|© Sindiso Nyoni, 2023|
“Migration is not the West’s problem, it is Africa’s”
Consciously risking death
A new ZAM transnational investigation into migration from five African countries shows that, in many cases, the urge to leave is so strong that migrants consciously risk extortion by smugglers, abuse, exploitative labour, and even death. A majority of interviewees in Uganda, Kenya, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria told ZAM team members during a six-month-long investigation that they would leave as soon as an opportunity arose, regardless of what awaited them. They described feeling despair about their countries, -generally described as poorly governed and repressive, with no prospects of employment or building a family life-, and about their governments, which, they said, were mainly concerned with “eating from the public treasury.”
Government officials complicit
With regard to the governments in the five countries, the investigative team also observed that, instead of encouraging citizens to stay, government officials were even making money from human smuggling. In Kenya and Uganda, at least US$76 million per year is paid to well-connected “employment agencies” that promise migrants a job in Gulf states. In Cameroon, a businessman with government connections offered irregular French visas for sale, for the equivalent of US$6,000 each, to would-be migrants. In addition, passport sales and remittances from the diaspora are literal cash cows for state coffers in the five countries.
Returnee projects fail
The team also found that Western projects for “returning” migrants fail in at least 60 percent of cases, a figure also recognised by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Three Nigerian returnees reported that many or most in their groups of returnees “sold their starter packs and left again.”
Though the investigation confirms previous research showing that there is no “mass migration” from Africa to Europe or by extension the UK, -since a majority of migrants never get that far- the team notes that empty campuses, dilapidated hospitals, and state institutions riddled with incompetence and nepotism, are a nightmare for Africa itself. One interviewee asked: “The West says we have to develop, but how do we do that when all our brains have left?”
The findings give rise to the question if recent European and UK “Africa Strategy” documents, which emphasise “enhanced cooperation on migration and mobility” in “equal partnerships” with African governments, will have the desired effect as long as “partner” states are riddled with corruption. For example, a “border control” project to produce a new digital passport system for Nigeria, funded by the EU to the tune of €250 million, was exposed in an earlier investigation by team member Theophilus Abbah as a vehicle for corrupt contracts between businessmen and key officials in the Nigerian customs system, while Nigeria’s borders remained as porous as ever.
According to the policy documents mentioned above, Europe and the UK fear that African governments, if dissatisfied with “the West”, might rush to embrace “other geopolitical players” – i.e. Russia and China. But the ZAM team notes that closer Western partnerships with corrupt and oppressive rulers might instead lead to the loss of even more trust from exasperated citizens. In response to fears that his government might “run to Putin” if Western support were to disappear, a Cameroonian democratic activist asked: “But why don’t they support us?”
The investigative team consisted of Elizabeth BanyiTabi (Cameroon), Theophilus Abbah (Nigeria), Emmanuel Mutaizibwa (Uganda), Ngina Kirori (Kenya) and Brezh Malaba (Zimbabwe). The same team, earlier this year, published “Cry Freedom”, a transnational investigation into the suppression of protest in the same five African countries. The investigation was coordinated and edited by ZAM’s investigations editor, Evelyn Groenink.
The Making of Migration Transnational Investigation launches on www.zammagazine.com tomorrow, Wednesday 18 October.
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