Migration. EU - Africa Relation and Empowerment of African Women

Stephanie Fenkart & Hannes Swoboda

The 28th Crans Montana Forum took place in Barcelona from the 5th until the 8th of July 2017. The topics varied from migration to African-EU cooperation, water sanitation, the “one belt, one road initiative” but also on the empowerment of African women.

While in many European countries - unfortunately also and even particularly in Austria - migration is seen as a threat, the discussions in Barcelona tried to find some common ideas how to manage migration from Africa in a more human way and in the interest of European and African developments. Instead of building new borders and defend them with military means the discussants from Europe and several African countries tried to develop common strategies.

It is essential to avoid the many tragedies of people dying in the Mediterranean Sea. But this Sea must be seen as a "mare nostrum" by Europeans and Africans alike. The two continents cannot be separated, they were always closely connected. Unfortunately, this connection was defined regularly by domination and exploitation from the European side. Colonialism including slave trade did not give the continent a chance of development according to the ideas promoted by its own people. We also must be frank that still today more capital is leaving the continent than is in invested into it.

However, Europe is not alone responsible for the development or the lack of “modernization” of many African states. Corruption and mismanagement is also embedded in many political systems, which deny its citizens the chance to promote their economic and political interests. Nevertheless, Africa must take ownership by democratic means of its own destiny. Leaders have to stop to fight for long term personal domination of political life and concentrate on developing democratic institutions.

That was particularly underlined by the women representatives in the "African's Women Forum". Especially women face difficult challenges, although it is important also distinguish between women and women; depending on their different status in society, defined by clan, wealth, education, culture, etc. However, 52% of the African population are women and a very high percentage of them is excluded or at least does not have the same access to economic possibilities than men. It is therefore essential to strengthen the role of African women and to gain African ownership on matters concerning themselves and it is also necessary to bring them from the informal sector into the formal one and increase their access to education and finance. Often, women do not have access to credits to open a business. They need economic freedom including to buy the land they are working on. The marginalization and discrimination of women has to be ended also in the interest of the development of society.

Another crucial point which came up at the African Women`s Forum was that there is a lack of solidarity between men and women but also between women and women. This is definitely an issue where more work could be done. If women stand together in solidarity they might be able to push towards policies which are more of their concern and which makes their societal and economic significance as well as their overall value visible.

An essential element of ending the marginalization of women is the enforcement of productive health education. Parallel to it, it would be necessary to combat early marriages and early childbirth. For example, in Uganda 75% of the girls in the age between 13-19 do already have a child or are pregnant at the moment. This often leads to early dependencies on men and deprives them of building up a personal economic background for themselves. Many young girls do not go to school after having a child.

The transformation of the life conditions of women would support enormously the transformation of African society. Basically, it would be necessary to adapt culture and tradition to promote the emancipation of society and especially the respect and value of girls and women. Yet, this can and should only come from within the society and cannot be forced from outside the cultural and traditional entities.

Women participating in the formal economy can help to innovate agriculture and promote a decentralized system of energy production. With so much sun and wind there could be a revolution of energy production triggered. It would also be important to force the extraction industry - from oil and gas to cobalt, coltan etc. - to contribute to the well-being of the local population and to a sustainable regional development. In this framework, the “West” could be of help because many of the companies dealing with the extraction industry are huge transnational corporations based in the US, Canada, Australia or elsewhere in Europe. China is getting more and more involved but it does not have the requirements to meet the respective international human rights obligations to which the “West” obliged itself in various treaties and agreements.

The fight against poverty must also be a prominent task of business. African businesses with or without European links must help in educating and training the young and promote also small and medium size businesses (SMEs) from agriculture via trade to industry. Jobs are also the best guarantee against terrorism and migration. Jobs and the possibility to advance one owns economic well-being give young people the chance to use their energy for strengthening the society they are born in. Although education is crucial, it has to be clear that it is not of much help if job opportunities within the country are missing.

It is true, migration can help to gain new experiences. But it should not be connected with risking one's own life passing through the desert or crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Passages of legal migration could help to reduce these risks but will not substitute all the risky ways undertaken today. But legal migration, even if limited could bring more order into the present rather chaotic and dangerous migration flows. Legal migration could also underscore the common fight against all the criminal activities connected with migration. A close cooperation of countries of origin, transit and receiving countries could help to reduce migration flows to a manageable size and spare human life.

We should not present the illusion migration could and even should be stopped by closing the Mediterranean route. Migration routes do not have a door which can be closed by a side. And Europe must also take responsibility for conflicts and environmental degradation behind its borders. Only a joint strategy could develop patterns of internal migration and migration towards Europe, which are manageable and not dangerous. This shared responsibility of Africa and Europe is the only chance of avoiding an EU-African clash and it would also avoid a clash inside the EU. Instead of insisting on the mistakes and mismanagement of the "other" side we should work on a common strategy.

If we change our perspective from a European to an African one we see that migration is perceived differently. In Europe politicians tend to occupy the topic of migration for their own purposes and the newspapers are full of images of refugees on overloaded boats and vessels trying to escape to Europe. What many European countries lack is the understanding that migration and refugee flows are not a singularity in Europe but a reality in Africa as well. Uganda already accepted more than one million refugees from South Sudan in the last months and is becoming one of the biggest host countries in the world, only Turkey and Lebanon being ahead. Uganda also has the youngest population with an average of 15,5 years and is facing huge challenges, especially unemployment, early childbirths and a post-conflict society in the northern part of the country (after a long war between government forces and the brutal Lord`s Resistance Army of Joseph Kony).

Nevertheless, Uganda has huge opportunities when it comes to its youth. There are many young Ugandans who are investing in small businesses, becoming small entrepreneurs and there are also many young people who are trying to shape their society towards a more just and equal one, organising themselves in youth organisations and/or other forms of societal organisations. The International Institute for Peace (IIP), Act NOW and the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue are organising a seminar in Kampala/Uganda in September 2017 with young people from eastern Africa (youth organisations, refugees, returnees, mediators, etc.) some EU-officials as well as representatives from Western-Africa, the region where most of the African refugees migrating to Europe are coming from, and representatives from the government in order to discuss the topic of migration and forced migration from a point of view, which is not always well heard: the voice of the young people concerned and engaged.

The IIP will keep you informed about the seminar on this webpage.