Amidst waves of anti-immigrant populism that have crashed into European politics, the focus of what drives migration demands more attention. In Africa, specifically, the unchecked exploitation of the continent’s natural resources by corporations from outside countries has forced desperate choices upon its citizens. Migrants looking for their own modicum of economic justice have come to the West. But, once they arrive, they discover the extraordinary extents to which they must prove their “worthiness” and acceptance in the same European nations that benefited from taking their homelands’ natural resources for profit.
Earlier this year, Mamoudou Gassama, 22, who comes from Mali, scaled four floors of a Paris apartment building to save a boy who was hanging from the balcony. For his efforts, he was granted French citizenship. Meanwhile, on a global scale, the French World Cup team won the championship this summer with a diverse team: nearly 80 percent of its members are migrants, with a third of those identifying as Muslim. François Héran, an analyst of French demographics, estimated that one in eight residents in the country is Muslim, as of 2017. Also, according to Héran, at least one-third of the 200,000 migrants who come into France annually are from Africa.
Recently, the French Parliament adopted legislation that places new restrictions on migrants seeking asylum. It seems that even being seen as twice as “good” as the rest barely qualifies migrants for acceptance into predominantly white societies. At what superhuman level should migrants be expected to operate in order to eliminate the concerns or skepticisms aggravated by nationalistic, nativist sentiments?
This is not so different from my experience in Dubai, when I applied for a reporting job at The National newspaper. I had to prove to my European editors – coincidentally, migrants themselves – that I could cover the four northern emirates of Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah and Ras al-Khaimah, where Arabic was the only spoken language.
The editor who recruited me once asked how I managed to cover events that were happening at about the same time in Ras al-Khaimah and Sharjah, separated by about 56 miles. My response was simple: “Because that is the reason you hired me.” There was a tacitly agreed upon willingness (or desperation) to take on a load larger than what colleagues carried. And it was at a salary much less than that of other comparably qualified staff members.
My fluency in English and Arabic kept me at the job for more than five years. I worked on stories and shared bylines with other reporters, who happened to be white migrant professionals from Europe. Once the emirate government grew uncomfortable with my stories about the difficulties abused and disenfranchised migrants faced working abroad, I was deported with no support from my editors. I now have been in the US for nearly two years, and I am still perplexed about how to prove my own “superhuman” capabilities to legitimize my presence and role in US society.
Intolerance of migrants, especially of African descent, might strike some as a new phenomenon. But historical memories matter. For centuries, Europe sent out millions of its own migrants to settle elsewhere. In the instances of Africa and Asia, guns – not visas – set the movement’s pace.
To understand why the numbers of Africans continue to leave their homelands to work as migrants in the West, one must look to the history of how Africa has been hyperexploited in the global economy.
A History of Exploiting a Continent
The continent’s natural and mineral resources are targets of predatory wealth where no costs are incurred for unfettered exploitation. In many African nations, dictatorial puppets, often handpicked and supported by their Western exploiters, continue this relationship. This occurs at the expense of their own citizens who need and would benefit the most from the resources of their homelands.
Meanwhile, the continent’s deprived migrants are seen as “nuisances” by white citizens in Western nations occasionally, but more often are portrayed as “burdens” that “threaten” the nation’s economic livelihood.
Last June, Pope Francis spoke about the topic in advance of a European Union summit on migration. He said:
When a country grants independence to an African country it is from the ground up – but the subsoil is not independent. And then people [outside Africa] complain about hungry Africans coming here. There are injustices there.
The pope’s remarks are consistent with what scholars have written. As Tom Burgis noted in his 2015 book, The Looting Machine: Warlords, Tycoons, Smugglers and the Systematic Theft of Africa’s Wealth, Africa is both the world’s richest and poorest continent. A third of the planet’s mineral deposits are in Africa – including 40 percent of the world’s gold and 80 percent of its platinum. The continent holds nearly one-sixth of the crude oil reserves.
Migrants use all means, some perilous, to leave their exploited homelands seeking economic opportunity elsewhere. As gold mines, oil fields and large farms in Africa continue to be owned by Western investors and these vital resources are shipped or airlifted to the West, the stream of African immigrants will flow continuously. African migrants see no hopes in gaining their rightful share of this wealth. Simply, they leave because the risk of staying is the same as abandoning their countries.
Some gasped at Donald Trump’s unfiltered, unedited pronouncements, which historically echo sentiments that previously were uttered in private, never-to-be shared moments. Addressing a gathering of African leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in 2017, Trump said:
Africa has tremendous business potential. I have so many friends going to your countries trying to get rich. I congratulate you; they’re spending a lot of money. It has tremendous business potential, representing huge amounts of different markets. … It’s really become a place they have to go, that they want to go.
The same president, however, was disturbed by Africans whose “rich friends” have deprived their fellow citizens of economic opportunities and has triggered broad migration. Hence, he wondered aloud why the USshould continue accepting immigrants from what he describes as “s**thole countries.”
Meanwhile, France is investigating two of its former presidents for alleged acts of corruption. Nicolas Sarkozy is accused of collecting 50 million euros from former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi for his 2007 presidential campaign. Jacques Chirac is accused of asking Robert Bourgi, lawyer and politician, of collecting and carrying for him cash from various African dictators. The value is estimated to total $20 million.
These two instances constitute just a small fraction of the examples of corruption, compared to what African dictators have doled out in mining concessions to European and US corporations. Businesses from banking to entertainment and sports in Africa are largely European or US-based. African governments have cowed to US pressure to continue taking in their used clothes at the expense of local African garment industries.
According to an analysis by Global Justice Now and the Jubilee Debt Campaign, as reported by the Guardian, more streams of wealth-building revenue leave Africa every year going to former colonialist countries than revenue streams coming into the continent. African countries received $162 billion in 2015, mainly in loans, aid and personal remittances. But, in the same year, $203 billion in revenue that could have sustained local African economies was taken from the continent.
If European countries and the US insist upon blocking African migrants from entering their borders, then perhaps they also should block African resources from entering their countries as well. Then, maybe African migrants will finally be able to reap their own economic benefits from the resources of their homelands — that is, if corrupt African leaders respect such embargoes and allow their citizens to take part in the wealth.