Migrants and refugees are the consequence, not the problem. Switching from vicious circles to developing chains is the way out from war and poverty in Africa

London, 7 August 2020 – Five years since the migration crisis in the Mediterranean and still women, children, men are escaping war, famine and persecution.

To the EU 27 taking them on board is not just a matter of upholding human rights, but it’s about taking their own responsibilities as weapons produced in the EU are used in African conflicts and military backed proxy-wars have been for decades the western European states ‘foreign policy’.

These are our own refugees, we have a ‘duty of first adoption’ because, as Europeans, we reckon that after having destroyed and impoverished Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Mali, Nigeria by drilling oil from their lands like bloodsuckers and keeping tyrants on their thrones for that, we must give their populations a chance to survive, to escape that hell we, so diligently, contribute to create.

Now that a virus proved that we can die easily as well, it’s the right moment to sit at the table with the reluctant, racist, nationalist, post-colonialist and frugal states of the Union: a new Dublin Agreement must set definitive rules.

The EU is a strong democracy, a safe place where fight and quarrels finally end into agreements, common denominators, practical ways out. A fair share of quotas, proportionate and tailored to each country’s size, economy and industries, is the only way forward.

Africa can no longer be the one way route for oil, weapons, trafficking. A new agreement implies that our countries, economies and international trade must change.

So we are not talking about immigration and humanitarian emergency only, but about their root causes. Building infrastructures, education, developed societies of consumers in African countries is in the EU’s interest. Particularly right now that in the midst of Covid crisis industries are shifting (look at the drop of oil prices and new investments in clean energy).

The long term stable solution to the desperate, inhuman escape of million of innocents from war, tyranny, poverty through concentration camps and human traffickers in Libya to finally risk their lives in the Mediterranean, is investments and development.

Aren’t we doing this already? you might ask. The answer is: no. The kind of EU investments in African countries can make limited, non long term structural changes. We need to start their industrial revolution through huge infrastructures, the backbones of economy able to create the African countries working classes.


Yes, China is a violent, repressive regime where unions and working rights do not exist. It is right for this reason that the EU must take the lead and build in Africa through democratic cooperation, diplomacy, investments with the guarantee of respect of human rights.

Structural upgrade works of the huge port of Dar es Salaam provided jobs to more than 900 Tanzanians.  The project is the outcome of a Tanzania-China agreement. Its cargo capacity will be increased to 17.65 million tonnes per year. The port is the fourth largest on the African continent’s Indian Ocean coastline. 

From 2005 to 2018 China invested in sub-Saharan Africa $299 billion, (figures China Investment Global Tracker), while over 10,000 Chinese-owned firms are operating in the continent with over 201,000 Chinese workers. In 2018, the top 5 African countries China is investing are Algeria, Angola, Kenya, Ethiopia and  Nigeria.

Only the impact of large scale infrastructures can start the chain of development in dramatically depressed areas.

Where’s the return of investment? Private sector, multinationals, banks will rise this question. The answer is two fold:

1) cooperation with local authorities of each country and the local businesses who will gain customers and consumers when a certain slice of population starts earning something.

2) you open a two ways high road for trade Africa-EU with gains for both ends, replacing today’s one way migration route where return means death.

Aid and partnerships are the two strongholds of EU relations with African countries in addition to diplomacy. The principle is enhancing development and relations through trade and poverty reduction helping businesses in loco so they reach the standards for exporting to the Union. 

As Western African countries export to the EU mainly fuel and and metals, the goal to is gradually expand trade over the next ten years reaching standards for an even exchange with the EU, meaning adding up consumable goods. Currently Western African countries import from EU a wide range of goods including pharmaceuticals ad technology.

The EU’s bottom up approach to development and trade makes a change inside African communities, it helps develop small medium enterprises, helps reaching standards required to comply with EU regulations on export, but it does not impact these economies and societies massively by creating layers of working classes with related trade unions in a short lapse of time.

In Nigeria, for instance, 80% of cars are second hand and come from US or Japan and are smuggled through neighbouring states; these are old and low standards vehicles. Given the low disposable income of Nigerians, only used cars are affordable. Recently the government banned imported/smuggled cars from other West African countries in order to protect and develop domestic industry and market, but though the move increased production and lowered price of buses as public vehicles, it did not work out the issue of too high price of nationally manufactured cars.

The spiralling circle then is: there is no internal market for goods because people have no money to buy because there is no work paid enough because large industries, such as manufacture, do not sell domestically and are not exporting because of lack of infrastructures and low level standards.

The only way out of this vicious circle is turning it into a development chain through large scale structural investment on infrastructures and plants in Africa where skills mix with the local ones resulting in high standards production and so start the chain of economy.

Not just EU grants and aid then, but fully financed large scale international projects bringing the EU private sector to build roads, bridges, water supply pipes, extensive agriculture, sewers, solar panels, windmills, harbours, ships in Africa.

The fact, for example, that in Nigeria only 60,000 km roads out of a total 195,000 km roads network is paved (figures: Nigeria Government Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission 2019), shows how slow the path of development is going to be for African countries if we don’t pave the way to foreign industry to bring work and long term local workforce in loco. The roads we are currently riding are clearly protectionist policies aimed at delaying African potential competitiveness.

The present EU ‘development’ policy benefiting small medium businesses, bringing gradual human rights, education standards and normative compliance for goods, is a positive one, but it will be taking decades to positively impact population; it needs to be integrated with large scale infrastructure building. 

For instance the EU-West Africa Economic Partnership Agreement is a trade and development agreement created with West African regional organisations. It aims at boosting development in the area through trade.

Among the objectives not only trade but also establishing peace, security and regional stability, promoting regional economic integration, trade and the private sector, building resilience in food and nutritional security, securing natural resources and fostering renewable energy. Nigeria is one of the 16 West African countries who signed the agreement in 2015. The agreement will not bring large structural infrastructures leading to the countries economic autonomy.

Being ashamed in front of the tragedy of refugees and desperate migrants escaping violence, war and poverty and fighting in support of their safety and integration in host countries is vital and just. But this doesn’t contribute to long term solutions and to the peace and justice migrants and refugees deserve in their own countries.

In order to make a step forward we don’t only need the new rules of a Dublin Regulation reform, but we have to ban exploitative and dangerous industries such as arm sales and oil drilling, and open a straightforward dialogue with the big businesses and multinationals who still think it’s not convenient to make log term, not exploitative, investments in Africa. 

Garance Dessey/ Emy Muzzi