For Freedom of Movement & Fair Development!

West Africa: the freedom, which we mean

By Martin Glasenapp

Only someone who has the ‘right’ to cross borders reaches the other side – but for some people the borders are impassable. How a courageous civil society in Mali tries to break the spell of the free trade globalisation.

The Mediterranean Sea constitutes an all too common and deadly trap for those humans who dare to leap from the African coasts into Europe via the sea; often without navigation, food or even water! When in late summer and autumn he Scirocco surges the waves at the Pelagic Islands, casting the corpses of the drowned victims onto the beaches of most of the Southern Italian islands , the annual regret of the governments and authorities about the great dying at the southern front of the European security architecture begins. The death in the sea requires quick relief, because “Europe is not a place, but an idea of humanity”, as Bernard-Henri Lévy phrased it once. But the dead people in the Mediterranean Sea are the dark consequence of the European Union and of a globalisation promise which emanates from the radical freedom of exchange of goods and products.


The author Aminata Traoré, spokeswoman of the “Forum for another Mali”, describes the free trade contracts (Economic Partnership Agreements), which the EU currently negotiates with the Group of West African states (ECOWAS), as “Europe’s weapons of mass destruction”. We meet the “Grande Dame” of the Malian civil society in Bamako. In her district Misra, among the frantic Malian capital, are no smelly open sewers and no garbage mountains. The alleys, paved with quarry tiles, are conspicuously clean. Trees in the front of the menial townhouses offer shade, small cafes sell food to eat, children play and on the porches open to the street the residents meet in the evenings. The old Malian secretary of culture and interior architect conducts not only the model redevelopment of her residential quarter. She also runs a picturesque hotel along with an African specialities restaurant and organises regular intellectual meetings in Bamako after the model of Porto Alegre.

For the cofounder of the World Social Forum, Europe’s contact with migrants from Africa is evidence for a colonial continuity, which reposes on “deracination and perpetual declassifying”: “France sees Africa as nothing more than an extended urban suburb.” For her migration is based on free trade: “Europe sends us her poultry legs, used cars, expired medicaments and worn out shoes, and because your waste floods our markets, our craftsmen and farmers suffer ruin.” In debate Traoré calls globalisation a “lie”, because in reality the process is “not joining, but cutting off” the world. Scarcely anybody in the rich North could conceive what the Schengen Agreement in the year 1990 and the resulting loss of visa exemptions for France and England meant for many residents of African countries : “We lost our life jacket” – as about 4 million Malians, more than a third of the entire population of 11,7 million people, live abroad, half a million in Europe and the USA.

The Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) meet explicit EU demands for free trade zones, crrently being negotiated after the failure of the WTO-negotiations 2003 in Cancún. For the Group of West African States the EPAs are devastating, because they will further expose local production to the profit interests of the Western concerns. In the francophone West African states, the prohibition of export restrictions won’t create “more market”, but will further constrict the already limited regional scope and will especially affect the agrarian economy. For example, in Mali 70% of the population still live in the countryside. In the youngest UNDP-report about the human development, the Sahel country, which is comprised to 65% of desert and semi desert, ranks on place 175 from 177. The EU demands thatneither taxes be collected on imports, nor shall the local agriculture be subsidised (about the agricultural aids of the EU is certainly found nothing of this sort). This will lead to a malian market flooded with cheap vegetable, eggs and meat from the European agrarian industrial complex. Not only the local agrarian production will collapse, but also the public infrastructure. Apart from that, the markets all services and also the pitiful rests of public service, which survived the IWF structural adjustment programs of the 1990s, shall be opened to European vendors. Even a survey financed by the Eropean Commission on the effects of EPAs on Mali concludes: Would the arrangement be fully implemented, the effect would be an immediate loss of 28 million Euro or about 1% of the gross national product.

In her passionate struggle “for another Africa”, beyond free trade, Aminata Traoré is allied with the Northern anti-globalisation movement. Together with them, she she fights for the opening of borders: “The African immigrants are no enemies of Europe, if anything, they believe in Europe.” And when in autumn 2005, after the bloody riots at the fences in front of the Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Melilla, the airplanes with the banished landed in Bamako, she was on the scene immediately and, with the initiative “Retour Travail Dignité”, established a first venue for the deported. Even today, more than two years later, some of the parties still live in Misra, work in the district initiative, in the hotel Djenné, or try to deal with their experiences in an artistic way.

However, deportation also comes in other shapes and forms. In the Sahel region in the north-east of Mali, there lie, situated at the banks of the River Niger, two towns which nearly everybody passes who seeks to leave the African continent: Gao and Kidal. From here, the clandestine refugee treks set out across the barren Sahara, to reach the hidden harbours of the Algerian and Libyan coasts. Although the desert route is only one of the ways to leave the continent, it is the route of the proletariat of illegal migration – of those, who can`t afford a Schengen visa, not even a badly faked one. “Only the chosen ones reach a boat”, says Mamadou Diakité. The eloquent fourty-something and his NGO “Aide Mali” try to help some of those in Bamako who have been deported from Algeria and Libya. He reports from his experiences in the desolated north-east of Mali, of traumatised and beaten refugees being dumped off lorries in the no man`s land of the Sahara after being mugged and stripped off all clothes buttheir underwear, by Algerian border patrols: “Human beings”, says Mamadou, “who seem to have crawled out of the earth.” Then he speeks of the feeling of disgrace of those left behind speechless and apathatic. The trek through the desert alone costs roundabout 4000 Euro. With an average income of 60.000 CFA (about 80 Euro), this ticket to declared paradise equals four years of work. Whole families and villages go into debt to enable one of their sons to embark on the journey – hoping to receive a dividend soon. In the Sahel, whole areas live off the money of those who moved out to find their luck somewhere else. Many stop over in Maghnia, the hidden colony in the Algerian-Moroccan no man’s land: “A conquest of tyres, wood and waste, where at times up to 3000 migrants live together in several national groups.”

An elected “president” governs there, with own laws and militia. “Beyond Maghnia, there is no protection. It is a zone of death, in which everybody is on their own to reach the ‘Eldorado’”, says the 45-years-old. “In the Arabic Maghreb, the black African migrant counts less than a dog.”

Diakité speaks without any accusation: “We’ve known that for centuries”, he explains. Despite the dangers the desert passage brings with it, for him, the right to leave is inalienable: “I tell everyone what they have to expect . But the decision to turn around is up to each one of them.“ A deeply felt grudge is in the air, when he speaks about the behaviour of the local elites, and he attacks openly the populist liberation rhetoric of the African leaders, who still only accuse the White dominance instead of taking on the responsibility for the hardships of their population: “Africa is simply pushing the problems to Europe.” And this even while the EU is trying to enter into dialogue, as the strategy of purely averting a perceived threat has been abandonned: “But then, who is sitting opposite to them?”

Costs and dialogue are also being considered in the office of the European Union in Bamako. With regard to the pressure on the African governments, the EU Development Commissar Louis Michel anounces opening a first “EU Job Centre” in February 2006. Someone who sees a chance to enter Europe with stamp and job warrant, so the rationale, will probably desist from the perilous journey across the sea. However, according to a local employee, the planned budget of 40 million Euros was reduced to a triennial volume of merely 10 million Euro from left resources. “Don’t call it ‘Job Centre’”, the young trustee tells us right away, “the European embassies here don’t like to hear this. Especially the German representative refuses such an ‘employment agency light’, suggesting vacancies that do not exist in Europe. The first “European Job Centre” in Africa in reality is nothing more than a so called “Centre d’Information et de gestion des migrations au Mali” (CIGEM). Here, studies on labour market demands are to be conducted and hand-picked young person be counselled and receive some basic training. All this will be less an offer for those who push to the North, than for those who once had left already, in other words: for the deported from the EU-states and especially from France.

It is them whom Keita Mohamadou meets. Every day he travels to the airport of Bamako and welcomes the deported, flown in mostly with Air France-machines. Keita is general secretary of the Association Malienne des Expulsés (AME), which was founded 1996 by deported, who have been part of the famous occupation of the church Saint Bernard: starting point of the movement of the Sans Papiers (“paper less”). Today the AME rallies also round the deported from Maghreb or from other African States, many of whom arrive at the Algerian-Malian border and need medical help, an emergency shelter, advocate or a fare to their hometowns. Keita knows the hardships of the arrived first hand, since he was a “Sans papier” over fourteen years in Paris. “Many were also in Europe completely broke, lived in daily fear on the streets or scraped their survival as peon.” And what about humanity of France? – “We were just the scape goats of Sarkozy’s election campaign”, he laughs bitterly. the own government does nothing, either: “Here in the waiting hall, we are still always the only ones who try to receive our thrown-away-migrants with dignity.“


For centuries, the old migrant culture of Malian Soninké has known no term for “migration”. In Bambara, one of the main languages, spoken by about 30 million people in ten countries of West Africa, there is only tama, in English: “to hit the road”. The free trade globalisation in the sub-Saharan Africa deconstructs not only existing territorial units, at the same time it also (so far effectively) reinforces borders. Suddenly, a space emerges confined to demographically “redundant” groups. At the periphery of the big technological changes a tyranny evolves, whose single purpose seems to be the administration of “spoilt” segments of the populationand in the exploitation of resources. The hundred thousands not only strive for security, rights and happiness and individual escapes from these misery zones – first traces of reclaimed autonomy appear in the movement of the migrants themselves.. This is not to romanticise their hardships and despair. But only by leaving the grip of poverty and corrupt power relations, they can take decisions over their own future again. According to calculations of the World Bank, Africans living in Europe and America yearly transfer up to four billions of dollars back to their home countries. Still, this is the biggest and straightest help to survival of the continent.

Source: medico newsletter 01/2008