»My paradise is here«
The EU organises propaganda events against migration while leaving its true causes in the dark
What a bizarre, otherworldly scene in Abidjan on this hot November evening before the 5th EU-Africa Summit: following the request of the Ivorian mega football star Didier Drogba, an entire stadium full of Ivorian youth chants “I promise I won’t migrate! I promise I won’t migrate! I promise I won’t migrate”.
It all started as a rather nice event. Singers of the internationally renowned band Magic System heat up the room. The entire stadium buzzes with the cheers and chants of hundreds of young people, waiting in utter excitement for the arrival of one person: the Ivorian football star Didier Drogba – a role model and idol for young Ivorians for his steep career playing for Chelsea. But this is not a concert. It’s an EU-funded propaganda event against migration.
Short speeches between the songs, the long speech by Drogba, all carried the same message: migration is bad and shameful, don’t run away, don’t leave your country! “Emigration is no solution for our problems”, said the lead singer of the band, “the best way to be happy is to stay here with us.” Other honorary guests, including the Ivorian Minister of Culture and the Ivorian Minister for Youth, followed along the same lines: “We organised this concert not only to educate youth about the need for vocational training but above all educate against illegal immigration”. The evening found its culmination in the already described bizarre scene of hundreds of young people promising repeatedly that the won’t leave.
Rediscovering home – funded by Europe
So-called “sensibilisation and information campaigns” are a key feature of Europe’s alleged fight against the root causes of migration. The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa foresees one million Euros for “raising awareness on the dangers of illegal migration”. On top, the member states themselves spend their own money on the same kind of events.
At another event, some days later, I found it rather impressive to witness a panel of eight people discussing the root causes of migration without ever mentioning Europe’s role even a single time. Financed by the German Foreign Ministry and supported by the IOM, the French Institute in Abidjan organised this panel to “de-passionate” the debate about migration. In reality, though, the entire event was full of emotions. From sad faces of mothers who have lost their migrating children, through graphic records of dead bodies washed ashore in the Mediterranean and distressing pictures of a man whispering “Help me!” in a Libyan cell before being beaten by whoever kept him there, to disillusioned refugees being returned to West Africa in a plane. The message was clear: If you migrate, all this will happen to you – you may die, your mother will be sad, you will be repatriated – and it’s all going to be your own fault. The panel continued to randomly link outrageous comments on youth as a threat, terrorism and lack of education, as well as – from a social scientist’s point of view – ridiculous wholesale claims about the nature of Africans.
For those who found this less outrageous and more boring than I did, various goodies were provided throughout the room: posters on the walls, flyers and a bag for everyone on the chairs. In case somebody missed the message, here it goes again: “The sea kills, the desert as well – no to irregular migration!” proclaimed a poster showing a lonely pair of shoes in the desert, “No to irregular migration!” repeated one side of the tote bag, while the other one said “My paradise is here” – inside the outlines of Côte d’Ivoire.
The latter made me think. After having seen two such events over the course of just two days – repeatedly hearing “Stay here!”, “You can make it here”, “Your paradise is here” – I couldn’t help but wonder how much of a paradise Côte d’Ivoire really is for the Ivorian youth targeted by those events. Unsurprisingly, it turns out Côte d’Ivoire is not that great a place for youth. And while the EU and its member states are spending money on telling people how amazing their own country supposedly is and that they should stay, the same countries’ trade policies contribute their part to the fact that Côte d’Ivoire has not much to offer to its youth (other than EU-funded propaganda concerts).
The cocoa-trade-migration nexus
How do these trade policies look like? A relatively simple example: The main export product of Côte d’Ivoire is cocoa. With an annual export value of 3.75 billion US$, it makes up for roughly one third of the country’s total exports. Now, the European Union’s exports around 18 billion US$ worth of chocolate, or around 75% of the world’s annual chocolate exports. The entire African continent – where the cocoa trees grow – remains far behind with less than 200 Mio US$ worth of chocolate exports.
How can it be that a continent on which no cocoa tree can survive outside of a greenhouse makes 90x more from chocolate than the continent on which cocoa trees are actually thriving?
The answer is simple: trade-links established in colonial times and escalating tariffs. They allow for cocoa beans to be imported without any additional taxes. Processed goods, such as chocolate, however, incur a hefty surcharge, making it unprofitable to process cocoa in situ and instead leading to the transfer of large amounts of cocoa beans to the EU, where they are then ground, processed into various products from cocoa butter to power, turned into chocolate, and eventually sold both internally and to other countries.
Planting cocoa trees and selling the beans is one thing, the actual profits though, as well as all the jobs and all the sophisticated machinery and services are generated and needed where the beans are turned from wrinkly brown seeds into smooth and sweet chocolate. The money in the chocolate industry is made in Europe, not in Africa.
Wouldn’t it be paradise, if all those sweet jobs where in Côte d’Ivoire?
If Europe wanted to do something against the root causes of migration by creating jobs in Africa, it could simply work on its tariff system. Providing Côte d’Ivoire and other cocoa-producing countries with a way to export processed goods into the EU could create thousands if not millions of new jobs on the continent, an entire production chain. This is especially urgent having the rapidly growing African population in mind and the expected youth bulk, millions of young people in need of a job in the years and decades ahead. Both the EU and the African Union are aware of this issue and profess to address it.
But fixing our trade system and making it “pro-poor” in the spirit of the much lauded “policy harmonisation” in development, seems to be low on the agenda of the EU. Who would want to risk chocolate jobs here in Europe? Rather, short-sighted conferences and events are set up – and not only in Abidjan.
Just a few weeks before flying to Abidjan for the 5th AU-EU Summit (to which the above mentioned events were side-events), I was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and took part in a GIZ-organised conference labelled “Africa talks jobs”. 300 young people flown in to discuss over fancy catering in the African Union headquarters about how to create all the urgently needed jobs for African youth – of course, again, without ever mentioning Europe’s trade system. Ethiopia is the home of the coffee tree, yet Germany alone makes more money with coffee than all of Africa together. Sounds familiar? It’s the Ivorian cocoa story all over again, just with a different tree.
It’s particularly interesting to see the bigger picture: a tiny part of the tax revenues that Germany makes among other things through processing African coffee and chocolate beans, are then channeled through the German Foreign Ministry and the German development agency GIZ into conferences that tell young Ivorians how wonderful it is to stay in a country where our own European trade regime prevents any economy from materialising, or to let young Ethiopians discuss about how to create jobs in a context where Europe’s and Germany’s foreign policy creates an environment hostile to the creation of production chains. As we all know, letting people go to where the jobs are is also no option for Europe or Germany.
This example shows that it is risky for progressives to jump on the band-waggon of the ’fighting the root causes’ narrative. At best, it is just inefficient and nothing changes. At worst, though, it serves as a cover up for maintaining the status quo that is itself actually at the root of the current crisis. “Fighting the root causes of migration”, for progressives this can only be an endeavour to change the structures and systems that keep Africa poor, rather than getting distracted by the temptation to use the current hype for short-term fixes. Would Europe fix its unfair trade system, rather than hiring football stars to work as propaganda ambassadors, Côte d’Ivoire might well become a paradise – a palm-fringed chocolate paradise offering enough jobs for its youth.