Thursday, January 25, 2007

Disturbing Similarities

By Colin Rajah
Reporting from the WSF, Nairobi

Many apologies to those of you who had been waiting anxiously for my next installment of news from Nairobi – yes both of you. The bout with extreme food poisoning I encountered on Tuesday that left me writhing in pain and unable to even stand, the power-outage last night, and the hectic 16-hour days of looking for workshops, walking to workshops, workshops themselves, figuring out where to meet, meetings themselves and the obligatory marches and rallies at the World Social Forum (WSF) all kind of put a slight delay in this issue.

All pars for the course in the typical WSF experience. Being that this is its first visit to the African continent, there were some new expectations, hopes and desires though. But like every WSF, you’re never sure what will happen, who you’ll meet, how things will shake out, until it actually happens.

So while we had some expectations, hopes and desires about making more connections with migrant rights issues here in Africa, it appears we’ve done that primarily through enhancing our understanding of the European Union (EU), the neo-colonialism of North Africa, and the “NGO-tization” of any semblance of movement building on the continent. Even the WSF has stark evidence of these, but more on that in next week’s report. For now, here’s a synopsis of some very interesting and disturbing migrant rights analyses:

As what is the norm in just about every region in the world, the primary causes of migration here seem to be neoliberal trade (where more and more foreign companies displace farmers and small businesses, and significant increases in costs of living occur due to privatization) as well as war and militarism that is very often sanctioned, financed and even directly carried out (as in the case of Somalia) by the U.S. government and closely followed by various European governments.

And just like how the migration track in Central America crosses through Mexico which then becomes a receiving, transit, and sending country, migration through Africa crosses various North, East and West African regions including Libya, Morocco and Senegal.

The disturbing part about these similarities are that in the past 5 years or so, the EU and its member states in Western Europe, have aggressively engaged with these African states in bi-lateral trade agreements which enable easier movement of capital and goods, but further limits movement of people except those with certain “required skill sets.” Hello, NAFTA?

On top of that, these so called “cooperative agreements” include enormous provisions where the European partners (Italy for Libya, Spain for Morocco, Senegal for France and so on with the post-colonial relationships) provide funding for “development projects” on the condition that the their African partners police their borders and conduct EU immigration policy enforcement for them.

First, the “development projects” often entail purchasing development tools from their European donor countries and companies, and then implementing the projects via European NGOs and their agents. Moreover, the locals often loose their lands (which have become unaffordable to maintain) to these development companies in the process.

But the most disturbing part of these “cooperative agreements” came from a series of EU meetings since 1999, which concluded that Africa needed to deal with Europe’s “illegal immigration problem!” The 2002 Seville EU statement states that any bilateral agreement can only be recognized if the African partners make measurable efforts to curtail undocumented migration. So now, the development funding also goes to establishing “processing centers” (i.e. temporary detention camps) to select the desired migrant for Europe, purchasing and using enforcement tools such as patrol boats, surveillance equipment and arms, etc.

The results are as devastating as the humanitarian crisis at the Sonora desert. Since 2005, over 45,000 migrants have attempted to cross from Morocco to Spain even as immigration policing and repression increased. Of those, at least 3,000 have been found dead in the seas between these countries, forced to take greater risks since EU coast guards now patrol the African seas. Furthermore, the abuse and human rights violations reported in the “processing centers” are comparable to the horrifying torture at Guantanamo. Effectively, European borders are no longer in Europe but in Africa now.

And what about walls? Yes, they are there too. The Spanish colonies in North Morocco now have almost 200 miles of walls, and the resemblance to the ones on the U.S.-Mexico border is no coincidence. The agency that was contracted to erect it was sent to the U.S. to study our border walls there!

The need to deepen the understanding of these atrocities and further engage our new-found African and European allies in these struggles, cannot be over-stated. They have stated more than once this week, that Europe’s neo-colonization of African has progressed steadily and many African leaders now work for European interests than their own peoples. And the only way to counter that for migrant rights would be stronger, unified inter-community movements between our regions.

And the seeds of that have been planted this week here in Nairobi. No, I don’t mean the tree-planting farce the WSF has conducted as part of its closing show. I mean the real beginnings of solidarity among migrant communities and grassroots organizers. Indeed, another world is only possible when the people build upon our own similarities, rather than be victimized by the disturbing similarities imposed by our governments.