The extraordinary double standard that exists towards Africa whereby some European countries that have totally flawed and corrupted systems presume to lecture Africans on their systems and assume to take a superior stance is symptomatic of a mind-set that represents a very potent form of passive racism in Europe.
Picture it. The aftermath of a national election, where senior international observer from a leading European country declares of the election process he has just witnessed: “In all the many election observations I have been on, I have not seen anything that comes close to how undemocratic the voting system is”; and then goes on to say “It is just so far beneath anything remotely resembling European election standards, or anything we would allow, even in Eastern Europe.”
Combine those comments with incidences in the same election of election officials at voting stations being drunk, ballot papers of some political parties not being available in voting stations, ballot papers for the different political parties being in different colours and having to be selected openly so that everyone in a voting station can see who someone will be voting for when they select their papers, and “family voting” – whereby groups of people are allowed to go into the voting area together.
Add to that the fact that if anyone wishes to lodge any complaint against any of these events, the only entities that they can go to in order to complain are the municipalities in charge of the elections. These being the very same municipalities that set up and controlled the voting process in their municipalities in the first place – which are all run by persons who are members of the political parties in charge of those municipalities.
These are just some of the issues that presented themselves. Other issues included an extraordinarily high number of “spoiled ballots”, political party members bragging on Twitter how they had removed and thrown away the ballot papers of competing parties, allegations of promises (or requests) for business and social programmes from political parties in return for votes, election officials – including a pregnant woman – being openly abused or threatened with physical violence at polling stations, etc. It is a long – and credible – list.
Not only does the above reflect a complete ignorance of the most fundamental requirements for even a basic attempt at a democratic voting system, it also leaves the field wide open for complete abuse of the system in hand. At best, the implementation and management of this process represents crass incompetence, and at worst, it illustrates a textbook example of a corrupt and corrupted political system, in chaos.
Africans are, by now, very used to European countries and their representatives making negative comments on what they sometimes sarcastically refer to as “African Democracy” (i.e. corrupt democracy). Given that, one could assume that the above examples of a clearly corrupt and corrupted system would be the introduction to yet another in the long-running paternalistic criticisms levelled at African leaders, political parties and countries.
But it is not.
All of the above statements and events – and the clear evidence of a total lack of understanding of even the basic requirements for a democratic election process – or even of the basic principles of democracy itself – occurred in Sweden, in the Swedish General Election of September 2018.
The quotes shown above are from the Election Observer Michael Aastrup Jensen – a former Danish politician and current member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – and the examples are from articles written by the Swedish journalist Ingrid Carlqvist, and answers to questions given by the Chief Executive of the Swedish Electoral Authority – Anna Nyqvist.
Given this situation – and the fact that the process described above is just a “business as usual” repeat of all the preceding elections in that country – the question needs to be posed as to from what moral, factual, educational or experience-based perspective have Swedish government or political figures previously presumed to lecture African countries, leaders or political parties on “democracy” and “democratic processes” – or anything related to these – in the past (or present)?
More saliently, based on what experience or legitimate standing – in terms of personal experience or ability to pass any credible judgment whatsoever – are Swedish personnel given credence to act as political or election monitors in South Africa (or any African country)? How could they when their own system is so flawed, corrupted and not fit for purpose so as to render it – in the words of a highly credible and experienced election monitor – such that he has never “…seen anything that comes close to how undemocratic the voting system is” and “…so far beneath anything remotely resembling European election standards…”
This extraordinary double-standard that exists towards Africa – as clearly exhibited by the Swedish example, whereby one can have a totally flawed and corrupted system oneself, yet presume to lecture Africans on their systems, and presume to take a “superior” stance in terms of providing “advice” or making “pronouncements” on others’ systems and processes – is symptomatic not just of Sweden. It is rather symptomatic of a general revival in Europe of a mind-set that represents a very potent form of passive racism – one that is in lockstep with the most strident forms of colonial racism.
This is the mind-set whereby it was considered perfectly fine to pillage and destroy whole countries because one was “bringing them a better standard of living” (and who decides on “standards”?), “ultimately giving them a better lifestyle” (and who decides what lifestyles are “better” or “worse”?) or “raising them up out of ignorance.” (and who decides what “ignorance” and “learning” are?).
For crystal clear evidence of this, one need look no further than the policy towards Africans exhibited by Germany over the last few years.
In the same way that the British Raj in India was presented for the longest time as a situation where poor and suffering “undeveloped” people (the Indians) were “elevated” and “helped” out of their abject poverty and/or ignorance by the “developed” people (the British) – which narrative sought to apply a benign veneer to a malignant intent – so a similar situation, guided by absolute passive racism, now exists among the governing political parties in Germany.
Contrary to the popular narrative – as distributed by the government-supporting media in Germany – the German situation in respect of their “helping” what they have euphemistically chosen to call “refugees” represents a very similar situation to the creative British Empire narrative of the British Raj, and has come about due to a combination of – amongst other things – the endemic passive racism that exists among the elite figures of Germany’s ruling parties.
Indeed, the depth of this problem, and the on-going nature thereof, is what caused the President of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, to declare in 2017 – in response to these German government policies – that the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, was a “mentally disturbed person” (a view widely shared, although not openly stated, among other African leaders, as a result of her actions towards Africa since 2015).
Before addressing this matter though, the identification of – and calling out of – the phenomena of passive racism should be addressed.
Passive racism is, in fact, the most dangerous form of racism. Whereas people who are openly racist are open about their views and can be engaged with knowing in advance their stance, passive racists are far more dangerous in their views. Their racist views or views of racial superiority and inferiority are so entrenched in them that they do not even realise that they are expressing them. Most Africans who have been exposed to this are acutely aware of this phenomenon – just as those who exhibit this characteristic are blissfully unaware of it.
Through this, every act that they carry out is geared solely around the deeply-held perception that their relationship with Africans is one based on superiority (theirs) and inferiority (the Africans’), because there is absolutely no treatment of Africans as equals. Instead, the African is always treated like the child-like person who needs to be looked after / protected / catered for / spoken for by them, as they must be incapable of doing it themselves to the same level.
Similarly, African leaders and organisations are treated as if they either simply did not exist, or if they did, they can just be completely disregarded as though they did not exist, or as though their voices / views / comments are of such an unworthy and irrelevant nature as not to even merit a second’s worth of consideration, at all.
And here are the examples:
Germany – and the European Union – constantly talk about “the problems of Africa”. Ignoring the fact that “Africa” is a continent (not a country) with multiple countries that are very different, and multiple nations within the artificial colonial borders of each country that are also very different – and all of these countries and nations are very different, with differing issues. There is not just one “Africa” (whatever that may mean in the minds of the people who make such statements).
Just as “Europe” has countries that are very different with very different “problems” (i.e. Greece, Germany and Albania are very different), so is Africa. South Sudan is not the same as Swaziland, and Botswana is not the same as Burundi – and neither are their governments, citizens, internal issues or considerations the same.
One will not expect even a common African citizen to be so ignorant as to alight from an aircraft in Germany (in Europe) and address, collectively, a German, Frenchman and Italian by saying to them “Hello. Do you speak White, or do you speak European?” – yet European Heads of State talk about “Africa” as though it is just one monolithic entity where everything and everyone is the same – with the implication also that this monolithic sameness is also uniformly inferior to anything in any European country.
This is why these (seemingly extremely ignorant) European Heads of State ceaselessly talk about “African problems” (problems in whose view, and in what countries in Africa?). They then go on, in Germany and other European Union countries, to speak as though it is they who are (for some reason – superiority perhaps?) in charge of seeing to the “problems” of “Africa”, and to the welfare of the citizens of African countries.
The clue of whose business is what lies in the names of the international organisations that are tasked with the welfare of countries on a continental basis. The European Union is supposed to look after issues relating to Europe – not Africa. Africa has the African Union. What is wrong with the African Union looking after the best interests of Africans and African countries?
However, one never hears a word about the African Union in the European political or public discourse.
No. It is just the European Union that spends its time obsessing about African issues.
In this, the classic example of passive racism is abundantly clear. It is a case of: “We – the European Union – will see to the problems of Africa and Africans. The Africans themselves cannot”. The European political elite cannot even see how imbued their views and actions are with a passive racist mentality – discarding the views of the African Union and elected African Heads of State and political parties as if they are too inferior or useless to be left to competently and professionally manage and direct the issues of their own continent and countries.
Imagine if the president of any African country made a blanket announcement to “Europeans” to come to country X, and then also – because that African country had a stronger economy than most European countries – offered the people who would come better pay (just by going onto social security) then they could ever get in their own countries.
Of course this would lead to many people leaving “Europe” to go to that African country. Who wouldn’t in a case where they could get more money just by going on social security than working? Would that not be a ridiculous situation – even potentially able to be considered a hostile act towards “Europe” or a European country? Indeed it would be. Yet this is exactly what has been done – and is being done – against Africa and African countries, by the European Union in general and Germany in particular.
In order to provide a blanket of legitimisation to this process, it is being couched in terminology which refers to all persons coming to Germany and Europe as “refugees”, even though it has been absolutely clearly established that well over 90 percent of all such persons are not refugees at all, but rather economic migrants – spurred on by Angela Merkel’s international and well-publicised call to them to come to Germany.
The fact that the false term “refugee” is being incorrectly applied as the express policy of those applying indicates with clarity that they wish to camouflage their intent. This is just like the “we brought them civilisation” / “we uplifted them” / “we civilised them” narrative tactic to camouflage the actual intent – and consequences – of the occupation of India by the British Raj.
The point is also this. What does this process do to the African (and other developing) countries that are being selectively depopulated of their (predominantly young and able) populations?
Well, here is what President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea said about this – as a fact, not speculation. In a national address on Eritrean television in 2017, he lashed out at Europe for what he said is its role in economically sabotaging his country and depleting its human capital.
He specifically described [at that time] French President Francois Hollande and the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, as being mentally disturbed – stating that they were among those who encouraged the massive movement of Eritrean youth to Europe.
He went on to say that the exodus of the youth of Eritrea to Europe is the result of a deliberate policy fomented by the foreign powers to weaken Eritrea with a systematic recourse to economic sabotage “with the aim of creating poverty and famine”, and that “Trafficking in human beings has been used to disperse and weaken the country’s human capital.” He also asked the extraordinarily obvious question, which was “Why doesn’t the EU give us the money to train our youth in our country instead?”
Whatever one may think of these statements, the facts are that: They reflect the views of the democratically-elected Head of State of an African country.
Who – just as with other African leaders in respect of these matters affecting their countries – has never been consulted by Germany or the European Union on his views of their calling Eritreans to come to Germany and/or Europe.
Just as the African Union and other African leaders are also not considered part of this “European solution” to “look after” these African citizens in order to take care of the “African problem”.
A clearer illustration of the “White Man’s Burden” racist attitude that drives this passively racist approach could not be provided if it were tried.
Indeed, no comment from any African leaders is published or even spoken about in Germany or Europe.
Rather, it is various European countries’ leaders who grandstand before a European media that is clearly also similarly passively racist in its insular depiction of the fate of millions of Africans. These Africans who come from functioning African countries that have their own elected presidents and leaders – at the urging of the German Chancellor – are now referred to as “a European Problem” by the political and media elite of Europe.
In which parallel universe do these people live?
What, actually, does the fate of citizens of functioning African countries have to do with the leaders of European countries or their media, and why, exactly, is this “problem” at all – let alone a “European problem”?
Why – in the European continent of countries that have debt running between 80 percent to 200 percent of gross domestic product, of unemployment higher than 15 percent in some of these countries, of weakening currencies, of war in Ukraine, of bombing of Middle Eastern countries, of geopolitical strife with Russia and many other serious problems – do they not concentrate on sorting out their own European problems? Instead they focus on, obsess on, talk about and interfere in the affairs of Africa?
Is it simply a tactic of deflection away from their own problems, or are there other reasons? There are probably several answers to this.
One reason for this erratic and unbalanced behaviour by the ruling political and media elite in these countries is, most certainly, very endemic passive racism. The interference by the European Union and European countries in the African Union and African countries affairs and populations – without the common courtesy to even give a voice to, let alone leave decisions on their own continent and countries to the elected leaders of Africa – illustrates this clearly.
Exhortations by the political leaders in these European countries to their own citizens also illustrate this mentality of entrenched passive racism – particularly in Germany.
Angela Markel’s exhortation to German citizens of “Wir schaffen das” (“We can do this”) in respect of “looking after” African migrants coming to Germany in their millions implies – quite categorically – that common German citizens can do what presidents and leaders of African countries cannot do. If not, why was she not rather exhorting, and supporting, elected African leaders and governments to “Wir schaffen das” with their own African citizens, or listening to people like the president of Eritrea – and others – who were asking her not to deplete their countries of their human capital. Similarly, the common citizens who participate with a “Wir schaffen das” mentality also illustrated their endemic passive racism. That is a “We as common European citizens are far more able to do that which elected African presidents and governments can’t do” attitude.
Another reason appears to be simple incompetence and the degradation of the capacity to think ahead – or even to think clearly – among the ruling political classes in European countries.
This is particularly the case in Germany where – because the two largest opposing parties, the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union Alliance on one hand and the Social Democratic Party on the other, have been in a political alliance in government for over 12 years now – it has been an effectively one-party state for more than a decade.
This inability to think ahead is shown by how this entire matter has been (un) planned and (idiotically) implemented. Adult people who do not speak the national language and therefore do not have the skills required to participate in the economy have been brought there en-masse – even though there are already significant levels of unemployment among existing citizens.
Those who are now recently encouraged to come to Germany are then not allowed to work – because they cannot speak the language and/or because they have not been specifically recruited they do not have the required specialist skills to participate in various specialist activities. They are therefore put into “refugee camps” or areas, on social welfare, to do nothing.
There is therefore no equality of opportunity (impossible under such circumstances) or any realistic or meaningful future prospects for these people – at all. That is unless an underclass is specifically being created, to do jobs that locals do not want to do – because otherwise there is no logical or normal reason for such an undertaking to occur – ever or at all.
This is especially in light of the opposition by the presidents and governments of African countries to these policies of the Merkel government.
Even her recent three-day visit to three African countries – Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria this year to try to obtain support these policies from African presidents and governments met with failure. For example, in the press conference after her meeting and discussions with President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, the primary focus of his comments was on his and his government’s opposition to this policy.
Notably, he stated at the joint press conference with Merkel that: “This administration is very clear: We do not support illegal migration”, and “I guess many of my countrymen and women illegally struggle to find their way to European countries through the deserts and the Mediterranean because they feel there are greener pastures there, whether they are prepared for it or not.”
He added: “About three weeks ago, we repatriated 3 000 Nigerians from Libya. They wanted to travel to Europe illegally. We do not support this and anybody caught is at his or her own risk.
“Any Nigerian found in Libya or anywhere on his way to Europe through illegal means will be brought home and we will send him back to the local government.”
Merkel pointedly ignored these comments and did not even address this issue at the joint press conference. Her primary comments followed a typically condescending “preaching to Africans” theme…
She said: “I appeal that the forthcoming elections in Nigeria should be free, fair and credible. It should not result to chaos or complete breakdown of law and order. A credible election is an important aspect of democracy and good governance.”
Really? She and her government did not say one word about the chaos of elections in Sweden – and it is right on her doorstep. Why, therefore, did she travel all the way to Nigeria to lecture their president, government and people on matters that have nothing to do with her?
Did she do it because they are “African” (actually they are Nigerians – specifically Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw and other Nations within the colonial borders of Nigeria), and therefore it is fine to lecture their president and government on self-evident matters… but it is not fine to lecture the “European” Swedes.
A third reason for this seemingly unbalanced policy from Germany appears to be more sinister.
Here, for example, is a quote from the former German Minister of Finance – Wolfgang Schaeuble – who was at one time tipped to succeed Angela Markel, and who was a very senior member of the ruling clique in the German government. When questioned on the German government’s views and reasons for this policy in 2016, he was unable to explain it in any rational or logical manner. His primary comment on the motivation for this policy was – other than to echo Angela Merkel’s vague and passive-racist comments that “Africa will be our problem, we have to assume this task” – that non-implementation of this policy would lead Germans and Europeans to “…degenerating into inbreeding.”
That sounds remarkably similar to the statements of slave owners in the Americas in the 1800s, who constantly asked slavers to bring in slaves from different countries. This was also so that the slave owners could – in their view of themselves as the superior social engineering determiners of peoples’ fates – not have their own slave stocks degenerate as a result of “inbreeding”.
Different century – same mentality.
What an unbelievable view to be taken by the Merkel government in the 21st century. That the value or worth of African human beings is determined by their capacity to act as stud breeding animals!
A final reason for this situation appears to be – as with the example of the Swedish election – the simple breakdown of law and order in Germany as in Sweden, and the similar degradation of the ruling political elite.
Consider this. If one arrives at an airport in Germany by aircraft from South Africa (or any other country from which a visa to visit Germany is required) without a visa, one will be denied entry and sent back – or arrested. However, if one had walked across the border without even a passport – as literally millions of people have done from 2015 until now – you would be welcome.
This is an utter repudiation of the laws of the country and of the foundations of a legal state, selectively applied just because one person decided – in her personal opinion – to do it. Utter illegality due solely to the personal selection of what laws can be applied, and when, by a single person – and the time of emperors and empresses in Europe was supposed to be over.
This is one of the results of Germany’s de-facto one-party rule – combined with a media that is virtually a component part of the ruling elite – for over 12 years.
Symptomatic of this was a comment of one of the prime figures of the German government involved with the formulation, implementation and management of this policy – Angela Merkel’s right-hand man Peter Altmaier.
During the implementation of this policy, he appeared on one of Germany’s primary state television stations, and when questioned as to the logic and motivations behind the government’s policy he answered (and this was, really, his serious answer) “Just look at TV”. By this he implied that people should look at the (state) TV’s broadcasts of the “refugees” entering Germany on foot.
In other words, the German government was setting its policy not based on thorough planning, experience, research, economics, ability, weighing up of the pros and cons of the situation and all of the other considerations that one expects a developed government to apply. It was rather setting its national policies – and policies with serious ramifications for multiple African countries – by watching TV.
Well, the general consensus among geopolitical and political figures and consultants outside of the ruling elites of the German government at that response – by Angela Merkel’s right-hand man and one of the most senior figures in the German government – was that the level of discourse and policy of the German government had finally degenerated to the level of a Banana Republic.
Indeed, the joke that made the international geopolitical rounds at the time was that in the event of economic decline, Germans had better hope that Peter Altmaier wasn’t a fan of the TV programme “Breaking Bad”, because otherwise he would advise all Germans to respond to any economic crisis by starting drug-producing laboratories in their garages.
These preceding examples of the absence of the basic requirements of and for a democratic process, or the strong presence of passive racism, in Sweden and Germany, are but two of many examples of the deterioration, non-existence (or existence) of factors in Europe which are acute, but which Europeans from multiple countries nevertheless historically and currently seek to preach to Africans about.
The time has come for European political and other leaders – whether from Sweden, Germany or any of these other European Union countries – to stop their lecturing of “Africa” (whatever that term may mean in their minds) and African leaders and countries when it comes to matters of “democracy”, “democratic processes”, “racism” or other aspects of societal or political organisation or governance.
The African continent and its leaders have had enough of this “Do as I say, don’t do as I do” approach from the European political elite, and, frankly, it is time for the leaders of these European countries to take the Amazon rainforest of trees out of their own eyes before criticising the splinters in the eyes of others.
Fortunately, as Sweden and Germany are luring so many Africans to their countries, perhaps in the future the Africans who are resident there will be able to properly instruct them on how to conduct proper democratic elections, or on how to eradicate the very powerful scourge of passive racism.
Until then, if the ruling political elite in those countries seek to find solutions for their policies and problems, they can always go to find them by watching TV with Peter Altmaier.
* The writer is a former Strategic Geopolitical Consultant, resident in London, United Kingdom who is experienced in European and African affairs. He has previously provided geopolitical consulting services to governments and international organisations in Eastern and Western Europe, and written geopolitical and Op-Ed articles for international publications. His name has been withheld from this article on request. He and his bona fides are known to editorial staff of The Citizen.