The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) recently had an online news feature titled, ‘Can Voluntary Colonialism Stop Migration to Europe?’. While the title itself is more a suggestion than a question what was shocking in the article were comments attributed to Germany’s Minister of state for Africa, Gunter Nooke.
He is reported to have said the following, “The European Union, or a body like the World Bank, should build and run cities in Africa in order to boost job creation and development on the continent.” The report then highlights that these remarks were made in the context of Nooke outlining ‘his thinking on how to stem migration to Europe.’
To its credit the African Union is also reported as having dismissed such a suggestion.
And of course there will be so called ‘rationalists’ from Africa who may agree with Nooke. While it is their right to do so, they would be well advised to recall what exactly colonialism was, what neocolonialism is and how neoliberalism is a direct offshoot of both.
This does not mean that Africa has no problems that cause push factors in migration. But the majority of these are as a direct result of interventionism on the continent in one form or the other. Be it economic, military or political.
And examples of these are many. Both historically- actual colonialism as formalized by the Berlin conference of 1884(-8) through to former colonial powers’ broad complicity in destabilizing post-independence African governments directly or indirectly. Add to this the deliberate playing out of one African country against the other in the context of the Cold War and eventual imposition of neoliberalism on the African political economy.
Where we analyze the contemporary causes of African’s northward migration to Europe, again we will come back full circle to military interventions in Libya the Sahel region. While the complicity of African governments remains unquestionable with regards their domestic political and economic policies they will in most cases be following economic templates provided by, to the greater extent, international financial institutions such as the World Bank. The latter backed again by the superpowers of the global north.
So Nooke’s proposed solution is not only ahistorical but self-righteous and condescending toward not only Africa in its geographical existence but more significantly, its people. And here’s the rub. There is a probable general assumption that Africans cannot manage their own affairs hence Nooke can casually make the claim of the EU or World Bank buying land from African governments and building enclave cities that will prevent us from migrating to their countries in what they consider large numbers.
The intention is also probably not to see this actually happen in the short term. It is to ensure that the narrative of ‘voluntary colonialism’ gains traction in European anti-immigrant discourse. And that the same narrative can be made to appear to have some profitable business sense for global capital to consider finding pliable African governments that would take up this ridiculous and historically revisionist idea.
On our part as Africans, there will be others who, while being outside of government, will want to see the ‘entrepreneurial’ side of this. At the same time while conveniently turning a blind eye to how rascist and neocolonial it is. Or in turn over-politicising the matter to being about the ‘bad governance’ of African governments and therefore it would, in their neo-colonial view, be better if we sold off cities or land to the World Bank. At the same time forfeiting sovereignty and with it the right to self-determination that was a fundamental objective of liberation struggles against colonialism.
While our opinions as Africans may not matter for much in global debates around migration as a ‘political and economic problem in the global north’s metropoles and fortresses, we should always be conscious of the fact we are not in any way, as Africans, the cause of it. And even if I am gladly accused of still being a Walter Rodney acolyte, there are still some in the global north who would not see Africans let alone the African continent as an equal global player and partner. Some out of willful ignorance others more because of misplaced nationalism and assumptions of racial superiority. And would be only too happy to perpetuate Africa and Africans in the mythical colonial narrative of either the dark continent and its peoples as ‘children’ who must be hand held. Thankfully these still remain a general minority (though radical, racial nationalism is rising in the global north).
For many of us Africans, the proposition by Nook may appear to be a storm in a teacup. Especially after it was correctly dismissed by the African Union. Or we may decide to let sleeping dogs lie lest we appear to be unreasonable. The truth and urgency of the matter is that we must always be able to talk back with a conscientiousness that demonstrates our own organic understanding of our humanity and equality in the world. Economically poor and historically oppressed as we are. And that most certainly our cities or land are not up for ‘voluntary colonialism’.