International Reports

Africa ante Portas

Europe’s image of Africa, the unknown black continent, is coloured by fascination and horror. People in Europe think they know all about the situation in Africa, and Africa’s picture in the minds of German pupils is full of familiar stereotypes: Africa is poor, weird, and wild, but then the Africans are musical and athletic. Relationships between the two continents have never been on an equal footing since the 15th century, when Africa became Europe’s colonial backyard. While one party possessed both resources and self-confidence, the other had no resources at all. The occasions when Africans appeared as players, be it as scurrilous dictators like Idi Amin or Mr Bokassa or, more recently, as positive role models like Nelson Mandela, were few and far between, and Europe’s expectations were often not met at all. Political and economic developments in Africa made no headway in the last five decades, causing the West to respond in different ways: While some demand a comprehensive remission of debts for the continent, others call for an end to development aid. However, what actually happened and is still happening in Africa never really aroused any interest in Europe. After all, the continent was far away, and what was happening happened ‘nowhere in Africa‘, so to speak. The end of the Cold War aroused great hopes that the winds of change might put things to rights. However, theses hopes remained unfulfilled. As long as push factors such as war, poverty, and over population remain dominant in Africa while Europe is governed by pull factors such as stability, merit, and education, matters will not change very much. However, there is another fact that currently concentrates Europe’s attention on Africa. Many countries on the continent are establishing or enhancing relations with China, a country that is known to hunger for raw materials but has also something to offer to the Africans, such as cheap products and economic relations without long-winded debates about human rights. While African rulers bask in the interest of the Chinese, the West is coming to realize that Africa is perfectly capable of surprising it with its receptiveness towards unexpected alliances. When the film ,The March‘ described in 1990 how thousands of Africans flee to Europe to escape starvation at home, a debate began that was revived a short while ago, when hundreds of Africans climbed Europe’s increasingly high fences at Ceuta and Melilla.There is no country in Africa where living conditions can be compared to those in Europe. What is more, the entire continent lacks the economic dynamism that can be observed in the developing countries of Asia. Young Africans think they know that Europe is a land of milk and honey, that it is rich while they themselves are poor. They never ask why this should be so. In 2005, the UN refugee organization supported around three million refugees in Africa – a figure that is as daunting as the resultant consequences. Large migrations are still confined to Africa itself, exceeding the accommodation capacities of the host countries. Moreover, as the refugees themselves hardly have anything positive to say about realities in their host countries, Europe retains its attraction as the destination the migrants dream of. According to the Federal Statistical Office, seven million foreigners were living in Germany in 2004, almost four percent of them Africans. Official data suggest that about 4.8 million Africans are currently living in the whole of the EU. While this does not make immigrants from Africa a weighty factor in Europe’s migration statistics, it appears impossible for Europe to go on ignoring the fires burning on the African continent, particularly in view of the political and economic stagnation to be expected in Africa, the HIV/AIDS issue, and the recent unrest in the suburbs of France. Meanwhile, German politicians have proposed to set up internment camps in ‘culturally related’ areas, i.e. in Africa itself. Even Mr Barroso, the president of the EU Commission, announced that Europe would increase its development aid ‘in its own interest’. However, this merely means treating the symptoms while leaving the underlying problems intact.Europe’s relations with Africa are disturbed. This disturbance is rooted in the colonial era, in which asymmetrical relations were established which have not become symmetrical to this day. Yet Africa is right on Europe’s doorstep. It must be in the interest of Europe to enable its neighbours to live a life of prosperity and dignity in their own countries. Fences, camps, and more development aid are probably not the proper way to achieve this goal. Africa’s problems are situated on the continent itself, and their solution must be tackled by Africans. Nevertheless, Europe has a role to play as well. Axelle Kabou demands that Europe should get rid of its superciliousness and Africa of its chip on the shoulder, there being no other way to establish a partnership. While many Africans today are clear in their minds about this, we must not wait for collective psychotherapy to work. What is needed now is a blend of familiar and innovative approaches. It may well be that the structure of development aid itself will have to change as well. For only if development aid succeeds in treading new, creative paths together with its African partners will it have a future in its present form