A Short Description of Our Network (August 2012)
Afrique-Europe-Interact is a small, transnationally organised network that was founded in early 2010. It consists of grassroots activists mainly from Mali, Togo, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands – many of them self-organised refugees, migrants and people who were deported.
Politically speaking, Afrique-Europe-Interact has two main goals: one is to publicly criticise and shame the EU migration policies; the other is to draw attention to the structural reasons for flight and migration and therefore the demand for fair and self-determined development. The right to global movement and settlement is only one side of the coin. What is equally important is the right to stay – that is, the possibility to live a secure, dignified and self-determined life in one's home country/country of origin.
At the moment, Afrique-Europe-Interact has three main fields of activity. The first is the fight against neo-colonial land grabbing; that is, the sale of large areas of forest, field and pasture to globally operating banks, investment funds and companies – a development that has aggravated the destruction of the livelihood of small farmers, especially in Africa. The second is the fight against the EU border protection agency Frontex; that is, against the militarisation of the EU's outside borders that has cost tens of thousands of lives. In this context, Afrique-Europe-Interact is very critical towards the project of a so-called 'Mediterranean Space', which the EU launched as a reaction to the Arab Spring. This project suggests a privileged partnership including easier access to visas for citizens of the North African countries. Rather than that, our vision is one of diverse, flexible connections between Europe, the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa that are not subject to migration policy rules. Therefore, we would also like to mention the initiative 'boats4people/Flotilla of Solidarity', of which we were co-founders and which is run by grassroots activists from Mali, Tunisia, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and other countries. Our third main field of action is one that concerns especially the Mali groups in Europe-Afrique-Interact: since early 2012, their work is largely to do with the dramatic consequences of a rebellion of Tuaregs and Islamist groups in the north of the country. The main reason for this is that there are very different ideas of the ways in which peace and social justice can be achieved in this region (more about our political projects can be found on pp. 6-8).
The factor that unites us is our conviction that the neo-colonial relations of dominance and exploitation can only be changed if social grassroots movements from Africa and Europe work together on a large-scale basis in a fair, reliable and direct form. This, however, requires a careful consideration of their various starting conditions, interests and self-constructs. Due to this, Afrique-Europe-Interact is not only interested in a critical and self-critical consideration of dominance, paternalism and racist/Eurocentric prejudice (see especially the third part of our brochure, 'Mouvement autour des frontieres//Grenzbewegungen' (Border Movements)). Another important factor is that grassroots activists from Mali and Togo receive financial support from Afrique-Europe-Interact's European section – at least on a small scale. The key expression is 'practical redistribution' (more information about our donation campaign can be found on pp. 8-10).
A Short History of Afrique-Europe-Interact
Our first large scale action was a three-week convoy for 'Freedom of Movement and Fair Development' in early 2011. A good 250 activists – mainly from Mali – joined a bus tour from Mali's capital Bamako to the 11th World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal. All in all, it was unanimously declared that the actions, workshops and meetings with the local population during the convoy were very successful. At the top of the list was the fact that the event could take place despite sometimes significant organisational, social and political difficulties, which was vitally necessary to create mutual trust and the ability to act together.
After the convoy, the first thing that kept us occupied were the social revolutions in North Africa. This was not just out of solidarity with the Arab Spring (including 25,000 'spontaneous' migrants from Tunisia). It was also because hundreds of thousands of labour migrants and refugees from sub-Saharan Africa had to flee a Libya that was devastated by civil war. Among them were a good 6,000 people who couldn't or didn't want to return to their countries of origin, and therefore got stranded in the desert camp Choucha at the Libyan-Tunisian border, where they now live in unspeakable conditions. The practical manifestations of our aims were several delegation trips, marches and declaration ('Opening Escape Routes, Housing Refugees' & 'Freedom, not Frontex). Also, the Mali groups of Afrique-Europe-Interact spent months working on providing housing for people from Libya who were forced to return and people from the Ivory Coast who fled from the Civil War there.
Another step was mutual visits: first, in November 2011 three delegates of the Mali section of Afrique-Europe-Interact came to Europe and described various social fights in West Africa during a 14-day tour. Next, in spring 2012 several delegates of the European section travelled to Mali – mainly in order to visit the Office du Niger, which is 270 kilometres north-east of Bamako, accompanied by 20 Malian activists from the network. Here they met small communities that were directly or indirectly affected by land grabbing.
In addition, between June 2011 and February 2012, there was a campaign named '11 x €1,000: Practical Redistribution!' in Austria and Germany. It collected donations for 11 grassroots initiatives of our network in Mali (which were selected solely by the Malian section). The aim of the campaign was to support the political and social grassroots initiatives in their everyday economic situation, which is often highly precarious. This was basically a more or less symbolic representation of the redistribution/reverse of the flow of resources between the global south and north – something that, on the level of society as a whole, is unavoidable. The money was therefore used to pay for many different things, such as a grain mill, a loudspeaker system, and furniture and computers for a new advice bureau (more about the financial support for Mali grassroots initiatives can be found on pp. 8-10). The activists from Mali see the ‘11 x €1,000’ campaign as a big success, despite the decisions in the Malian section, some of which were nerve-racking. It was not only the material support that was important. Another crucial point was the campaign's ability to create trust – especially due to the fact that it was a redistribution campaign, not simply charity.
Our Current Main Goals
Neo-colonial land grabbing is widely spoken about – and rightly so: the sale of fertile (especially agrarian) ground to banks, investment funds and companies, which has been growing explosively since 2007, is now almost a huge wave of dispossession, that might make several hundred million farmers, fishers and animal herders in the southern hemisphere lose their livelihoods. Between October 2008 and June 2009, at least 47 million hectares of land were sold worldwide – that is an area the size of Sweden, or a quarter of the agricultural land in the EU. Around 75 per cent of land grabbing is now taking place in Africa. It affects at least 23 countries all over the continent, one of them being Mali. This is why, in March 2012, the aforementioned 30-people delegation of Afrique-Europe-Interact went to the Office du Niger, where the Malian government sold 900,000 hectares of land over the last years – mainly for the production of so-called bio fuel and export grain. Activists of the European section of Afrique-Europe-Interact have also mobbed branches of the Deutsche Bank in the German cities of Bremen and Frankfurt am Main (the latter as a part of the Blockupy protest), since the Deutsche Bank is one of the largest players in global trade of land. The mid- to long-term plan is to support farmers' communities in the Office du Niger in their struggle for land, and to build a connection to the resistance movement against evictions from houses and land in the capital, Bamako.
The project 'boats4people/Flotilla of Solidarity’, which Afrique-Europe-Interact co-founded, started as a reaction to the masses of deaths in the Mediterranean Sea, which reached a new peak in spring 2011 shortly after the beginning of the Libyan Civil War. The number of deaths rose to more than 2,000. The original idea was to organise as many boats as possible and install a kind of monitoring of the Mediterranean Sea, controlling the war against boat people co-ordinated by the EU border protection agency Frontex. However, this idea has lost some of its importance – not only because finding oceangoing boats turned out to be extremely difficult. Instead, at least for Afrique-Europe-Interact, another issue has recently gained importance: the co-operation with grassroots groups (especially anti-racist ones) in Tunisia, partly because questions and problems connected to migration could hardly be discussed during Ben Ali's dictatorship. Another planned main issue is working with the relatives of refugees and migrants who have gone missing. The nagging pain of uncertainty and fear of loss is something we have often met in relatives in Mali and Tunisia over the last two years. It should be an inspiring fact that, as early as 2011, the transnational network 'Welcome to Europe' supported refugees and migrants on the Turkish/Greek border, helping them look for relatives thought to have died in the Evros region.
The impact of the Tuareg rebellion in north Mali, which started in early 2012, is severe. It is not just that the country is effectively split and centuries-old social, economic and cultural connections may be destroyed. Even more dramatic factors are probably the aggravation of nutrition problems, the flight of more than 300,000 people (partly within the country), and the fact that in the wake of the rebellion Islamist (often terrorist) groups rose to power in several northern towns. The questions whether and how peace and social justice can be achieved in such conditions are strongly disputed in Mali. We would therefore like to direct you to our website, which offers background information about the conflict as well as several explanations and declarations of Afrique-Europe-Interact's European section.
Joining in, Contact and Materials
Joining in: Afrique-Europe-Interact is a decentrally organised network: its European section meets three to four times per year – interested people are always welcome! It is also possible to be active on a local level; at the moment there are permanent groups in Vienna, Berlin and Bremen.
Contact: AME/Association Malienne Expulses (Association of Deportees of Mali): Mail: email@example.com; Telephone: (+223) 20 24 30 16; all included/Amsterdam: Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Telephone: (+31) 020 379 52 36; NoLager Bremen: Mail: email@example.com; Telephone: (+49) 01578 4852 921; Conni Gunßer (Flüchtlingsrat Hamburg, Hamburg Refugee Council): Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Telephone: (+0049) 0173 4108 642; Afrique-Europe-Interact Vienna: Mail: email@example.com
Materials: if you want to learn more about Afrique-Europe-Interact, you can find information on our website. Some of xour materials can also be ordered by mail (firstname.lastname@example.org): the 45-minute DVD of the Bamako Dakar convoy '… denn wir leben von der gleichen Luft' (German, French, English and Spanish subtitles); the brochure 'Mouvements autour des frontières // Grenzbewegungen' (German/French, 120 pages, second edition, November 2011) and a 36-page collection of texts about land grabbing in Mali (German, first edition, July 2012).
Last not least we would like to explicitly mention our sister network 'Welcome to Europe' that, like Afrique-Europe-Interact, came into existence as an effect of the Noborder camp on the Greek island of Lesbos in summer 2009. The members of 'Welcome to Europe' are grassroots activists from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Somalia, numerous European countries and elsewhere. 'Welcome to Europe' supports refugees and migrants on their way to and through Europe – especially with a four-language web guide (English/French/Farsi/Arabic). It also works intensely against Dublin II deportations: http://w2eu.net/