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AFP - Kenzo Tribouillard

Why do African governments seem unable to create jobs for their teeming throngs of young people, who are then forced to make dangerous journeys abroad in search of a better life? Wrong economic models. In addition, nations waste resources through corruption and investing in huge militaries and police forces often deployed against dissidents. Crooked leaders collude with the West to steal Africa’s resources to develop Europe. So, what would stop young people from following African stolen resources to the West?

On 14 September 2016 evening, I was at Bole International Airport, Ethiopia, going back to Kenya after attending a conference on migration that was co-organised by the Centre for Citizens’ Participation on the African Union (CCP-AU) and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES)’s African Union (AU) Cooperation office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

That conference, which brought together officials from the AU, the European Union (EU), representatives of international organisations and of the African and European civil society, was an opportunity to reflect on, among other things, the status of the implementation of various commitments made at the Valletta Summit on Migration that took place in Valletta, Malta, in November 2015.

As a reminder, the EU called for the Valletta Summit after numerous tragic events of migrants dying while crossing the Mediterranean Sea including more than 800 refugees who died in a single day in April 2015 when their boat capsized. The Valletta Summit was supposed to encourage political co-operation between Europe and Africa in addressing causes of dangerous migration and to combat human smuggling and trafficking.

At that CCPAU-FES conference, participants reflected on what has been done so far almost one year after the Valletta Summit. Some of the participants deplored the fact that many policymakers, especially those in Europe, avoid addressing the root causes of migration including youth unemployment, political instability and dictatorial regimes—that might have the support of European countries—among other causes in a number of developing countries. Many migrants do not leave their countries because they just want to settle in Europe or North America; they do so because they are forced to leave or because they do not see any future for them and their families in their home countries. That absence of a promising future can be a result of many causes including those mentioned above.

What is, most of the times, avoided is to acknowledge the fact that some of the root causes of migration to the West might be a result of structural socio-economic and political policies that are promoted and reinforced by some of the same European countries that only focus their analysis on African migrants as the “problem” threatening the “wellbeing and security” of Europe.  That is obviously a very shallow way of looking at the complex issue of migration. It would also be a naïve assumption to say that problems that force Africans to leave their countries to the West are all a result of foreign interference. Africans and their leaders do largely contribute to forcing their fellow Africans into exile.

Going back to Bole International Airport, it was as if I were participating in a practical session of the migration conference that I was attending just a few hours earlier. I experienced first hand one of the main causes of migration of Africans to other continents—youth unemployment. At Bole International Airport, I was queuing with hundreds of young Ethiopian women, barely 20 years old, and all looking more or less lost and in need of some helping hand to get around. Almost all of them were carrying new passports ready to be used for the first time.

I looked around and tried my luck to find out more about where those innocent young women were heading. I asked one of them, “Where are you going?” “Beirut”. She replied. “Oh, to Lebanon!” I added. “Are you going to Beirut too?” She asked me. I said I was going to Nairobi, Kenya. When I wanted to find out if all of them were going to Beirut, she was not sure about that, but I later on learnt that the whole group was going to Beirut.

I immediately reflected on the meeting I was attending a few hours earlier, especially on various proposals that were shared – and not just in that particular conference, but also in many such conferences—to deal with the crisis of African young people who risk their lives going to Europe and other continents in search for better opportunities. Finding jobs for these young people is what many commentators and analysts propose as a solution to tackling illegal migration.

However, when people say, “creating jobs for the youth” or “tackling youth unemployment in Africa”, it is not clear if everyone who says that knows what they really mean or if they know how it can be achieved. I bet it is not an easy endeavour to create jobs for all African young people using the current economic models we see in Africa.

It was not my first time to see hundreds of young Ethiopian women at the waiting hall of Bole International Airport, just a few minutes away from taking their first flights to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Lebanon in search for employment. All these young Ethiopian women leave their country with high hopes of better living conditions and a bright future for them and their families. For a country like Ethiopia that is the second most populous in Africa, it can be a challenging endeavour to find employment for its population that some estimates place at more than 100 million people; most of them being young people as it is the case in the rest of Africa. However, I wonder if it can still be difficult to employ all African people if the whole African continent approached the issue of youth unemployment as a first priority.

One of the reasons why African countries are not able to provide employment for their young people is that they employ economic models that they neither understand nor control. Africa needs its own economic models to tackle its economic issues including the need to create jobs for its people, especially the youth. Some economic activities done in Africa are designed to satisfy needs of other continents and not to serve the wellbeing of African people.

Young people who are tempted to leave Africa to other continents are not just leaving their continent in search of employment; they are also hoping to be able to easily access, in Asia, Europe, North America and in the Middle East, basic needs such as food, education, decent shelter and housing. African countries should design their economic models in such a way that economic services are able to provide these basic needs so that “no one is left behind” in the journey to prosperity.

What is worth stressing, though, is that Asia, North America, Europe and the Middle East are not the first destination of African people leaving their own countries. Most Africans, especially young people, leave their countries to other African countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Senegal and Ghana that are perceived to offer more opportunities compared to their neighbours in their respective regions. These young African women and men moving from one African country to another could be fleeing persecution at home, running away from political environments that do not offer any hopes for the future or simply in search for better opportunities.

Another important reason that forces them to leave their countries is that in many African countries, political leaders are preoccupied with “putting in place enabling environments for investors” rather than meeting basic needs of their people. As such, ordinary African people do not feel part of that “enabling environment” and have not choice, but to leave. For Africa to be competitive at the global level, it has to channel its resources into economic activities that are able to provide food, shelter, health care and education to for all African people. Other economic models are serving the interests of other people, not ordinary Africans.

Going back to the case of those Ethiopian young women, could we say that Ethiopia is really unable to provide employment for them? Or the country has prioritised other sectors including the military and intelligence to the expense of funding sectors such as agriculture, health, education and housing? That is not a particular challenge of Ethiopia alone; many African countries put a considerable amount of their resources in sectors that do not add real value to the wellbeing of their citizens. If an African government wants to repress a certain category of its own citizens, they will invest in their military, police and intelligence rather than provide social services to respond to demands from that category of their citizens. In many cases, these demands are about opportunities to access basic needs that were mentioned early.

As such, one would argue that apart from using inadequate economic models, many African leaders also waste their countries’ resources in suppressing their own citizens through strengthening their military and police. They also collude with Western countries to steal African resources to develop Europe. As a consequence, some African young people think that the solution is to follow African resources where they are in West.

While this article acknowledges that there is no single solution to resolving youth unemployment in Africa, it argues that African leaders need to start from somewhere. They need to abandon Western economic models that do not serve their people. They need to stop wasting African resources in the so-called “defence strengthening” activities to the expense of vital sectors such as health, education, agriculture and housing. African leaders also need to strop colluding with Western countries in stealing Africa’s wealth. Finally, Western countries need to stop supporting African dictators who are only in power to serve their interests and those of their Western backers.

In other words, African young people are the ones who would create employment for themselves by saying “no” to African leaders who are unable and unwilling to put African resources in the vital sectors mentioned above. This is also where global solidarity plays its role; ordinary citizens in Europe, Africa, North America and the rest of the world should to say “no” to our leaders and their corporate clients that the 21st century is a century for humanity and not for multinational corporations. An economic model that puts humanity first is the only one that can survive the test of time. That economic model is what Africa needs to be able to employ its young people; it is what humanity needs.

* Yves Niyiragira is Executive Director of Fahamu, publisher of Pambazuka News. Views expressed in this article are his and do not necessary represent the views of Fahamu.



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