“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw”
– Nelson Mandela
“A critical, independent and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy. The press must be free from state interference. It must have the economic strength to stand up to the blandishments of government officials. It must have sufficient independence from vested interests to be bold and inquiring without fear or favor. It must enjoy the protection of the constitution, so that it can protect our rights as citizens.”
– Nelson Mandela. More quotes here.
There are some people out there who are proud of imperialism. You know that sick idea of going to other people’s countries, and beginning wars, killing innocent people, grabbing away land, raping women, enslaving their men, terrorizing their way of life…. all in the name of ‘conquering lands’ for the motherland. Yes, that lawlessness; there are some people who would try to justify it.
There are also some people alive today who believe that their version of history, governance, and politics, is the best version there is. That other systems of governance different from theirs are backward, unworkable, impractical, inferior or repressive. This skewered mentality is exactly the kind of thing that causes a seemingly sensible diplomat to write an article such as this titled To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran. These people’s only solution to every geopolitical challenge is guns, missiles, bombs, and much recently, drones.
Funny enough, among those who support imperialism and those who prefer a militant foreign policy (as opposed to a peaceful and diplomatic one) are many who correctly classify Nazism as a vile and unacceptable ideology.
The question then becomes how does one form of extreme violence and persecution of the other become fair game, while another – which was evidently harsher and more inhumane – is universally prohibited? Shouldn’t all violence and persecution be denounced? To which you will hear responses such as ‘Our work is necessary to protect our interests‘ , ‘We don’t kill innocent people‘, ‘We don’t have gas chambers’, and ‘We don’t classify others as lesser human beings’...and so on. In this sphere, ‘interests’ are more important than the lives of humans.
The cynics in the corner will cite Godwin’s Law, that such a comparison is hysterical. Apples, they will say, must not be compared with oranges. I care not about their scorn. Because it’s easy in the gluttonous world they inhabit to accuse, denigrate and attempt to undermine a viewpoint they don’t sit comfortably with. It’s easy to airbrush history when you are a beneficiary of its oppressive machinations. Even a fool knows that.
What is clear to me is that most such answers are unconvincing if not disingenuous. For a start, how many people have died while trying to reach the shores of Europe, or trying to reach Australia. over the last 20+ years? Are their numbers not an atrocity, against which governments all over the world should seek a permanent solution? They may not have died in gas chambers at the hands of the SS, but that doesn’t mean that their deaths should be dismissed or accepted as an unavoidable eventuality.
It is clear that the smugglers who provide the boats are partly to blame, but those criminals didn’t create the demand. No smuggler ever forced anyone to cross the Mediterranean on a dinghy they themselves wouldn’t cross a river with.
But who can deny that foreign policy of countries in Europe have disadvantaged African countries in some important respects?
So in my view Britain and its allies must shoulder part of the blame. Not only for the recent chaos in the Middle East and North Africa, but also for age-old atrocities which have created deep divisions across countries, and which fuel such migration. Ed Milliband’s comments on David Cameron’s role in Libya were correct. Tony Blair, George Bush and Dick Cheney all need to answer similar questions over their roles in Iraq.
The loss of life in the mediterranean represents an ongoing massacre sanctioned by the powers that be, through their foreign policy. It can be prevented with certain humane measures, or at least greatly curtailed by the actions of governments.
The question is not what Europe can do to stop migrants coming to Europe, but instead what Europe’s obligation is (considering its colonial history) to help restore African countries to an economic position whereby their citizens want to live in them.
You don’t keep birds away from your garden by poisoning the seeds and nuts in them. Or by catching them and returning them to the same drought-stricken wilderness they’ve fled. You ensure there is enough food to eat in the forest, and plenty of trees to provide safety, so that the bird doesn’t have to come all the way to your garden.
As an immigrant, the racist undertones of the anti-immigrant debate cited by the following articles are all too familiar (not only in my life, but in the lives of many other immigrants I know, and their children). I’ve heard it all, and nothing surprises me any more:-
- UK immigration and a nasty dose of xenophobia
- UK xenophobia turns against Eastern Europeans
- Immigrants to UK facing rise in ‘hostility and discrimination’
- We’re Getting It Wrong on Immigration
- The noise on immigration is drowning out real problems
I’m not saying everything each of these writers say is gospel. No, that’s not what I’m saying. But equally, you can’t dismiss it all as impractical left-wing dross. It’s not, and many other sensible people agree with me:-
Sadly no one in a position of authority wants to sort it out. The recent measures by the EU to try to address the situation are lacklustre and evidently temporary. I don’t know, maybe they think the problem will go away.
But will it? Why hasn’t it ended of itself in the last 20 years? It won’t go away, and their policies are merely postponing the ending of a crisis whose roots they have neither the willpower nor the leadership to address.
Whichever view on migration you choose to believe, the question I’d like to address is why is this still happening. Why are so many people putting their lives in danger, for a dream that may never materialise? As I’ve written before, here and here, it’s a combination of factors, chief of which is desperation. The crippling poverty which Frantz Fanon wrote about in his 1961 book The Wretched of the Earth, and which Walter Rodney described in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, is real. And it has had far-reaching consequences, some of which may not be that easy for westerners to accept. The immigrant crisis in the mediterranean is merely one visible manifestation of such consequences. And it’s come to the fore because the far-right anti-immigrant agenda at play especially here in Britain is being challenged in the face of so many deaths.
Most African countries became independent after long periods of oppression in which a considerable and inestimable amount of their wealth was plundered by colonial institutions (the likes of the East India company) for the benefit of their colonial masters. After becoming independent, with no industry (so no tax base), yet huge private enterprise interests belonging to foreign nationals, they struggled to raise enough funds to finance government functions, failing to create independent institutions. The lack of money fuelled corruption and nepotism, and meant that foreigners could take advantage of the financial situation to cause divisions on tribal lines (as happened in Rwanda). It also meant that the African countries needed to borrow funds from somewhere (organisations like the IMF – which emphasized austerity and cuts over growth of the economy). So these countries borrowed, and borrowed, only for their debts to increase exponentially, to a point they could not be repaid, let alone serviced. Many were then asked to liberalise their economies, selling critical assets to foreign corporations, weakening yet again their already precarious positions. Debts were cancelled and replaced with more loans, but because the states owned very little means of generating an income, they still had to borrow money. Further, the corporations which bought state assets used international law and other schemes to shift profits out of the African countries, depriving these countries of critical foreign exchange and also avoiding paying tax. This vicious cycle continues until today in most parts of Africa, with austerity policies only serving to harm the poorest in society. And that’s even before we mention Trade / Import tariffs which have been known to damage trade.
What was needed for those African countries soon after independence was growth of industry and diversification of their economies (to grow the tax base, and create jobs). Further, they needed value addition (enabling raw materials to be processed before export – thereby attracting more competitive prices), an end to illicit financial outflows, investment in infrastructure, and the creation of entrepreneur friendly environments where innovators could thrive. It would be easier to establish everything else once these cornerstones were in place.
Most dictators who took over from the colonialists didn’t achieve this, so they too are partly to blame, for their shortsightedness as much as the societal divisions many created during their reigns. Similarly, those leaders who came after the dictators but did little in the way of rectifying these challenges must also shoulder some blame.
I await the day a European/ World leader will be born who will come clean on these issues. Someone who will decide to do the right thing and truly remove the impediments to growth choking African economies. If that doesn’t happen sooner than later, please feel free to return to this blog (or its future successor in some archive somewhere) in 2030, or 2050, or 2070, to read this article again.