“Today there are 950 million Africans in Africa, 450 million under 17. In 2040 there will be two billion. If we do not develop this Africa, they will flood the world” President Jacque Chirac
The sight of the coffins of closely 300 African migrants who lost their lives in a shipwreck off the Italian coast caused my heart to bleed profusely. The scene made me recall the moment in history when African countries began to get their independence from their colonial masters. Back then, many of the people from these African countries were seen dancing and rejoicing, thinking that they had been free from the shackles and yokes of their colonizers. They danced with the hopes of a brighter future, economic freedom, and human dignity. Little did they know that frustration and unthinkable disappointment lay ahead.
The Berlin conference of 1884-1885 in which European powers such as Great Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Germany, and Italy divided countries in the continent of Africa for colonization purposes has severely damaged the destinies of the Africans and has equally killed the African spirit. The people of Africa have been shaped by horrible experiences that emanated from the Berlin conference such as apartheid, invasion, slave trade, colonization, displacement, deculturalization, dehumanization, the destruction of their structures of governance, and as well as the destruction of the African heritage.
I totally agree with the argument that African countries should no longer blame the colonial masters for the myriad of problems facing Africa today such epileptic electricity supply, decrepit infrastructure, unemployment, poverty, hunger, lack of water, etc. This is especially true given the fact African countries began to get their independence in the 1950s and 1960s. At the same time, we must start to ask why the African continent remains the headquarters to virtually all the world’s problems. The truth of the matter is
colonial masters enthroned obedient servants as leaders of the former respective colonies. In other words power only changed hands from foreign tyrants to indigenous ones, so that the exploitation of both human and natural resources would continue.
The dreams of the African people at independence were shattered by bad leadership that has long plagued the continent. In Nigeria alone, over 40 million youth are unemployed, and the same is the existential realities of African youth, women, and children across the board in Africa. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) the estimated deaths of African migrants trying to seek greener pastures in Europe since 1988 is 19,142. The 300 migrants who recently died are an example of such.
A significant percentage of the African population today lives below $1 per day, yet the continent’s leaders are billionaires in terms of hard currencies. According to Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog organization, Mobutu Sese Seko, the former president of the Democratic Republic of Congo stole an estimated $5 billion from his country. The Nigerian government uncovered over $3 billion linked to the former military dictator, General Sani Abacha, upon his death lodged in foreign bank accounts.
It is high time for Europe to strategically engage the African continent, and champion the course of economic and social development in Africa, especially in North Africa given its contiguity to Europe. As it is, Europe has no choice but to embrace Africa because of demographic shifts. Europe’s population in 1950 was 547 million, while that of Africa was 228 million. But by 2050, the population of Europe will be 709 million and that of Africa will be skyrocket to 2.4 billion. Given this statistical future projections, it is imperative for Europe to retract its steps from the zero-sum game economic practices and policies toward Africa. Should Europe fail to pay attention to this reality, Africans will continue to migrate in masse which will affect Europe’s economy.
This reality has now hit Europe in the face, and its leaders must come to the full realization of the interconnectedness of Africa’s destiny and Europe’s destiny. European powers need a 21st century component of the Berlin conference, the difference being that this time they need to focus on the economic and social transformation of the African continent instead of exploiting them.