brigade measure, Band Aid/Live Aid was admirably effective. But Geldof’s FUGAP approach has limits: it constrains discussion and therefore narrows the scope of public reflection. It hides behind a call to virtue but closes down alternatives. It generates a form of blackmailed silence, thereby framing the problem by default in a certain way. There are limits to the “compassionate” approach, which has remained virtually the totality of the West’s strategy for Africa.
Africa is poor, in certain respects, though not in all. It is in truth an arable and abundant continent, with enormous potential. Mostly, the land is fertile, the rainfall regular. The main problem is cultural impoverishment, by which many basic skills have been lost, in part due to Western colonialism. The key resources required are know-how and a jump-start, after which the people seem imminently capable of taking charge of their lives with passion and energy.
I have never felt completely happy with the designations of poverty saturating our culture, dividing opinion along ideological lines, but all serving to copperfasten a singular conception of poverty and how it should be dealt with. I have long been suspicious of leftist notions of equality and redistribution, but equally dissatisfied with religious concepts of “compassion” and “charity”. Both approaches seemed to me to reduce the question to a material one exhibiting innumerable inconsistencies and contradictions, weakening where we should be strengthening. If poverty is purely a matter of economic resources, why has the international aid effort in Africa been so unsuccessful? What is missing? If nothing is missing, does this imply that poverty is ineradicable? It has long seemed to me that attempts to eradicate poverty have suffered from the same characteristics that might be blamed for the creation of poverty in the first place: condescension, piety, ideology and remoteness, all of which seemed to have achieved very little. Africa remains economically poor and unable to fend for its own people. A friend who works voluntarily in Malawi says that Africa has suffered recently from two problems: Aids and aid.
Conventional Western notions of helping the poor in far-away places tend to be contorted by both confused thinking and an even more confusing emotionalism: guilt, shame and felt impotence—all, incidentally, symptoms also experienced by the post-colonial native. As schoolchildren we put our pennies into a box on the nun’s desk and stood watching for a moment as the alabaster “black baby” kneeling on top of the box nodded in gratitude. We weren’t aware of it at the time, but implicit in this gesture of ours was a deep-seated condescension, a belief that black babies were a different species—pitiful, helpless, always grateful for our small kindnesses. But there was something else at play also: the idea that we could assuage our guilt about the inequities of the world with a few coins —a few crumbs from the supposedly abundant western table. In spite of the increasingly secular ethos of the age, the international aid strategies of many Western governments appear today to be formulated according to a misplaced sense of a similar Christian “compassion”, which places at least as much emphasis on being seen to do something as on actually doing anything constructive. Thus, “helping the poor” is a kind of industry, which almost by definition requires that poverty remain as it is. The focus on a kind of patrician benevolence, which instils gratitude in the heart of the receiver and puffs up the aid-worker with a sense of her own benevolence, has come to define every response of Europe to Africa and the “Third World” generally. In Ireland, during the boom years that preceded the economic crash of 2008, politicians would vie with one another to demand that ever bigger shares of GDP be given in the form of foreign aid. Only the headline figure seemed to matter. Almost nobody in the discussion, or indeed in the country, seemed to know or care how the money was being spent. The important thing was to be seen to be conducting a “moral” discussion in which each participant competed to appear more compassionate than the next.
The Western view of Africa continues to be defined by Western needs. There is something they have that we need. Once, it was copper or diamonds, now it is victimhood. They offer us an opportunity to feel good. We feel good by giving them a little, but that little is both so little (for us) and so significant (for them) that it risks becoming a habit for both sides. One consequence of this unhealthy relationship is that the people of Africa appear to lack the capacity to project themselves forward by means of concepts or visions. Their thought patterns remain present-centred: enough to eat today, my problems solved for now. There is widespread dishonesty and corruption, not just at the governmental level. These symptoms are fatal to any hope of creating a long-term viable future—and literally fatal to more than a few Africans.
Why do we want to help our fellow man? Because we care? Because, living in Christian societies, we are required to love our neighbour? Because we want to feel better about our own prosperity—by, in a sense, purchasing relief from the nagging of our own consciences? Or because, at some deep level, we believe that certain peoples, by virtue of—what?—geographical location, political history, or, dare we even whisper it?—skin colour— are congenitally incapable of looking after themselves? And is this not racism? Just asking.
What, if we can agree there is a single answer, is the precise nature of the Western responsibility to Africa? The relief of absolute poverty? The forging of a partnership designed to help African countries to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? Or the jumpstarting of the self-enterprise model in African societies so that they too can benefit from the action of the Invisible Hand?
I’ve visited Africa several times since the turn of the millennium—Zambia, Malawi, Uganda and Kenya. In one Zambian villages I visited, what villagers termed “water” was invariably a most awful disease-bearing substance, between a liquid and a sludge. They said that, if they had clean water, they could deal with most of their other problems. In many parts of Africa, the water is just a few metres under the ground, but the people lack the technologies or resources to get it the surface. In Zambia, too, I came across a massive industrial farming operation that was being funded to the tune of millions by the Irish exchequer. The owner had invested the money in a massive irrigation system, so that thousands of acres were being watered by an elaborate system of sprinklers. Meanwhile, just 50 yards from the perimeter, people were shovelling wet mud out of the ground and “drinking” it.
In Uganda I observed an Irish development agency that donated heifers to farming families and, when they reached a certain stage of functionality, gave them methane-fuel gas burners to tap into a previously unproductive aspect of the heifers and provide themselves with light and cooking capability—radical technology in a country where it gets dark around 7pm all year round. On one trip out to observe a biogas unit being installed in the home of a widow with a large family, I observed an incidence of the mentality that defines much of the culture of aid-delivery in the Third World. The unit was being installed by some African workmen under the supervision of a representative of the aid agency (also an African). I watched in incomprehension as the workmen dug the pit for the biogas unit at some distance—perhaps 15 metres—from the cow byre, rather than close enough that the woman could shovel the manure into the unit. As the work proceeded, there appeared to be no thought of how the effluent might be conveyed from the byre to the biogas unit. Not even the widow, who was standing watching, asked how this was going to work. I approached one of the supervisors and asked him. He said he didn’t know, but passed the question on to one of the workmen. “She can carry it in a bucket,” he said. I said, “Surely now, when you are fitting the unit, it would be easy to construct things so that the effluent will flow of itself into the biogas chamber? In that way you will save this woman an enormous amount of unnecessary work.” The workman shrugged. “What else has she got to do?” he asked. It was clear: the widow was not entitled to regard herself as anything but a mendicant.
I encountered this mentality many times in Africa—a sense that people in receipt of aid should just be grateful for what they get, that the point of aid work is to spend the budget, not necessarily to extend maximum benefits to those it is supposed to be helping. The process of aid is defined by a measurable distance that emphasizes at all times that it is aid. And the recipients are always, ostensibly, grateful.
Yet, new technologies— mobile phones, 4G, broadband—now give many parts of the continent direct access to the outside world. As things stand, these technologies serve to suck the population first out of the villages and countryside, and in, the next phase, out of the continent, creating an intercontenental incontinence that now threatens to unravel the world. The seeming powerlessness of the native is mirrored by the powerlessness of the outsider, who, other than by occasional, haphazard fits of charity, sees no possibility of meaningfully helping.
Much of our attempting to deal with the effects of global poverty takes the form of a kind of guilt-displacement, whereby the objective often looks less like the alleviation of the suffering of the poor than the dispersing of guilt in those apparently seeking a solution. The FUGAP approach may be well-suited to emergency situations, but it is not a panacea for Africa’s more workaday ills.
The latest manifestation of these syndromes takes a new and more immediate form: the insistence from Europeans that migrants fleeing from Africa to their continent must be welcomed and accommodated, often without the consent of the peoples among whom they are destined to arrive—indeed, even at the expense of those people and their own needs. In a variant on the FUGAP method, the people of Europe are told we must open our borders and shut our mouths. Clerics exhort us that “Jesus was a refugee” and speak about “embracing the Other” as though there was no difference between one “other” and a hundred or a million. The idea that the world operates at different moral speeds, but that these differentials can be disposed of with the odd handful of coins, has mutated and metamorphosed, nowadays taking the form of a non-negotiable requirement for Europeans to surrender their homelands at the behest of their own debased elites, who themselves appear to imagine they can remain insulated from the consequences of their “compassion”.
The government of my own country, Ireland, has for two decades been stealthily importing significant numbers of migrants (increasingly from Africa) to comply with UN and EU directives which nobody was given an opportunity to discuss and which the media and churches appear to have been recruited to support by, firstly, a policy of silence/silencing and latterly providing covering fire that targets anyone who dares question what’s happening as “racist”. At over 17 percent, the proportion of non-natives living in Ireland now is, after twenty years of unannounced influx, just marginally lower than the proportion of immigrants to white Britons now living in the UK after sixty years of the same.
Since, absent some major reawakening in Europe, the current policies seem destined to lead by default (in two or at most three generations) to the replacement of “white Europe” with “black Europe”, we stand confronted with what appears to be among the last surviving Christian arguments in the European public square: that it is “unChristian” to be concerned about such a question. Is there anything especially urgent or vital, we hear fellow Europeans ask, about European survival, or the survival of its “white” population? It need hardly be noted that these questions are usually asked by people with conspicuously pale faces.
Stephen Smith’s argument in The Scramble for Europe is about what he calls the “human geography” of Africa, a term he prefers to “demographics”. Still, The Scramble for Europe has much to say about African population, culture, incomes and recent economic and social patterns, filling in the spaces in our knowledge of the background to recent headlines, and explaining the source causes of the present drifts from Africa to Europe. He is less interested in overall figures than in age-structure, dependency ratios and fertility rates. “I do not lie awake at night trembling at the prospect of an Africanisation of Europe,” he writes. But he outlines facts relating to the two continents that ought to concern the inhabitants of both, albeit in different ways.
Smith, who spent thirty years as a journalist between Libération and Le Monde, and is now Professor of African Studies at Duke University, believes that neither Africa nor Europe is prepared for “a migratory encounter of unprecedented magnitude.” Not only is Africa’s population growing, but it is by far the youngest in the world. “Between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn,” he says, “four Africans out of ten are less than fifteen years old, and seven out of ten are under thirty.”
Between the two world wars, the population of Africa went from 200 million to 150 million, mainly due to European colonialism’s introduction of pathogens from Europe into an unwary African context. Since then, however, Africa has experienced the most phenomenal population growth, the fastest urbanization and the greatest concentration of young people ever witnessed in human history.
Smith has a ready command of facts and statistics, but he writes well also and the book is an easily digested primer on the nature and current workings of the Dark Continent, especially sub-Saharan Africa, which he depicts as essentially a gerontocracy with a massive seething majority of young people (80% under 30) who can find no place in their home countries and mostly want out.
Speaking of conflicts within Africa concerning water and land, Smith describes the chronic generational conflicts that characterize the continent’s exceptional demographic profile, creating an unbridgeable divide between a vast number of young people who have no political voice and a small minority of elders who refuse to cede power.
When you put these conditions alongside post-colonial incompetences and corruptions, and a population that’s essentially doubled since the mid-1980s and will do so again by 2050 (currently 1.3 billion, set to double within 30 years) —and then factor in Europe’s strange state of self-disintegration (half a billion people and falling like a stone) — you can see why Europe needs to see what’s been happening lately as much more than a call on its “compassion”. Two distinct forms of gerontocracy seem set to collide with unpredictable—or, worse, predictable—consequences.
Africa has long been prone to “urban drift”, an exodus of the young from the countryside and villages to the urban centers, mostly shantytowns. This has represented as much a fleeing from the dominance of the elderly as a pursuit of economic self-betterment. Strangely, to European ears, the issue of internal migration has long been regarded as problematic within Africa itself, creating precisely the kinds of problems that arose in European cities in the more recent phase of the mass migration story.
Smith describes this phenomenon of internal movement as “the widening terraces of a migratory fountain”, which has now started to spill over—into Europe, which Smith says young Africans see as a “bright continent of abundance, where everything is well-ordered and perfectly shipshape.”
There are three characteristics to be observed in the typical African emigrant: a vision of the wider world, largely arising from satellite television and mobile telephony; access to diasporic communities already settled in foreign countries, providing bridgeheads for newcomers; and access to sufficient money to finance the move. It is not the poorest who move, Smith insists, but members of the emerging middle-class who have been able to pull themselves up out of outright poverty and are defeatist about the future of Africa. This category accounts for 150-200 million out of the 1.3 billion.
There are, he maintains, three distinct “moments” of the migration phenomenon, with Europeans right now tending to focus on what he calls the “heroic part when an individual overcomes obstacles to get into a promised land”. But there are two other “moments”: “the moment of abandonment, when people leave their national community and go away, and that’s less heroic”; and the “third moment”, in which Europeans assume that, once the African reaches Europe—that developed and prosperous place—s/he will be happy. “People are not happy,” he says.
The ones who leave, says Smith, are “the most audacious or enterprising—sometimes the least stable as well”. They are people who have reached a point of complete frustration with where they are and believe it will never improve. In this sense those who say that migrants come from a place without hope are correct. They are also people who are capable of raising their horizons to look beyond Africa, and who are able to acquire the not inconsiderable financial means to get out of Africa and into Europe. “Depending on where one is departing from and headed to,” writes Smith, “and the challenges of the often clandestine voyage, the initial sum ranges between 2,000 and 3,000 US dollars—the yearly per capita income in many sub-Saharan countries. So, rather than “the poorest of the poor”, it is a less indigent stratum of Africans . . . that emigrates.” They go to Europe in search of “the white man’s life”.
Smith argues that, although they will bring with them the problems of their own societies, such people are already “in tune” with an American-style modernity of “radical impermanence”. “African migrants only bring to Europe what Europe has already bequeathed to the world: ‘the malady of infinite aspiration’,” a term coined by the sociologist Emile Durkheim to explain the meaning of “anomie”, another term he coined for a lack of shared norms and values within a society unable to create a harmony between individual and social needs. “The ‘malady of infinite aspiration’—the frustration born out of boundless desires that can never be fulfilled—captures the dark side of globalization: there are no longer any limits, but there are still borders; the only shared code of conduct is the universal sharing of codes. Historically extraverted, and being ‘globalized’ rather than ‘globalizing’ in its own right, Africa more than other parts of the world suffers from exposure to infinite aspiration.”
“’Adventure’ is the password of migration. Young Africans leave their village, their town or their continent because they hope to catch a ‘bit of luck’. As youngsters say in Tambacounda, the largest city in eastern Senegal: Barsa walla barsac, Wolof for ‘Barcelona or death’ (Barcelona, with its dream football team, is shorthand for Europe).”
“They do not flee imminent danger to their life. They try to escape circumstances that, certainly, are often difficult. But others around them decide, on the contrary, to stay, and it would be a mistake to confer victim status, en masse, on those who flee life in Africa rather than stay and face its challenges. Similarly, it is misguided in my view to ascribe a collective form of ‘ontological exceptionalism’ to African migrants—or for them to claim victimization as their permanent condition.” This victim status can be used to justify a self-imposed ghettoization by an African diaspora in a new country, laying claim to special status which other diasporas—from within Europe, for example—are not able to demand.
“Only African migrants are locked up in their past, “ he writes, “a perpetual ‘return to pain’—the literal meaning of the word ‘nostalgia’—which prevents them from living their lives fully in the here and now. This danger has become even greater since the development of free and universal technologies of communication. In the past, the bridges between the migrant’s former and newfound country was mostly severed. The physical exigencies of life required the newcomer to look ahead into the future in his new home. Now, the immigrant resembles Janus, the Roman god with two faces, also the god of entryways and ports.”
“Long after their departure,” Smith writes, “migrants remain connected to their place of origin, sometimes even more intensely when they are further away, while clinging to the new environment as their last, best hope.”
There are, Smith says, two paradoxes pertaining to the patterns of migration from Africa, both of which arise from conditions in the continent of arrival and add acceleration to the process once begun. One relates to community: the less successful have been attempt to integrate a diasporic community into its new society, the better it will be in welcoming new arrivals, who likewise will resist integration in favour of a “home away from home”, thus creating a “nation within”, which mounts its own boundaries against the wider society while availing of whatever benefits are on offer.
The second paradox relates to the unwitting European funding of migration: “[The] countries of the North subsidise the countries of the South with development aid, so that the poor can live better lives and—though this is rarely said so directly—stay where they are. By doing so, however, rich countries shoot themselves in the foot. In effect, at least initially, they provide a bonus for potential migrants by helping poor countries attain the threshold of prosperity, at which point their citizens have the means to leave and live elsewhere.”
“’Rising Africa’,” writes Smith, “a demographic billionaire, is rapidly scaling up its migratory potential: yesterday it lacked the wherewithal to leave; today its prosperity is reaching the threshold of a prosperity that will set it on the road to the European ‘paradise’.”
“In the long term, a prosperous Africa is not only desirable per se but also the best rationale for Africans to stay in their countries. Until then, however, development aid subsidizes migration.”
Europe can expect the typical African migrant to be young and male. If they practice a religion, they will do so in public: their faith will inhabit the public spheres of their destination countries. These faiths include Islam and a form of America-rooted but now globalized evangelical Protestantism quite different to the European strains of Protestantism. This latter has already manifested in France, where it has caused no little consternation.
Smith says that the multitude of sub-Saharan migrants expected to make landfall in Europe over the coming decades will be “rugged, ill-educated and uncompromising people, pioneers who scrabbled over the poverty line in Africa and who seek the kind of work in Europe that will be fully automated by 2050. Most of them will remain poor outsiders in their new home countries, thrown back on a kind of collective endeavour—‘communitarianism’, as the French like to say—and a grey economy, in much the same way as European migrants to the eastern seaboard of the United States were from their arrival from the 1880s onwards. The difference is that labour was at a premium in those days, whereas in the Europe of 2050, gainful work for many sub-Saharan migrants is almost inconceivable without a war or a climate catastrophe.”
There is a wide divergence not merely between the living standard of Africa and Europe but also between the standards of education. But Africa also suffers what Smith calls “a pillage of African talent”. One-third of African-born physicians work in OECD countries, while the doctor-to-patient ratio in Africa swings between 9,000:1 and 90,000:1. In the past 30 years, between one-third and one-half of all university graduates have left Africa and not returned. The idea of Africa being turned into a talent pool for Europe, says Smith, “strikes me as an odd development strategy.” One might add that doing this under cover of humanitarianism is even odder still.
Smith reminds us that the divides in the contemporary world are not so much as previously between poor countries and rich countries but internal to countries in both the rich North and the poor(er) South. He cites the 2012 book The Globalisation of Inequality, by Francois Bourguignon, former chief economist of the World Bank: “He showed that the per capita income gap between the North and the South, which had been steadily growing since the beginning of the nineteenth century, peaked in 1980—not coincidentally the moment when a new and powerful impetus for world integration was given the name ‘globalization’. Since then, the North-South income gap has reversed itself to the point of coming close to where it was in 1900. At the same time, national disparities have grown vastly in both the North and the South. . . . In large parts of Latin America and Asia, hundreds of millions of people have lifted themselves out of absolute poverty, while in traditionally wealthy countries of the North, the least qualified workers—increasingly exposed to international competition—have sunk into the ‘precariat’, the modern-day global proletariat, less and less insulated from economic unpredictability.”
“Today,” writes Smith, “the West shares with ‘the rest’ the fact that wealth no longer divides the world into rich and poor nations as much as it separates the winners and losers of globalization in each county. Africa, unfortunately, is the only part of the world that has so far lost out on both counts: its internal disparities have dramatically increased, while at the same time it has not gained enough ground relative to the standard of living in the developed world due to its population growth and the law of large numbers.”
Ominously, Smith depicts the longstanding phenomenon of mass movements from African villages to African cities as fostering politicized ethnicity as well as creating “fascinating mélange of linguistic, religious, musical culinary and sartorial traditions . . .” He describes what to European ears has become a familiar prattle: “’Reasonable number’ of newcomers; an ‘acceptable pace’; ‘absorption capacity’; ‘threshold of tolerance’—these are the hollow phrases that litter the discourse of immigration.” Thus a point of equilibrium is sought through regulation to achieve a ”win-win’ situation. But, he says, “Wild dreams are resistant to regulation”.
And what is in this context called “racism” is, counterintuitively, also a feature within Africa. “Westerners tend to play down the legal implications of ‘otherness’ involved in intra-African migration, as if black people in black Africa were bound to ‘naturally’ get along; as if certain rights were not the privilege of nationals only and special duties were not incumbent on immigrants.” Africa has its “open borders” agitators also. “Often these same ‘Pan-Africanists’ have a tendency to mark as racist any opposition outside of Africa to the arrival of African migrants. Yet the repertoire of negative reactions towards foreigners—or simply more foreigners—is the same south of the Sahara as it is elsewhere. Ranging from a reasoned refusal to murder.”
“In Nigeria, at the end of the oil boom, the overnight expulsion of several hundred thousand foreigners in two large waves—in 1983 and 1985—was a brutal way of bringing down immigration levels,” he notes. In 1983, two million migrants—over half of them Ghanaians—were deported from Nigeria, with a further 200,000 in 1985. Nigeria said the aliens were taking jobs from Nigerians and causing high crime rates. Ghana claimed that, in the course of the 1985 deportations, the Nigerian police killed 65 of their people. This was denied by the Nigerian government.
One of the factors contributing to the increase in migrant traffic to Europe has been the closing off of the option of migrating to South Africa, once the post-apartheid “rainbow nation” but more recently—with increasing attacks on migrants and mass deportations of illegals from the early 2000s onwards—losing its prior quasi-gravitational pull. In 2008, South African introduced a meritocratic points system to administer inward migration, and enacted laws that put an end to automatic citizenship for holders of long-term residency permits.
The failure of Africa’s postcolonial states is widely understood already, Smith writes, “perhaps too well”. But what we understand from this, he notes, purely concerns what Africa lacks: good governance, sound fiscal practice, infrastructure—we know what Africa is not. But we know almost nothing of what Africa is and why is has been able to survive in a sort of independence for 60 years. “Its ‘lack of institutional capacity’, in World Bank parlance, resemble apophatic theology: the Almighty is inaccessible to us, and we can only apprehend His divine attributes negatively, as an intaglio design of ‘notness’. Or, as Saint Augustine put it, ‘If you do understand, it is not God’.”
Because the colonial state was by definition extrinsic, the colonized peoples came to see government as an extraneous phenomenon. All power resided in the metropole, to which all resources were promised and destined, including human resources in times of war. “In the eyes of many Africans, this foreignness of the state—its extraneous character—translated into a governance that was arbitrary and alienating.”
This raises ominous possibilities: That, emerging from their dysfunctional continent to arrive in the metropole, Africans feel they have, in a sense, arrived at the center of their own polis. What is foreign to them is the only core their homeland possesses. That is what they have been taught—by the ancestors of present-day Europeans. Added to that they have a smattering of knowledge of concepts like “equality”—which seem to suggest categories of entitlement—and the protection of the United Nations, which makes of each migrant a kind of mobile jurisdiction of international law, attracting protections and rights which far exceed those of the current inhabitants of their chosen new European homelands. This too is a recipe for disaster.
Colonialism, bequeathing to the mentality of modern Africans an odd legacy combining acrimony and admiration, had the paradoxical effect of empowering the sidelined categories in Africa’s prior native gerontocracies—in particular women and the young. “For Africa’s powerful gerontocracy,” Smith writes, quoting Nicolas Argenti, “the era of the Whites became the era of insolence, when ‘children,’ ‘their mouths on fire,’ came out of their silence.” In other words, colonialism already carried the seeds of what is nowadays called Cultural Marxism: the colonizers planted the seeds of their own destruction.
But we can, says Smith, overestimate the importance of the postcolonial angle, emphasizing the ”magnetism” that attracts the inhabitants of the former colonies to the old metropoles, whereas this appears to be waning now with the rapid succession of generations increasingly in thrall to American culture and influence, including Black America’s culture of protest. Africa’ s young looks North-west rather than due North—it is, in many ways, ripe for Americanization. For them, “Europe”, which includes America, is the imaginative centre of the vision of progress the colonizers left behind—the other parts being self-hatred, a tendency towards mimicry and learned helplessness.
Europe is the centre of the African imagination. There is no getting away from it. And now the numbers are on their side of the equation, the process of colonialism has, in a sense, been unleashed in the opposite direction, this time not as a project of conquest but as a pilgrimage of expectation. Africa does not come to Europe to collect a debt, but to realize the education it received in the qualities of progress and civilisation. But it will come all the same, and in numbers too great for Europeans to contemplate never mind accommodate while remaining European or even remaining Europe. And homage will soon blur into hatred as the inevitable clash of misunderstandings occurs.
The Irish situation is “interesting” for all kinds of reasons, not least because, even though Africans are utterly unaware of this, we are in a comparable historical boat to them, having ourselves been colonized by England. Now, we learn that we are part of the “white” world, as taunts of “white supremacy” and “white privilege”, issue—almost invariably, though not exclusively—from the mouths of people whose faces are themselves conspicuous by their paleness.
The Irish, of course, never thought of themselves as “white” until they were so defined on arrival in America. But the newcomers are not color-blind: they see white faces, not black ones. (Not all migrants into Ireland are Africans, but they certainly seem to make up the most significant extra-EU cohort.) They do not see the commonality of history, the shared experience of occupation and subjugation, not least because the Irish have refused to see it themselves. The questions of post-colonialism are such that, ideological weaponizing aside, they tend to slip behind everyday reality, most of all in the most affected places. By its nature the condition remains unspoken. Shame, guilt, self-hatred, all the pathologies colonialism inflicts, tend to ensure that its nature remains hidden.
Another of the many ironies for Ireland is that we continue to be an emigrating culture, so that, these days, Irish emigrants and African immigrants cross paths at Dublin airport.
Another unnoticed irony of recent “progressive” drifts in our culture is that our fertility rate, currently 1.77, will, thanks to the introduction of abortion in 2018, soon drop beneath the statistically significant 1.6 figure, below which decline becomes exponential, with population halving every 50 years.
Ireland shares not just the essence of the African experience but also many of its pathologies. Smith cites the American anthropologist Rebecca Hardin on the matter of “concessions”—formal legal arrangements by which foreign actors are enabled to manage and exploit land or other natural resources of former colonies. “The beauty of these arrangements is that they not only satisfy rent-seeking states, but even better, reinforce their sovereign power despite the states’ inability to exploit their own resources directly themselves.”
Hardin also spoke of “concessionary politics”, by which, by Smith’s interpretation, she meant “states with little institutional capacity that conclude, and regularly renegotiate, such contracts for a licensing fee and a share of the accrued profits. Low-performance states are able to survive—remarkably well, overall—by selling such concessions to private companies or other states in exchange for rent. The example of oil and mineral companies comes to mind, but there is really no limit to what imaginative governments in Africa can do.”
This is a near-perfect summary of the Irish economic model over the past several decades. The breadth of what our political class sells off is imaginative indeed; they sell, in effect, the very essence of Ireland: its resources, yes, but more so its values, culture, uniqueness, weather, laws, constitution, natural rights, landscape, particularities, citizens’ rights, citizenship, passports. The intake by stealth over the past two decades of hundreds of thousands of outsiders is yet another example of such concession-granting: the transnational tech and chemical corporations from which the Irish political class obtains its lifeline trickle of financial run-off, need low-cost labor to allow their business models operate to maximum efficiency. Many of these companies—which were supposed to hire Irish workers—are now overwhelmingly staffed by imported labor.
Smith’s description, as much as it describes African political reality, provides another unwitting but devastating insight into modern Ireland:
“What is fascinating in this political alchemy is that it transmutes incapacity into profits, or base metal into gold: the less the state can act on its own, the more it has to offer to external partners. They stand in for the state and pay it recognition rights—tribute.”
The conventional justification for the escalated intake of migrants since 2015 is that the ratio of working people to dependents in European countries is deteriorating rapidly. If Europe continues on its present course, the dependency ratio will have declined by 2050 from the present four active workers per dependent to two.
The EU’s answer to this crisis is what is called “Convergence”: compensating for the overall decline of the European population (down by 70 million, 15 percent by 2070) by absorbing 86 million migrants, at 1.72 million per annum, almost 40 percent more every year than arrived in 2015. To stabilize its working-age population at present fertility rates, it would have to admit 1.6 million foreigners per year to 2050, which would result in a EU population comprising three-quarters foreigners/children of foreigners. Since these proposals are clearly untenable, thought is being given in various countries to raising the retirement age and capping migration levels. Smith notes that other possible alternatives to immigration, “like promoting and supporting large families, are rarely pursued with any vigour.”
Moreover, the pattern with African migrants is that migrating adults tend to bring significant numbers of their own dependents with them, so that the cost of schooling and health care cancels out any benefit. “How then,” Smith asks, “does one justify the a priori assumption that it would be better to integrate more immigrants into European societies than to offer Europeans incentives to have more children?”
Smith’s book deals comprehensively also with the idea, widely-believed in Europe, that the numbers of migrants travelling from Africa arise from some genuine threat to their safety and security. Many of those who make landfall in Ireland come in the guise of asylum seekers, yet the vast majority turn out to be economic migrants who, though failing in appeal after appeal when their applications for asylum have inevitably been turned down, are almost never deported.
Between the early 1970s and the late-1990s, the number of Africans seeking asylum in countries now part of the EU increased twenty-fold, from 15,000 to 300,000. This pattern has continued into the third millennium. In 2014, there were 562,700 applications; in 2017, 650,000.
Smith asks: “Has the world really become so much more dangerous over the past half-century, in particular in the new democracies south of the Sahara, like Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria or Kenya? In 2017, according to Eurostat, four out of five asylum seekers in Europe—82 percent— were under the age of thirty-five and two-thirds of them—68 percent—were men. This is not the demography of the lifeboats.”
He also notes that in 2017, 53 percent of first-instance asylum applications in the 28 EU countries were rejected. The Czech Republic rejected 88 percent; Germany 50 percent; France 71 percent; the UK 69 percent; and Ireland 11 percent.
The right of asylum, says Smith, “has become a fig leaf for economic migration.”
He also provides a dispassionate analysis of the phenomenon of deaths in the Mediterranean, a favoured media trope over the past five years. In 2015, the year of record migration to Europe from Africa, 1,015,078 migrants reached European shores, while 3,771 were lost—a 0.37 percent casualty rate. He writes: “Here again, it is helpful to contextualize the risk—a calculated risk—that African migrants took in 2015: that year, according to World Bank statistics, the likelihood of dying in childbirth for a woman in South Sudan, the worst place on earth to bring an infant into the world, was 1.7 percent. In other words South Sudanese women giving birth were four and a half times more likely to die than a migrant crossing the Mediterranean, which has been variously described as an ‘open-air cemetery’, ‘the shame of Europe’, even the locus of ‘a silent genocide’.” He also notes that the risks were greatly increased by the recklessness of NGOs providing taxi services to rescue migrants from unseaworthy boats, which enabled people traffickers to take even more people in even flimsier craft.
He concludes: “Were journalists and the public to think twice before they reach for clichés—‘the poorest of the poor braving death’ to flee the ‘hell’ of Africa—a more fact-based discussion of migration would be possible.”
We have heard much about the deaths in the Mediterranean since 2015, but rather less about the deaths in the Sahara as migrants make the first stage of the journey to Europe. One estimate puts these deaths at 1,790 between 1996 and 2013, a figure Smith believes to be on the low side. The criminal aspects of trans-Saharan migrant trafficking (10,000 per month at last counting) are not widely ventilated either. “There are ‘hunters’ who drive the migrants into ‘ghettos’, where they wait in makeshift lodgings until it is time to leave; and ‘fixers’ on mopeds who accompany the conveys like a swarm of mosquitoes, bribing the police at various check-points so the human cargo can pass. In Libya there are the gidambashi— ‘credit houses’—which function as detention and torture centres for migrants who have run out of money.
“Photos or footage of these captives—in a pitiable state, starved and swollen from beatings—are posted on Facebook or sent via WhatsApp to extort money from family members to secure their release.” Those for whom no ransom is paid are auctioned off on slave markets.
Something else the public rarely gets to hear about is that the EU has for some time been engaged in bribery of intermediate countries in attempts to limit the number of migrants arriving on European shores. A year before his toppling and murder, Gaddafi demanded an annual payment of €5 billion for Libya to continue blocking the way of migrants heading to Europe. In March 2016, the EU paid €6 billion to Turkey to close off the routes via the Aegean.
While superficially Smith affects sanguinity about a mass influx of Africans into Europe, he emphasizes that we need to understand more about why it’s happening before we go further down a road that may end in chaos and regret. He also proposes ways of managing better the relationship between Africa and Europe: short-term visas, one-for-one exchanges, helping Africa to stop the haemorrhaging of its population. There is still time for Africans and Europeans to make choices, ideally in concert with one another. “They can organize what they can’t prevent.”
In concluding, Smith says: “The massive migration of Africans to Europe is in the interest of neither Young Africa nor the Old Continent. For Europe, only a very selective filtering of would-be migrants will provide any benefit because of the highly competitive nature of its jobs market, which is likely to contract further as automation and especially robotics roll out. In the end, he says, “the decline in its working population will almost certainly be a net gain for Europe, not a loss. Africa, on the other hand, has far more to lose than to gain from the large scale ‘exportation’ of its youth.” He is right: Africa needs investment, entrepreneurship, creativity.
He says: “Africa’s challenge is not an excess of young people but a lack of adults.” Similarly Europe, which prates undergraduate pieties in the face of an impending catastrophe for both continents.
Smith asserts that his aim is to “de-moralize” the debate. “While there are obviously important ethical implications, the decision for or against a migratory policy is not a choice between Good and Evil. In European democracies, it is about first deliberating and then agreeing on the rules for the admission of third-country nationals to EU territory. These rules ought to be in the best—not the basest or the most self-sacrificing—interests of its citizenry. It is a question of good governance, not of heaven or hell on earth.”
“A border is not a barrier,” he writes. “A border is a space of negotiation between neighbours, who cannot disregard the problems on the other side.”
Such an approach requires realism, not emotionalism. Africans are not a homogeneous group: they come from a vast continent with a multiplicity of tribes, cultures, tradition, norms and values that, Smith stresses, “it is not inappropriate for their hosts to examine before extending their hospitality.” A scattergun “politics of pity” is misplaced and unhelpful. “In short, when trying to formulate a ‘good’ immigration policy, irenic universalism inspired by a vague brotherhood of men is a prejudicial as nationalistic or nativist egoism, or any cult of blood and soil.”
The arrival of foreigners in a society, he observes, can be destabilising, and pretending otherwise is “surely disingenuous”. He cites the Algerian writer Kamel Daoud, who warned against “an angelic attitude that can ultimately kill”. Neither host nor stranger is a priori “good” nor “evil”, “generous” nor “selfish”. No outsider has to right to dictate to a community how it should define the commonality of its members—especially not those applying for membership. “One doesn’t join a club by relaxing the rules. These can be renegotiated, but only after one has become a member.”
“In any event,” he writes, “except for the duty to rescue that applies to asylum seekers (and it limited by the principle that they should not constitute a criminal threat to the community), indifference is neither wrong nor immoral.” Freedom of association implies also the right not to associate. “Whatever the response, a concern for greater international equality should not be confused with a vision of open borders as the royal road to achieving that goal. It is not inconsistent to favour worldwide social justice and oppose the free movement of persons.”
“If you’re a European, you decide who’s getting into your country—you can’t count without your host. Only Europeans can decide who enters Europe, but they cannot decide in a void.”
The Scramble for Europe is a rich and well-informed book, which, as Smith says, seeks to “de-moralize” the debate, i.e. remove it from the ambit of the “politics of pity”, and come up with practical ways of dealing with an issue that is not going to go away.
Europe, he proposes, might consider “new forms of ‘circulatory migration’—based on multiple entry visas or even residence permits granted for two or three years, according to a new national quota system that makes the arrival of a new African conditional on the prior departure of a compatriot.” This, he claims, “could harness the self-regulatory effects of the job market and . . . make the policing of migratory flows a shared responsibility between Europe and Africa. One-for-one migrant substitution—one leaves, another enters—would no longer be the defence of ‘Fortress Europe’ but co-management of its drawbridge.”
When you stand right back from it, it becomes impossible to avoid the idea that, absent some radical shift or intervention, sooner rather than later Europe will become Eurafrica or, if the current plantation continues to happen by stealth, perhaps Eurica! The self-destroying demographics, the European obsession with birth control, abortion, equality, political correctness, open borders etc. seem destined to trap Europe in a cycle of self-liquidation, whereas Africa, with contrasting but strangely hand-in-glove pathologies, seems willing and ready to capitalize on all this by simply moving across the Mediterranean. But this will result not in the rejuvenation of Europe but the importation of African problems and pathologies.
Many Europeans have this strange idea that we can reboot our “youth factor” by importing young Africans, seemingly indifferent to the potential for new tribalism and conflict, to say nothing of the question: why should Africans, who have escaped from their own gerontocracy, wish to maintain white European pensioners in the style to which they feel entitled? Might something else happen?
Echo answers: “Happen?”