To Solve the Africa-to-Europe Migration Crisis, the EU Must Engage the African Union and African Development Bank

 /  July 19, 2022, 7:31 a.m.

african union
The flag of the African Union

The last decade has seen at least a million sub-Saharan Africans migrate from the African continent toward the shores of Europe. The vast majority of these irregular migrants—migrants outside of the formal immigration system—are young Africans fleeing a bleak economic future. The dangerous land journey across the Sahara desert and sea journey across the Mediterranean has claimed the lives of thousands of Africans and constitutes a humanitarian crisis of the highest order. The Africa-to-Europe migration crisis is also cause for economic concern, as the flow of Africa’s human capital toward Europe will only further encumber the economies of source and transit countries. 

The equitable resolution of this social and political quagmire should be a priority of European and African policymakers alike—and not separately, but in tandem. 

Last year, the European Union’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) reached the end of its five-year mandate to address the root causes of irregular migration on the continent of Africa, which are endemic poverty and insecurity. Yet despite half a decade of implementation and about $5 billion euros in committed funds across 26 countries, the EUTF has produced modest results. 

The EUTF sought to approach a colossal task— transforming entire economies and securing durable peace in some of the most conflict-ridden parts of the world— without the necessary financial and institutional resources to drive continental change.  The $5 billion euros the European Union committed represents only 0.02% of the Union’s GDP. Of the limited resources the European Union was willing to commit, only a meager 19 percent of the fund’s capital was spent on increasing economic opportunities for Africans in source and transit countries. Meanwhile, a whopping 31 percent of the fund’s resources was spent on fortifying borders, expanding the capacity of security forces, and hiring more judges to adjudicate smuggling cases. Despite a rhetorical commitment to addressing the “root causes” of irregular migration in sub-Saharan Africa, an outsized portion of the fund was spent mitigating the effects of migration through border security, and not investing in communities. 

Furthermore, the individual-based approach of EUTF economic support programs fails to understand the large-scale macroeconomic transformations needed to create sustainable economies. This is why the EUTF only boasts of having created a little over 700 jobs in its lifespan. One EU program compensates ex-smugglers with depreciating assets like motorcycles and refrigerators, while another distributes small business kits which are used to create small enterprises in saturated sectors where there is already significant competition. These small-scale projects teeter around the edges of economic insecurity but fail to address the macroeconomic factors that contribute to economic development: infrastructure development, industrialization, and better terms of trade. 

The EUTF’s country-by-country approach ignores the immense progress that could be made if investments were leveraged across countries in the form of trade agreements and road and rail networks, which drive regional integration and distribute economic development across geographies. To effectively address the drivers of irregular migration from Africa toward Europe, the European Union must work with multilateral partners on the continent, particularly the African Union and African Development Bank, to supplement grant dollars, transform economies at the macroeconomic level, and expand monitoring and auditing infrastructure. 

The African Union is well-positioned to leverage its diplomatic relationships to facilitate widespread buy-in and compliance with migration mitigation measures. The African Union can be useful in a diversity of tasks—whether that be drafting and ratifying trade agreements or raising funds from more wealthy African countries like Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya—to fund economic development programs in poorer countries on the continent. 

On January 1, 2021, the African Union commenced the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which has been signed by 54 African nations and is meant to reduce barriers to trade and spur industrialization led by small-to-medium-sized enterprises. The free trade area is expected to net $292 billion in added income and lift 30 million people out of poverty. The AfCFTA Secretariat is now working to establish terms of trade, working with individual countries to reduce their specific barriers to trade, and developing a public relations strategy to diffuse awareness about the trade area. 

Given its technical expertise and relationships across the continent, it is ill-advised for partners in Europe to ignore the advantages of a collaborative relationship with the African Union to address migration

The African Development Bank— with its $92.03 billion in authorized capital, its triple-A credit rating, and experience funding and monitoring some of the largest and most impactful public and private ventures on the continent— is another obvious strategic partner for addressing the “root causes” of irregular migration. The mandate of the African Development Bank is to use its financial and technical capacity to drive sustainable development across the African continent through infrastructure investments like the planned Abidjan-Lagos Corridor Highway and more than $2.9 billion in green energy investments through the Bank’s Climate Investment Fund. The Bank’s callable capital, diverse financial products for sovereigns, and tight monitoring and auditing procedures ensure that aggressive economic development is financially sustainable and that funds are being efficiently deployed. 

The leaders of the European Union, African Union, and African Development Bank must convene to begin to outline a joint strategy for tackling the “root causes” of irregular migration from Africa to Europe. It is important to understand that a crisis of this magnitude requires a strategy that bridges geographies and targets the macroeconomic factors that have hamstrung the most starved African economies. Solutions that target individuals or even individual nations will not drive economic growth at the scale needed to create thriving economies for the continent’s masses. The complementary pairing of the EU, African Union, and African Development Bank is the political cocktail needed to make significant progress toward widespread economic security across Africa— the only sustainable, long-term strategy to reduce violent conflict and slow the frantic pace of migration.

The image used in this article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International license. The original image was posted by Sigitas0805 and can be found here.

Tyler Okeke


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