Africa’s fu­ture is Europe’s chal­lenge

Lesotho Times - - Opinion - Nils Zim­mer­mann

THE wave of mi­grants com­ing into Europe at the mo­ment has a prox­i­mate cause — sec­tar­ian war and chaos in the Mid­dle East — but it isn’t a tran­sient phe­nom­e­non.

The cur­rent mi­gra­tion is just the be­gin­ning of a long-term trend that will al­most cer­tainly last for at least a hun­dred years.

The rea­son: Over that time-pe­riod, Africa’s pop­u­la­tion is set to go from 1.16 bil­lion to­day — ex­actly twice that of the Euro­pean Union — to 2.4 bil­lion by 2050.

That’s five times the EU’S cur­rent pop­u­la­tion of 508 mil­lion. By 2100, ac­cord­ing to the UN, Africa’s pop­u­la­tion could be 4.2 bil­lion — eight times that of to­day’s EU.

The arc of Mus­lim coun­tries from North Africa and the Mid­dle East through South and Cen­tral Asia is also in the midst of a de­mo­graphic ex­plo­sion.

Ac­cord­ing to Pew Re­search Cen­tre, the world’s Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion will grow from 1.6 bil­lion to­day to 2.8 bil­lion by 2050.

If the Mus­lim world and Africa re­main plagued by war, chaos, mis­rule, failed states and poverty — ex­ac­er­bated by re­source com­pe­ti­tion wors­ened by cli­mate desta­bil­i­sa­tion, food and wa­ter in­se­cu­rity — noth­ing and no-one will be able to hold back the flood of des­per­ate refugees.

Europe’s great­est chal­lenge The in­tense de­mo­graphic pres­sures just be­gin­ning to im­pinge on Europe are al­ready keenly felt in the coun­tries of ori­gin. They’re go­ing to be­come much big­ger. They present an ex­is­ten­tial chal­lenge for ev­ery­one con­cerned.

Europe needs to work out a cop­ing strat­egy — and more than any­thing, that means help­ing our neigh­bors in the Mus­lim and African worlds work out cop­ing strate­gies too. Our fate is insep­a­ra­ble from theirs.

This isn’t news. When the topic of refugees and mi­gra­tion comes up, peo­ple in­vari­ably say “we have to help im­prove con­di­tions in the coun­tries pro­duc­ing these refugees, so their peo­ple won’t feel driven to flee.”

That’s true, but it’s vague. What specif­i­cally can or must be done?

Peace a pre­con­di­tion There are three main driv­ers of con­flict in Europe’s neigh­bor­hood — the same three that plagued Europe for mil­len­nia, the same three the Euro­pean Union was cre­ated to over­come: Re­source com­pe­ti­tion, eth­nic an­i­mosi­ties, and re­li­gion.

The con­flicts in Syria and Iraq are a multi-sided dis­as­ter in which Sunni-shi­ite sec­tar­ian ha­tred, ArabIra­nian eth­nic ri­valry, great-power and re­gional geopol­i­tics, oil and ar­ma­ments-in­dus­try busi­ness in­ter- ests, rad­i­cal the­o­fas­cist doc­trines, and other ma­lign fac­tors have com­bined to gen­er­ate an un­holy tan­gle of weaponized in­san­ity.

Syria and Iraq are look­ing more and more like the main theatre for the early stages of a 21st cen­tury Sunni-shi­ite ver­sion of Europe’s Catholic-ver­sus-protes­tant Thirty Years’ War. This can­not be al­lowed to con­tinue.

Europe can start by push­ing for a com­pre­hen­sive em­bargo on weapons sales into the re­gion - let’s stop adding fuel to the rag­ing fire. Be­yond that, the prob­lem needs to be fixed at its roots: To­tal­i­tar­ian sec­tar­ian dog­mas and eth­nic ha­treds are at work here. They need to be put to rest.

That’s why Europe should fund sus­tained, very large-scale mul­ti­me­dia cam­paigns aimed at help­ing our neigh­bors have an open and hon­est con­ver­sa­tion about re­li­gion.

We all need to un­der­stand that tak­ing re­li­gious dog­mas too se­ri­ously is a fa­tal mis­take.

No-one should ever be killed over dif­fer­ences of re­ceived opin­ion about the na­ture of the Cre­ator.

Sim­i­larly, Euro­peans have learned the hard way — or are still strug­gling to learn — that eth­nic dif­fer­ences should be cher­ished, not re­sented or oblit­er­ated. Let’s use media out­reach to have a wider con­ver­sa­tion about that with our neigh­bors.

Eco­nomic Zones What about eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment? What can we do that will re­ally change the game and make widely shared pros­per­ity pos­si­ble in places now very poor?

I be­lieve we need to think big — and at­tack the prob­lem as an en­gi­neer­ing and busi­ness chal­lenge of his­toric di­men­sion.

A pro­posal: Europe’s lead­ing busi­nesses, sup­ported by the EU, African Union, African De­vel­op­ment Bank, and other in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions, should join forces to launch a South­ern Sus­tain­able Pros­per­ity Pro­ject cen­tred on set­ting up hun­dreds of Spe­cial Eco­nomic Zones through­out Africa and the less-de­vel­oped parts of the Mus­lim world.

From those is­lands of pros­per­ity and tech­ni­cal ca­pac­ity, Africa could be seeded with the ca­pa­bil­i­ties needed to build cli­mate-safe clean energy sys­tems, wa­ter and food se­cu­rity sys­tems, health ser­vices de­liv­ery sys­tems — the whole gamut of in­fra­struc­ture needed for sus­tain­able pros­per­ity.

SEZS would be­come the nodes from which sur­round­ing ru­ral re­gions would be raised up and re­built — and the at­trac­tors in­duc­ing lo­cal pop­u­la­tions to see their fu­ture at home, rather than abroad.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion of SEZS should be farmed out to pro­fes­sional man­age­ment agen­cies with min­i­mal in­ter­fer­ence from na­tional author­i­ties — be­cause in nearly all African and Mus­lim coun­tries, a new busi­ness cul­ture free of graft and cor­rup­tion needs to be built from the ground up. That’s a po­lit­i­cally dif­fi­cult but nec­es­sary con­di­tion for suc­cess.

Com­mon money, in­ter­ests Africa could also learn from the EU’S ex­per­i­ments and mis­takes with a com­mon cur­rency. The Ger­man Bun­des­bank could of­fer to help set up and man­age a new, wholly elec­tronic, pro­fes­sion­ally ad­min­is­tered pan-african trade cur­rency with its own cen­tral bank — par­al­lel to na­tional cur­ren­cies, not as a re­place­ment for them.

Such a tool could be enor­mously help­ful in eas­ing in­ter­re­gional trade and fi­nanc­ing the con­struc­tion of a pros­per­ous, mod­ern Africa.

There’s a great deal of work to be done. Let the Syr­ian refugee cri­sis serve us all — Euro­peans, Africans, Mid­dle Eastern peo­ples — as a warn­ing and an im­pe­tus: It’s high time to get very real about build­ing en­dur­ing peace and pros­per­ity in Africa and the Mus­lim world. — DW

Mi­grants line up for reg­is­tra­tion on Les­bos last satur­day.

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