Barca walla barzakh – Barcelona or death – became a rallying cry for thousands of young Senagalese seeking new life in Europe in the mid-2000s. Facing destitution and a dearth of opportunity, leaving home became an imperative for economic and social vitality – even if it meant braving the vast Mediterranean in flimsy, inflatable rafts.
African emigration rates are staggering – a product of variant, complex push-factors that have been festering for many decades. Sub-Saharan African nations account for eight of the ten fastest growing international migrant populations while among North Africans, reported desire to leave reached a record high in 2017. Europe – which inadvertently broadcasts pull-factors in its own right – is the destination of choice via the West and Central Mediterranean routes.
The Compact with Africa is one of several initiatives developed by African and European leaders to ameliorate African nations’ economic challenges and other factors contributing to mass emigration. Launched in 2017 under the G20 German presidency, the compact aims to promote private investment in Africa, to bring in firms and jobs for the growing youth population and, ultimately, to fight poverty.
While increased migration is a reality of a globalised world, Europe has seen a significant and unmanageable spike in irregular migration in recent years. According to the International Organization of Migration (IOM), Mediterranean crossings increased four-fold in 2013 in the wake of the Arab Spring. Libya, a transit country, is Africa’s gateway to Europe. In the past four years, more than 600,000 people have crossed into Europe from Libya, with another 400,000 to one million bottlenecked in the country, stuck in purgatory, awaiting an opportunity to head north. Occurring in tandem with the massive refugee flow from Syria, European governments lost control of their borders and, subsequently, the faith of their policies. With the tide came lifeboats followed by waves of isolationist and nationalistic sentiment washing over Europe.
For the most part, the European response to the migration crisis at its borders has been reactionary: nations opened borders, closed borders, erected walls, constructed processing centers, pumped resources into Frontex, and struck deals with transit countries – all with the intention of reasserting some semblance of control over the migration crisis. And while immediate policy maneuvers were – and continue to be – sorely needed, not enough attention and resources have been allocated to tackling the roots of the problems. This is especially problematic considering emigration from African nations is not expected to subside.
Africa is projected to experience unprecedented population rise in coming decades, doubling to 2.5 billion by 2050. Many national economies are ill equipped to accommodate the 440 million young Africans expected to be seeking jobs by 2030. This means that while some Africans will be forced from home by circumstance – conflict, corruption, the threat of forcible conscription, or the vestiges of warfare – many others will leave by choice. But in many cases, that choice will be framed against a future outlook so austere and onerous that they would rather hazard hundreds of miles across the churning Mediterranean than face the desperation at home. Oxford Professor and migratory expert, Paul Collier, sees only one way to mitigate this crisis: “The only way long term to lift states out of a fragility is to grow the economy – to grow economic opportunities.”
Enter the G20 Compact with Africa, which focuses on private investment rather than aid, and leaders from Africa, Europe, G20 nations and beyond are eager to explore its potential. Partners of the compact include multinational organizations, international donors and reform-minded African nations; thus far, Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, Tunisia and Togo have signed on. Open to all African countries, the compact looks to tackle some of the roots of the Mediterranean migration crisis, offering incentives for firms entering the partnering African nations in a move Collier calls “making globalisation work for Africa”.
In introducing the compact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel remarked, “If there is hopelessness in Africa, young people will look for better perspectives elsewhere”. Fragile states across Africa and the Middle East risk losing many of their best and brightest young people because hope lies in leaving. This narrative is fed by the “Welcome to Europe” messages from NGOs, well-meaning European governments and citizens; though well intentioned, migrants develop false hopes about the opportunities for jobs and prosperity in the north.
Though firms are reluctant to enter the fragile states where they face difficulty creating a market for their products, that is where they are needed. Most Africans living in fragile states do solitary work, without scale or specialisation, and with a low productivity yield that lands them in cyclical poverty. The Compact with Africa aims to bring European and other G20 firms to countries that will organise people beyond a subsistence level to engage in empowered production and kick start growth.
Some critics point out that progress with the compact has been slow since it was introduced last year, however, interest – particularly among African leaders – has not waned. In April, delegates from the eleven African nations who signed the compact met in Accra, Ghana and discussed how to leverage resources to drive economic prosperity within their countries, focusing in particular on tax reform. In partnership with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the African Development Bank, African leaders are developing tailored, country-specific reform agendas to increase investment potential.
Just last week, Chancellor Merkel culminated a tour to meet with leaders in Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria, home to some of Africa’s fastest growing economies, with a delegation of German business leaders and potential investors in tow. Merkel hopes to keep up the momentum and see continued commitment to the goals of the compact, declaring at the end of her trip “Youth are demanding and want a future in their own country”.
The compact it is not expected to be some kind of quick fix or even a long-term panacea to all economic woes. Ultimately it is simply a partnership intended to catalyze growth and opportunity as well as tackle some of the root issues that have manifested into the migration crisis Europe faces today. A measurable reduction in emigration may still be many years away. For long-term, sustainable impact, it will require endurance, solidarity and a commitment to the long-term outlook from all parties involved.