Since the 1885 Berlin Conference in which western nations carved up Africa among themselves, the relational dynamic between both regions has stayed the same. Africa remains a resource farm exporting primary products to the west and importing manufactured goods. Even after decolonization, the continent remained the site of resource extraction and structural adjustment programmes designed by western –dominated international financial institutions. Throughout the cold war era, western nations installed puppet dictators in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, to guarantee their control of natural resources and keep their countries from the communists’ clutches.
U.S. and European farm subsidies, which clearly violate the gospel of free trade, have helped to decimate Africa’s agrarian economies. The unfair economic relations between the west and Africa are further fortified by existing economic conventions that effectively subvert the continent’s potential for industrial growth and perpetuate her status as a dumping ground for foreign goods. Even so, western envoys continue to lecture poorer nations about the civilizing virtues of unfettered markets and trade liberalization.
Western experts often talk about how failed states led by corrupt despots have become terrorist havens. They ignore other salient factors – errant colonial cartography in Africa and the Middle East, the subversion of African and Middle Eastern publics by western intriguers to prevent nationalists or Islamists from coming to power, the legacy of resource extraction, unfettered deregulation, and the inequities built into globalization which have degraded the sovereign capacities of the said failed states.
The most significant consequence of these policies has been the epic flow of migration from benighted third world enclaves to the rich first world. This was triggered by the repression and recession that western-backed dictators inflicted upon their countries. During the late 1980s and 1990s, the trickle became a deluge. Denied economic opportunities that would have been provided by large scale industrialization, poor third worlders followed the bread crumbs to where the opportunities were. The magnetism of the markets proved irresistible. It is profoundly ironic that migration is now altering the complexion of first world nations.
The recent implosion of Anglo-Saxon capitalism has triggered a severe bout of cultural hysteria. In Britain, the unspoken reason why the Conservatives, Labourites and Liberal Democrats are competing to craft the most Draconian immigration laws is the fear that Britain, so historically tolerant of immigration, is losing her sense of collective identity. In the post 9-11 world, and particularly after the 2005 terrorist attacks on the London underground, the notion that some British citizens might feel a greater allegiance to obscure Imams in Pakistan than to the Queen is deeply disturbing to the guardians of the realm. The ideal of a multicultural Britain is dissipating in a climate of creeping recessionary xenophobia. There is a sense that British identity which has always been a tenuous veneer overlaying the older Scottish, English, Welsh and Irish allegiances, is being frayed by the relentless influx of foreigners.
In Continental Europe, right wing demagogues have stoked similar panic over “Eurabia”, the supposedly imminent overrunning of the continent through stealthy overpopulation by Arab Muslims. This is far from reality but bigots are not inclined to let facts get in the way of populist fictions.
In America, the already robust immigration debate has been inflamed by projections that she will shortly cease to be a white majority country and become a nation of minorities – Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians and others. Some pundits despondently attribute Barack Obama’s reelection to the emerging “post-white” electoral coalition. Rightwing scare mongers warn of America being seized from her white owners by liberals consorting with subversive foreigners. The lingering rumours in some quarters about Obama’s birthplace and the belief that he is a foreign-born Muslim reflect this paranoia which rightwing politicians habitually play on.
But why should immigration be so frightening to western nations? In the global order they have long advocated, it should not be strange that for political and economic reasons, Africa and the Middle East will export labour in prodigious proportions to the first world just as crude oil and other natural resources flow in the same direction and just as jobs have moved from the first world to China and India (via outsourcing).
After all, the logical end of globalization is a borderless planet in every sense; a world of infinitely expanding diasporas. Why should western countries worry about the coherence of national identities when nations are, in globalization’s orthodoxy, obsolete chauvinisms? Aren’t we all supposed to be global citizens now? National borders are a relatively recent innovation; a mere blip in humanity’s long history of free-ranging migration. Why should giant transnational corporations be global citizens but not intrepid people seeking their fortune from far-flung places?
It is incongruous to insist upon the mobility of capital as western leaders have done for decades while raising barriers against the mobility of labour. So what if migrants depress wages and deprive locals of jobs? This is exactly how market forces are supposed to operate. Why is economic Darwinism ideal for poor nations but not for Charles Darwin’s country?
If western nations can dictate policy to African countries, then the latter should protest the illiberal immigration policies being adopted by the first world as unfair trade practices and violations of the spirit of globalization. In preaching capitalism and democracy worldwide, western nations have implied that the quest for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is a universal human right. Surely, the logical extension of this doctrine is to permit people seeking life, liberty and happiness to go wherever these treasures are evidently domiciled. Indeed, why can’t we all just jet out to any country that catches our fancy without the nuisance of travel documents? After all, the natural corollary of free trade is free migration.
This is what globalization means. Unless, of course, globalization is a relative term – a protean theme that merely fits the prejudices of its proponents – and therefore has a different meaning in Davos than it does in Delhi or Dakar.
All images sourced online.