Africa wants
to remain

by Sara Simon
Current events

Picture being a twenty-year-old boy, or just there about, born in a country in central Africa, overlooking the Gulf of Guinea: Nigeria. You have black skin and despite this, although some would believe otherwise, you still haven’t managed to get used to the phenomenon of gas flaring, a process which highly pollutes the atmosphere, but is a common practise in your state – in which natural gas, extracted together with oil, not easily marketable, is burned by releasing large quantities of carbon dioxide. Now, imagine feeling congested, almost to the point of suffocation, because living in Nigeria means sharing your living space with 177 million other people; around you 110 million people live on less than a dollar and a half a day.

What to do? Some friends have left the country to migrate to other African states, almost everyone does, but you choose to travel North. In doing so, maybe you don’t realise it, but you will become part of Europe’s biggest media narrative, a lazy mind narrative, sometimes false and slightly hypocritical. Towards the North, in Libya you don’t find help, but other men from your own continent, who believe they are better than you because their state is richer, their skin is lighter, their relationship with Europe is “closer”, and they behave accordingly. You want to leave for Europe, but you don’t have enough money to buy a ticket.

And as night falls, you come to realise, what you thought was your biggest flaw – your black skin – is actually what can save your life.

And then you think, now drunk with tragic irony, “In the dark you can’t see black people, everyone knows that; just don’t smile”. Taking advantage of the darkness that covers you, you fall into a boat without a valid ticket but with a lot of courage. “Ticket”, more like a euphemism, because it would mean a journey with comfortable seats with certain arrival and without risk of losing your life. Your adventure starts with solid hope – after all, that’s all you have left – but halfway through it the fuel runs out and you’re left in the middle of the sea. You amongst ghosts, whose wide opened eyes are the only whiteness you see. No smile. On the horizon someone catches a glimpse of you, grants you some petrol to continue a little longer. Then, the engine breaks down and it seems your life is about to end in the middle of the sea with the other ghosts, you are succumbed by rage for you are still too young, and your heat has not stopped beating yet. Luckily, your heartbeat and those of the other ghosts aboard seem to have attracted the radar of a rescue boat and you are all saved from sea.

What you have just pictured is no fantasy tale but the true story of my dear friend G.’s to whom I am grateful to have had so much strength in undertaking this trip, for giving us his radiant presence full of sunlight and everything good Africa passed down to him.

Thinking now in a way that is free of emotional involvement, immigration is a complex phenomenon to understand, in the face of which it is a widespread use to adopt a lazy look that sees a banal and sufficient reason for displacement in the fact that they are poor and at war, we rich and at peace. The lazy mind easily makes the first mistake, but the migrant is not a poor subject; it is in almost all cases someone who comes from the middle class and has economic and cultural resources. In Africa they say, the poor is not even able to reach the capital of their district. The famous saying “let’s help from home”, recurring in the political debate, if reconsidered from this perspective, is tinged with implications that lazy people do not consider.

In fact, the beginning of a development cycle historically leads to new migrations. Let’s think of Italy in the twentieth century that transformed itself from a country of migrants into a destination of immigrants only in a moment of stabilisation and consolidated prosperity. Ultimately: aid to Africa will not stop extra-African migrations.

The tendency is to constantly simplify concepts and we never wonder about the social, economic and political situation that these people leave behind. Even the repetition of phrases such as “All of Africa cannot fit into Italy” does not make us witnesses the truth because, if we were to investigate the official data, we would realise that Africans come to Europe in small groups and only out of necessity. But within their hearts, the Africans never leave their land and as soon as possible they return to their country. In 2017, there were 19.4 million Africans who migrated within their own continent. 78.8% of those migrants remained in Africa, and it is West Africa that recorded the greatest internal migration rate: 89%. For Africans the intra-African track is important and migration to Europe is almost irrelevant and is also treated marginally in the local news.

The distance between real migration and that represented by media communication or perceived by an average Italian in the form of a great number of Africans en route to Europe is evident. Of the latter, depicted as a phenomenon in dramatic increase, political asylum would be the fundamental cause. The immigrants in Italy, according to the distorted narrative, seem to be mainly Africans, or from the Middle East, male and Muslim. Instead, by analysing the statistical dossiers, a very different reality emerges: immigration would be stable around 5 million people or slightly more, and on this the asylum applications considered jointly applicants and recognised as apparently only 350 thousand. The ignorant tattler is silenced by the mathematical evidence that illustrates how the asylum applications constitute less than 7% of the total immigration cases, not being evidently that rampant and an irreversible phenomenon than it seems to be. It is not Europe but rather sub-Saharan Africa home to the highest number of refugees and displaced persons in the world, over 18 million people, according to data provided by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (Acnur).

Moreover, the immigrants are not African Muslim males as they are believed to be, but mainly Christian European women. Among the 5 main countries, except Morocco being in third place, African States are not even the places from which the migrants come, Romania and Albania seem to take first and second place. As far as the nationalities of origin are concerned, therefore, Romanians, are the most numerous with 1,190,091 people (23.1% of the total), while the second community is the Albanian one with 440,465 immigrants (8.6% of the total). Other numerous communities are those from Morocco (416,531), China (290,681), Ukraine (237,047), the Philippines (167,859), India (151,791), Bangladesh (131,967) and Moldova (131,814). Lastly, Egypt with 119,513 immigrants.

Despite the fact that more than half of the Italians believe that immigration is a serious problem, especially with regards to public order and security, we must bare in mind that the 2.4 million foreign workers employed (10.5 % of the total number of workers in Italy) produce an added value of 131 billion, carrying out the low-skilled, exhausting and poorly paid jobs that Italians do not want to do. Furthermore, their social security contribution amounts to € 11,9 billion, which helps to finance Italy’s social protection system. No matter how much we may be convinced of the contrary, the numerical evidence will always enlighten us with the truth that testifies how favourable the presence of this type of foreigner on Italy’s territory is.

Despite this, for those who prefer the idea of helping the foreigner to work and live in their own territory, some excellent examples of cooperation and volunteering come from religious associations, as well as from countless foundations and non-profit organisations, which are implementing very complex projects for the formation of emerging classes. Schools of political training have been opened alongside projects of self-entrepreneurship, aimed at leveraging the ability of the natives to create their own commercial initiatives in their territory. This is essential to help Africa achieve its coveted independence, especially because it is difficult to find typical Western-style employment (the so-called “fixed job”) on the continent. Contacts with religious associations, in this sense, are perhaps silently creating the basis for true growth, representing the forest that grows, even though there will always be falling tree that makes more noise.

Therefore, in carrying out our research and reflections on the subject, we should always ask ourselves: is there a real interest in making Africa a progressive and economically independent continent?

Source: Conference of 17 October 2017 promoted on the occasion of the ISPI report “Out of Africa. Why people migrate”. Idos 2018 Immigration Statistics Dossier.