How will Africans get a better life?

Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world. Every year hundreds of thousands of Africans risk their life to get to Europe and out of poverty. The ones mainly benefitting are the people smugglers who pack them onto boats that are not seaworthy. This year 2,814 have already died, according to the UNHCR. It’s consequently essential that we enable Africans to get a better life at home. The World Economic Forum looks at how that can be done in this short video:

Have personally worked with African governments to enable them to grow out of poverty. It’s absolutely correct, as the video states, that agriculture is the easiest, and most intelligent solution, but with EU and US farm subsidies still in place it’s impossible for African farmers to compete on the global market. In Europe farmers actually overproduce and the commodities are exported to developing countries at prices so low it would be more expensive for African governments and private sectors to buy locally produced products. A complicating factor is that it’s not enough that only the EU abolish farm subsidies but the US has to do so as well. If not, countries buying cheap agricultural products from Europe will just buy American goods instead.

Paying for a dream

Many Africans who have managed to get to Europe to claim asylum are economic migrants and their applications hence don’t succeed. They have paid, or owe, thousands of dollars to people smugglers telling them that when they get to Europe they will get a job, house, car and a lot of money. It’s easy for us to say they should have understood it was too good to be true and that they could easily have googled and discovered that they were being taken for a ride. Don’t forget that we are literate and educated. And American readers should reflect on the fact that their forefathers decided to go to the US for the same reasons Africans come to Europe today. They also paid for a passage hoping to make a better life in the new world.

Am teaching asylum seekers in Sweden Swedish and basic political/social science. Currently have a lot of African pupils, some of them illiterate. One just found out that her request for asylum has been rejected and has appealed. Feel truly sorry for her because she was dreaming of a better life and felt her situation in Africa was so dire she had to risk her life to get to Europe. Sincerely hope she does not owe money to the people smugglers.

Western agricultural subsidies have to be abolished

We really need to make life better for Africans. And the smartest way of doing so is enabling them to trade themselves out of poverty. So the sooner Western agricultural subsidies are abolished the better. For Europe it would save billions of dollars that are now being spent on African asylum seekers hoping to get out of poverty.

On top of it we would put an end to a very lucrative income for criminal gangs smuggling people to Europe. One of the worst aspects of the smugglers is that they often come from the same country as the migrants they con into paying them for the dangerous journey. A couple of the asylum seekers I teach used the services of this man and told me that the wrong man has been arrested. They should know since they have met him several times. Hopefully they find, extradite and convict the right human trafficker soon.

But alas we have the obstacle of militant French farmers  that will block the whole of France with their tractors if agricultural subsidies are abolished, or even reduced. Consequently the French government will have to find a way of pacifying them in order to save African lives and European money and, maybe ultimately, democracy.

The EU should invest in Africa

It’s also high time the European Union start invesing in Africa to increase the standard of living for the poor. It does not benefit Europe to have unstable and extremely poor neighbouring countries. On the contrary. How many billions are spent by the EU only on patrolling the Mediterranean and rescuing Africans in boats that are sinking?

There is some talk in Brussels about the EU investing in Africa. First beneficiaries are Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia and Libya. EU lawmakers are also considering making deals with Libya and Egypt along the lines of the asylum agreement with Turkey. Am not happy about the latter kind of agreements though because it’s just like putting plaster on a wound that needs to be operated. Atter writing and publishing this article the Brookings  Foreign Policy newsletter contained this article with suggestions on short term solutions to end the massacre on the Mediterranean

The dream of Europe

Dreaming of having the kind of life Westerners have in the movies is understandable. But how many uneducated Africans that arrive in Europe even get a decent life? A sizeable amount have their requests for asylum rejected. Many of them then decide it’s better for them to be illegal aliens in Europe than going back home and hence go into hiding and become  easy prey for unscrupulous criminals and employers. The fact that living like that is more lucrative than going back to Africa says a lot.

Lamentably the huge influx of asylum seekers last year is making fascism popular in Europe, and globally for that matter, for the simple reason that sections of the general public blame anything foreign or new for their problems. Seems Hitler and World War II is already forgotten. Austria almost elected a fascist president recently and if the amount of asylum seekers coming to Europe isn’t reduced drastically fascism will become a force to be reckoned with. It’s horrendous in every sense not least for Africans who are illegal aliens here. Don’t need to tell you what kind of treatment they, and other economic migrants, would get from fascists, do I.

Tyrants and corruption

Someone will no doubt come up with the obvious solution which is to tackle corruption in Africa. Fully agree that it’s a huge problem. But that’s been attempted for decades. Lamentably positive developments can easily be wiped out when a new government is elected. Democracy, as Churchill once said, is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried. Once you have new politicians in power they, for the same reason as the migrants, poverty, will start looting as much as they can.

What is welcome though is that the UN currently wants to prosecute the Eritrean dictator at the ICC in the Hague. Sure it will take time before that happens but it’s a step in the right direction that will show tyrants that the long arm of justice is out there. Human rights abuses will not be tolerated forever.

So we need to come up with a solution that enable Africans to get a good life. Abolishing Western agricultural subsidies would be a good start. It would also give people in Southern and Central America a better life and reduce the amount feeling they have no choice but to go to the United States. Let’s face it, the majority of migrants don’t want to leave their home but do because they feel there’s no future for them there.  Angelina Jolie is doing a lot to higlight the suffering of migrants which is good because it makes much more people pay attention to the problem. It’s high time for governments worldwide to step up to the plate and make the world a better place for all. Vested interests such as farmers and multinationals have to take a cut in their earnings for the good of society as a whole. If not, prosperity in the developed world will have to cope with problems far worse than the current ones. Not least since it’s estimated that global warming will make North Africa and the Middle East much hotter and make it even more difficult for poor people to live there.

Do you agree with me that the international community will have to make an effort to improve life for Africans? Should Europe and the US stop subsidizing their farmers to enable not only Africa but developing countries worldwide to start exporting themselves out of poverty? Is it a good idea for the European Union to invest in Africa to make it easier for Africans to support themselves at home? Should a global scheme be implemented where all developed countries agree to take a share of people displaced by wars? Should tyrants be prosecuted at the ICC in The Hague? Is it likely that the global community will step up to the plate? For decades we have understood the importance of abolishing Western agricultural subsidies but they are still in place. What will it take to get the West to give priority to saving lives over making money and getting re-elected? Is it likely that the refugee crisis in Europe will be enough? Or at least a start?

Video: World Economic Forum – Picture: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

34 thoughts on “How will Africans get a better life?

  1. I think there are some truths and falsehoods here; so let's remember that "Africa" is a continent that is incredibly vast and diverse. This includes socio-economic backgrounds. While there is deep deep poverty on the continent, and there is also wealth. One of the main pitfalls for developing countries, including the ones in Africa, were the World Bank's and IMF's Structural Adjustment Program (SAPs) which destroyed alot of the economies in developing countries around the world, although it led to some growth, it was highly unequal. Which is why in third world economies you will see a big gap of very very rich people (usually less than 5%) and a large segment living in poverty (more than 80%) and a barely there middle class. Many donor countries and institutions are still investing bilions of dollars to African countries, but a small percentage of that goes to the governments; as well as most "investments" are usually loans. These loans have conditions and austerity measures, such as they cannot be used to hire government employees or increase salaries to keep workers from leaving (like how many African doctors and health workers left for other countries to make more money) or to prevent corruption (like a teacher who will "clock in" and then go work a second job). Plus the currencies are deflated to keep their exports 'competitive" on the global markets, but many of the low-income countries' exports are narrow and can't compete with bigger countries like the U.S or EU, so that's why there isn't a lot of investment in agriculture in the first place. If it there is, it tends to focus on cash crops (and not for food, which can lead to man-made famines). Its a complicated issue, but I don't think "investment" alone is going to solve the problem of poverty, especially if you look at the last 30 years of "investment" which led to unequal growth. Abolishing subsidies is one side, but how about lobbying the WTO for fairer trade policies? If we are in agreements with these countries for free trade deals, then their exports should not be subject to tariffs, but they are. Or when they need to purchase life saving medicines but are unable to get cheap generics and have to pay for expensive brand names? Another WTO policy failure…

    1. Thank you for giving us your thoughts. This is a general article about how we can enable Africans to get a better life back home and does not get into details. Have personally worked with almost all the governments on the continent and the main thing they want in order to improve the lives of their people is being able to export agriculture. The WTO is rigged in favour of the US and EU and as long as that continues it will be difficult not only for Africa but for all developing countries (third world is a term that is derogative and really upsets people in developing countries) to trade themselves out of poverty. But getting the WTO to give developing countries better terms on all commodities is, at best, a vvvveeeerrrryyyy long term goal. Agriculture is hence a more feasible goal. Having said that, the US and EU are holding on to their trade policies and Africans and lobbyists have for about 15 years not been able to get any results worth mentioning. It sounds horrible but maybe the easiest way of giving the poor in Africa a better life is that the refugee crisis really gets out of hand and the West decides that it's better to give developing countries a deal at the WTO that enable them to trade themselves out of poverty than a steady flow of economic migrants. By the way, I'm sure you would enjoy working in Africa so why don't you try to get a position there where you can do something for the poor? Believe me, they are sometimes so poor and their living conditions so bad it breaks your heart.

      1. Again, I'm more concerned about Western influences getting involved or "investing" in Africa as more often then not the outcome does not benefit the poor or does not create sustainable changes. Especially for nonprofits or NGOs (there are so many on the ground) they do not have the capacity to make systemic changes in African governance, so they usually come and implement vertical interventions for a brief period and leave. There is a short term impact, a positive and negative short term impacts, but it lacks the systemic impact for economic development that the poor in these countries need. Another problem with Western-led interventions, is that (if not one correctly) it may undermine African governments' attempt to bring development or changes, and the people on the ground are not held accountable to African authorities or even the African people they serve, but rather to the western-based NGOs or corporations that placed them there.So while I agree that agricultural development is one of the ways to improve the macro-economic scopes of the country, but it may not still help the rural poor, as evidence given by many other interventions where farming became commercialized and land was bought in the hands of the elite or major companies that produced cash crops. Thus, for the rural peasant farmer that needs land for subsistence agriculture or the market prices are fixed so a small farmer has a difficult time competing in the local market with big commercial farmers, also discourages agriculture and have folks leaving the agriculture business for other industries. In light of Brexit, and other major countries wanting to "drop out" of globalization it could be open door for developing countries to compete in the global trade.

        1. Have you ever worked in Africa or lobbied to make life better for the people on the continent? I have and you are so idealistic I think you would love it. Words are easy it's action that counts. Think about it…

  2. One of the most devastating factors which effected Africa, was western techniques in farming. There is a natural sod designed by millions of year of plant evolution to prevent dessert from forming. Many people in Africa were nomadic, so they would not disturb this sod and its balance with nature.
    When western farming techniques were introduced, the sod was destroyed, as well as the nomadic lifestyles of these people. This is why there was an increase of famine and reappearance of desserts in some of these areas.
    Africa does not need western solutions to solve their problems, they need African ones.

    1. That may be the cause in a few cases, William. But how many African farmers do you think have had, or have access, to Western farming techniques? The majority of farmers are so primitive to us it looks like we have been transported back to the stone ages.

  3. this situation is so complex. I don't know the answer. But i do agree with a lot if your ideas. Should a global scheme be implemented where all developed countries agree to take a share of people displaced by wars? i think that sounds fabulous. Do i think it will ever happen at least in my lifetime, unfortunately no. Especially given the current political climate in US, fear of terrorism etc. Others in the global community may step up and do their part. The US im not so sure

  4. Yes I certainly agree that we should be doing more to improve the lives of Africans. Given the current political climate in the U.S. I don't see it happening here. As for the agricultural subsidies most small American farmers have long since been put out of business so the subsidies mainly protect large, profitable corporations.

    1. Agree that political developments in your country could develop in a way that will be a disaster for the rest ot the world. That the US taxpayer hands out corporate wellfare to huge farms is horrendous and both America and the EU has to stop this praxis.

  5. As you have stated Catarina, many African countries are full of corruption. It is every man for themselves. You also mentioned those in power mistreating and duping their own out of money. People are starving and dying and resorting to acts we do not even want to think about in order to survive.

  6. This is a very complex subject Catarina. There is no question that if Africa could be lifted out of its current dire poverty levels this would result in benefits to Europe, and other parts of the world, in terms of far fewer refugees, while providing a decent quality of life for those in Africa.

    The issue of Western (Europe) agricultural subsidies alone would occupy the politicians for many years – there are simply too many votes at stake for governments to abolish them.

    My view is that the biggest single problem facing Africa – by far – is the quality of its leadership. There is a tendency for elected leaders to stay in power (Mugabe et al), and to view the country as their own personal fiefdom (or should that be thief-dom?). Yes, we can say that these leaders have been elected (turning a conveniently blind eye to rampant election fraud), but that does not address the issue. There has to be a way that the West (and other interested democratic institutions) can use aid money not just to pour it into already-corrupt governments but to use it effectively as a carrot-and-stick way to ensure that democracy, in a true sense, comes to Africa and it gets the leaders it deserves. This would position the continent to raise itself out of the straits in which it currently finds itself.

    1. Guy, to sort out the leadership of African countries has unfortunately been tried for decades in vain. Mugabe, who you mention, is a good example of that. The best would be to enable Africa to trade itself out of poverty. It's only France that is a problem, huge admittedly, in Western Europe when it comes to agricultural subsidies. The majority of voters in Western Europe would like to abolish farm subsidies. Blair tried to make it happen in Brussels but France turned into a massive problem. Don't forget that it's mainly huge industrial farms that get those subsidies. For some reason the myth that the money goes to small farms been established. The number of farmers in Western Europe is small and shrinking. The EU is looking at using a stick and carrot approach with African countries as I mentioned. Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mali and so forth are the first countries that approach will be tried upon. A huge problem in the EU though is Eastern Europe that are dependent on agricultural subsidies. It may sound horrible but maybe it would be a blessing in disguise if the refugee crisis becomes such a massive problem that all 28 member states in the EU agree to abolish agricultural subsidies and open up the EU market to African products to enable the continent to trade itself out of poverty?

      1. To be honest, Catarina, the issue of sorting out the leadership issue has not really been tried. Politics in Western countries always got in the way and they only made token attempts to do anything (Mugabe being a great case in point – he was knighted AFTER the Matabeleland massacres of 1981, although this knighthood has more recently been withdrawn for other reasons). The issue with trade is, unfortunately, that the current leadership will typically ensure a good portion of trade revenues will be abused in some way. That's why the leadership changes are so necessary – after that, other things will be able to work effectively.

        1. Needless to say leadership in Africa has to improve drastically. But if we wait for that it will take at least a generation. Until all Africans can read and write they will vote for candidates that come from their tribe and/or offer them money for nothing. Guy, I worked closely with NEPAD for many years and got to know Thabo Mbecki, Chissano and many of the other top Africans. The problem is not so much about the West interfering as African culture and tradition. Mbecki told me that they could not do anything about Mugabe because of culture, tradition and how he sheltered African freedom fighters, including Thabo himself, in the past. He would have wanted to though. NEPAD was a sincere attempt to improve leadership in Africa and it worked for a while but then developments not least in South Africa took over. Jacob Zuma succeeded Mbecki because of democracy and now the South African government is utterly corrupt. Aid is even easier for corrupt politicians to pocket and they are caught on an continuou basis. It's more difficult to get your hands on revenues from trade, even if it's not impossible. Trade is still the fastest and best way of enabling Africans and citizens of developing countries worldwide to get a better life. Once again, most likely it will be a blessing in disguise if the refugee crises gets completely out of hand and the West if forced to stop rigging the WTO at the expense of the developing world.

        2. Along the lines of what I was saying. African governance on the ground needs to change and strengthen, but many of these sub-Saharan countries are post-conflict too, which complicates the matter. Take Liberia and Sierra Leone which are 10-12 years post civil war which ravaged their countries before the Ebola epidemic hit. Both countries had an entire generation living in war and not going to school or getting healthcare, so when the epidemic spiraled out of control, everyone was like, "why don't they have doctors in their countries?" or " how come they have so few clinics and roads" Without realizing that civil war has torn their infrastructure apart. Development aid policies is another culprit, as aid usually means loans, and loans that come with conditions. Many developing countries have a legacy of Structural Adjustment Program which hindered governance and development; so to suggest more "aid" or "investment" is the answer gives me concern, as it has not brought about equal sustainable development, but may have helped to keep ineffective regimes in power.

          1. Have you ever worked in Africa and/or tried lobbying to make life better for the people there? I have and you are so idealistic you would love it. Words are easy, it’s action that counts. Think about it….

  7. Governments are corrupt all over the world. That's the surrounding issue. Even in the US, millionaire farmers receive subsidies over small farmers, similar to (not the same) as you describe in Africa. This is as concerning as everything else going on worldwide that is because of many issues, but at the heart I have to believe, it's political corruptness. BTW, I noticed at 1:04 in your video, the name Clinton appears as a donor. No further comment on that.
    My recent post How To Manage Most Stressful Situations To Find Peace

    1. Patricia the subsidies you mention going to millionaire farmers are exactly the subsidies that makes it impossible for African farmers to cooperate on the global market. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is completely rigged in favour of the US and Europe. And then Westerners wonder why poor people in the developing world come here wanting to get a better life. Patricia, you and I would do that as well if we were in their shoes. There is simply nothing for them where they come from.

      1. It's called – corruption – Catarina. Rigged means corruptions. For example, those millionaire farmers who don't even need the subsidies likely lobby our corrupt politicians not to make it possible for other nations farmers get their produce here in the USA. "You line my pockets and I line yours." That way they break the circle of life for anyone they suspect would end their game.
        My recent post How To Manage Most Stressful Situations To Find Peace

        1. True. But if the West isn't careful the flood of refugees will get out of hand. Corporations in the West can not continue to make massive profits at the expense of the majority of the population of the world. Did you notice what happened last summer when hundreds of thousands of refugees just marched through Europe. Nothing can stop that amount of people. And it's people with drive and ambition that do not give up.

  8. Great questions, Catarina. I do agree that agriculture industry is a great start to empower Africans. I like that the video mentioned motivating African women in agriculture to be entrepreneurs as well. Setting up training programs and schooling would be crucial to help ensure success.

    1. Glad we, and most experts in the world, agree, Sabrina. Women in Africa are already doing well actually. Believe it or not but you find more women in top positions in African governments than in the West. Presidents, prime ministers and so forth.

  9. There are so many issues and questions raised in this post that I am not sure where to start with my comment. It is not right that part of the world should be so privileged and go to such great lengths to protect that privilege while the rest of the world suffers. I cannot imagine what the African asylum seekers go through and what they are trying to escape. My father was a small farmer who struggled to make a living (often by taking jobs off the farm) at at time when small farms were being forced out of business by a system which favoured “big business” farms. Some of the subsidies introduced were meant to help the small farmer, but I don’t think that is the case so much anymore and we need to question who the subsidies really benefit. If my father were alive today, I know he’d want a system that was fair to all. You’ve raised a topic that needs to be broached and talked about.

    1. Glad you agree with me Donna. It's ludicrous that Western agricultural subsidies support corporate farms. Small farmers get a pittance, if anything, and farmers in the developing world can not support even themselves.

  10. Hello Catarina. This is such a complex topic. As you know, I am immersed in the world of fine chocolate. West Africa produces 70% of the world's cocoa, but it is "bulk grade," meaning that artisanal chocolate makers prefer to use cocoa from other locations. The large chocolate companies like Nestle, Mars, and Cadbury are the ones using the bulk grade for their chocolate confections. They used to turn the other way and ignore the child labour issues, but those large corporations are now spending big money to educate the Africans who are involved in the cocoa industry. Slowly, conditions are improving for the local workers, for families, and for the economies of these countries as a higher, more fair price is paid for their crops.
    My recent post visiting the Grenada Chocolate Festival

    1. Have heard about that problem from African governments, Doreen. If I remember correctly, Ghana was losing a lot of money as a result. Multinational companies have a lot to answer for when it comes to poverty in developing countries, child labour included. And when it comes to agricultural subsidies it's not small farmers that get the vast amount of that money but huge industrial farms i.e. the same phenomena as you describe. If the world doesn't change direction and make an effort to solve the problems in the developing world fascism will become a huge problem. It's already started and it will not be that long before we have another Hitler if the flood of refugees is not dealt with.

  11. In the US, so many college students get themselves into credit card debt while in college (outside of student loan debt) assuming that their good job once they graduate will make their debt easy to repay. But those who have been there know that is not the case. So it is easy to understand how those living in Africa would believe the same once they get to Europe since it is seen as a land of opportunity. Thank you for bringing up this important topic. Africans often seem to be the forgotten people. Other than hearing about Angelina Jolie's projects, I hear very little talk or concern over Africa in the US media.

    1. Thank you, Erica. Angelina Jolie is really doing a good job of making people all over the world aware of the suffering regugees go through. A horrendous example is how poor Africans are told by people smugglers that once they get to Europe they will get a life of luxury. All it takes is to pay the smuggleer, say, $30,000 and they can look forward to such a life. It's unbelievable that they can be conned like that. But what would we be like if we had no education and had looked at Western movies and dreamt of having that kind of life. Don't forget that a lot of the Hispanics come to the US for the same reason as the Africans come to Europe.

  12. Catarina, the last sentence – the vast majority of the voters are of the opinion that EU farm subsidies should be abolished (let;s hope the vast majority of Americans feel the same way). That gives hope because if the voters decide that's what they want and this gets publicized and spread (another problem) then the politicians may act. Of course, that may be held back by the amount of favours the corporate farms do for the government.

    1. Lenie, correction, the vast majority of voters in many European countries. I should add in Western Europe. Have you ever heard an election campaign that focuses on agricultural subsidies? I have not. It's never even mentioned. In the US I can guarantee you that the vast majority of voters, if they know that there is such a thing as agricultural subsidies, believe the money goes to small farmers who would not survive otherwise. Would be interesting to know how many US politicians are in the pockets of corporate farms. It sounds horrible but most likely the only way of getting rid of farm subsidies is most likely that the global problem with refugees gets completely out of hand. It's probably necessary to get action to solve the problem.

  13. Catarina, there were several statements that stood out for me. First, in the video there was a comment about 'better seed'. I sincerely hope that this does not mean GMO modified seeds since I believe they damage the soil and as most African agricultural plots are much smaller than we're used to, it wouldn't take all that long for them to either have to add expensive soil supplements which they wouldn't be able to afford or produce smaller yields.
    The second point:
    ."For Europe it would save billions of dollars that are now being spent on African asylum seekers hoping to get out of poverty", and
    "How many billions are spent by the EU only on patrolling the Mediterranean and rescuing Africans in boats that are sinking?".
    Now this may be a very simplistic approach – realistically I can't see the EU and American farmers giving up their subsidies and any government that tried would soon be voted out. Wouldn't it then be better to take some of those billions of dollars and slowly start funneling that money into African agriculture – going directly to the African farmer and bypassing corrupt government officials.
    Also I have read about western governments donating to African farmers by sending things like large tractors, to large for the tracts of land so totally useless and there are many more stories like that. Therefore the African farmer themselves would have to be the ones to determine the need.
    Catarina, this is one post I could go on and on about – the shortsighted thinking, the horror of human trafficking, the bias against the asylum seekers and the rise of fascism – all so worrying. Thank you for bringing this out in the open and to our attention.

    1. Maybe it would be a blessing in disguise if the refugee crisis got out of hand on a global scale? Then the EU and US would put an end to agricultural subsidies. Do you realize that most of that money goes to huge industrial farms. Not as most people believe to small farms who would not survive otherwise. Aid is something that doesn't work because a substantial portion of it end up in officials pockets. Lenie, believe me, I have worked extensively with for instance NEPAD that was mentioned in the video and African and Western governments on this issue. Everybody, including Washington and Brussels know that it's essential to abolish Western farm subsidies. But both Capitol Hill and EU governments love the fact that international trade is rigged in their favour. If you didn't know it, that's a fact. There are very few farmers in the West. In fact it's a profession that's heavily in decline. So the sooner Western governments start saying no to major farming conglomerates the better. In many European countries the vast majority of the voters are of the opinion that EU farm subsidies should be abolished.

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