Bruno Guigue: The “Migrant Crisis” and the Weight of Structures

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


Bruno Guigue

What is known as the “migrant crisis” is a phenomenon with multiple facets, but it is rarely studied in-depth. The dominant comment describes the flow of the population and the dilemmas that are caused, but people avoid indicating the power of the mechanisms that produce them. There is a preference of commenting on the situation rather than analysing the structures. As if there is a need to bury one’s head in the sand, the causal relationship between poverty and migration received poor attention in the media coverage of the crisis, which favours the Franco-French quarrels between “globalists” and “populists”. If one takes the time to dwell on it, one sees that this crisis is the result of the condition of the world in which the rich countries are the beneficiaries, and that it is the visible effect of unequal exchange, and one won’t understand anything if one ignore’s the weight of the structures.

In order to start the analysis, we can proceed from a paradox: curiously, those who resent the “invasion of migration” on French soil do not see any downside in the fact that France is militarily present in 11 African countries and that its companies are calling the shots. There is something fascinating about this attitude, because it captures a vision of the world where certain people enjoy privileges, making us wonder if they are determined by race, climate, or latitude. The relations between France and its former African colonies, in fact, have nothing to do with idyllic collaboration between sovereign nations, and colonial history has woven a multiform network of dependencies which Africans would have gladly gone without if they had been asked their opinion before being colonised.

Since they belong to structures, these multiple dependencies, unlike some neocolonial doxa, are always exercised in the present. Their main effect is to drain from their substance the national independence dearly acquired during the battles for decolonisation. A country whose GDP is lower than the turnover of a French company, for example, enjoys nominal sovereignty, and not real sovereignty. And when there is a need to negotiate a mining contract, the long-time metropole exerts an exorbitant influence on local political decisions. We will be told that France defends its interests, and that this is very natural. But the question arises as to whether French influence is respectful of the interests of its partners. Edouard Philippe knows something about this. The contract between the Areva nuclear consortium and the Niger government was signed while he was in charge of the group’s public relations. Considered scandalously leonine – in favor of Areva, this agreement was denounced by many Nigerian organisations and it contributed to the effervescence that led to a new Tuareg revolt in 2012 throughout the Sahel region.

This revolt provoked the decomposition of the Malian power to the extent of a military coup, which was the prelude to the military intervention of France in the framework of Operation Serval, in January 2013. Since that date, French military presence in the Sahel has generated two perverse effects: the discrediting of local governments that are unable to ensure the security of populations, and the exponential growth of terrorist attacks throughout the region. In theory, the French military presence was supposed to curb terror. In fact, it has progressed at the same pace, one justifying another. This is why many Africans rightly wonder if France’s intervention is the problem instead of being the solution, and if terror is an excuse for an armed presence that strangely coincides with strong mining interests.

In short, official speeches may well repeat that we are no longer in the days of colonies, but there are more French soldiers in Africa in 2018 than in the aftermath of independence in 1960. This return to a quasi-colonial situation took place like a knife through butter in Metropolitan France. Its coincidence with the migrant crisis, however, is puzzling, especially since it is accompanied by a singular correlation that no one has noted: the poorest countries in today’s Africa are those where the French army is the most present. Currently, France is conducting military operations in four African countries: Mali, Niger, Chad, and the Central African Republic. Yet three of these countries have the lowest human development index (HDI) on the continent. It stands at 0.352 for the Central African Republic, 0.353 for Niger, and 0.396 for Chad. As for Mali, with 0.442, its HDI is higher than that of the aforementioned countries, but it is much lower than that of most African countries.

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It should be recalled that the human development index is a synthetic index combining GDP per capita, the schooling rate, and life expectancy. Invented for the UN by the Indian economist Amartya Sen, it makes it possible to measure the overall level of development of a country. For example, the highest HDI on the African continent is that of Algeria (0.745), a country that won its sovereignty by intensely fighting the French army during the war of liberation (1954-1962). In contrast, the country with the lowest HDI (0.352) is the Central African Republic, where the French army is omnipresent. Although the correlation is striking, the presence of French troops does not explain poverty. But the African countries of the Francophone area that fail to take off, obviously, are the playground of a neo-colonial power that keeps them in dependence and corrupts their leaders in order to exploit their mineral resources. The French military presence is at the same time the symbol of this dependence and the tool of its perpetuation.

Opponents of the reception of migrants in France – and in Europe – stress that these asylum seekers are not political refugees at all, and that they flee misery. This is not false, but we must add that the politics of European countries – including France – is not alien to this misery. We have known since the works of the late Samir Amin how much the mechanisms of unequal exchange shaped during colonisation were cynically perpetuated in the aftermath of independence. Be it the extraversion of the economy of the countries in the south [Africa – ed] – doomed to the mono-exportation of raw materials or agricultural products – or the submission of States to the ruthless yoke of state debt – rightly denounced by Thomas Sankara, these deadly mechanisms have not disappeared. On the contrary, they have grown and been refined over time. For the developed world – and for France, which has preserved its “meadow” in Africa – the Ivory Coast is a reservoir of cocoa and Niger is a reservoir of uranium. The price of these commodities is determined by the international balance of power – the so-called “market laws” – and not by the philanthropy of the Western powers, and even less by the authorities of the two states concerned.

To claim that French troops are stationed in the Sahel countries for chivalrous reasons – to “save democracy” or to “curb obscurantism” – is perfectly laughable. French leaders don’t care much about the plight of the thousands of African children forced to work in cocoa plantations for growers who were grabbed by the throats by traders, who, in turn, impose the tariffs demanded by the three multinationals who share the global chocolate market. They are no more worried about the fragile equilibrium of the Sahelian society, where the shameless exploitation of uranium deposits on territories used by the Tuareg has sown the seeds of civil war, not to mention the catastrophic effects of the deliberate destruction of the Libyan state. The structures of unequal exchange weigh down on African people like damnation and pushes them into exile in order to escape the misery. And it is by refusing to see this blinding reality and ignoring the weight of the structures inherited from the colonial era that people refrain from understanding the economic forces of the migration question.

The tragedy is that these economic sources, alas, are not the only ones. Not only are southern [African – ed] countries suffering from the terms of unequal exchange, but they also are paying the price for foreign interference. The most flagrant case is Syria, where a proxy war is being orchestrated by the Western powers allied to the Gulf petro-monarchies. Before the war, Syria was self-sufficient in terms of food and an industrialising country, with an educated population benefiting from a modern healthcare system. The “strategy of chaos” has imported hordes of mercenaries there, which the Syrian government, after eight years of war (2011-2018), can barely get rid of. Intended to bring down a state that refused to obey, imperialist intervention sentenced five million people to exile. In France, those who grieve this mass exodus themselves bear responsibility for the interference that is the cause go this. With variations, of course: on the right, people are indignant at the migratory invasion; on the left, people play the humanitarian violin.

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But Syria is not an isolated case. Countries threatened by a famine are where most refugees come from. But hunger is not a fatality that would weigh down countries abandoned by gods. Made by the UN, the list of countries where the food situation is most critical speaks for itself: Yemen, Nigeria, and South Sudan. In these countries it is foreign intervention that caused chaos. Civil war and terrorism have ruined state structures there, trivialising endemic violence and causing the exodus of people. In Yemen, Western-sponsored Saudi aggression has claimed 10,000 lives since March 2015. It has unleashed a monstrous outbreak of cholera and threatens to starve 8 million people. This unprecedented humanitarian disaster is nothing like a natural disaster: like the Syrian tragedy, it is a co-production of the Western powers and the petro-monarchies of the Gulf.

In Nigeria, the chaotic situation that the north-east of the country was plunged into “gangrenises” the whole region. Millions of people, fleeing the violence of the Boko Haram group, pile up in refugee camps. Fuelled by Saudi propaganda, terrorism defies this state, the most populous on the continent, which will have 440 million inhabitants in 2050. Since the calamitous destruction of Libya by NATO, sub-Saharan Africa – including Mali, Niger, Chad, and the Central African Republic – is the favourite hunting ground for jihadists. In South Sudan, the declaration of independence in 2011 led to a civil war in which two rival camps vie for control over energy wealth. This secessionist enclaved state, cut off from the North and opposed by an interminable civil war, is the fruit of the American strategy in the region. This artificial creation aimed to thwart the influence of Sudan, added by Washington to the list of “rogue states”. Today, South Sudan is a field of ruins: tens of thousands of deaths, three million refugees, and five million people suffering from malnutrition.

In order complete this sinister picture, it would be necessary to add, of course, the catastrophic results of the invasions of Somalia (1992), Afghanistan (2001), and Iraq (2003) by the troops of Uncle Sam, with their harvest of large-scale massacres and destruction in the name of “democracy” and “human rights”. We should also take stock of the deadly embargoes decreed by a West vassalised by Washington against countries that refuse to obey it – from Cuba to Iraq, from Syria to Iran, and Venezuela. The embargo is the weapon of the rich against the poor, a cynical tool of developed countries that prohibit others from developing in turn by cutting off international trade and financial channels. Along with military destruction and destabilisation by imported terror, economic strangulation by embargo is the third weapon in the panoply of Western interference. The thousands of Venezuelans today fleeing their country, attacked by the Western powers with the complicity of the local bourgeoisie, are the latest victims of the economic war waged by the rulers of the rich countries against the populations of the poor countries.

It’s enough to look at a map to see that the exodus of the world’s poor is the bitter fruit of Western politics. The “migrant crisis” that the media feeds on is a co-production involving three sets of actors: the neo-colonial predators of the host countries, the corrupt elites of the countries of origin, and the slave-holding mafias of transit countries. No mono-causal explanation will be able to exonerate one or the other from their responsibility. But as long as unequal exchange is rampant, the weight of the structures will help to widen the gap between the rich and the poor. It is generally preferred to ignore the submerged part of the iceberg, but it is time to take an interest in it. Migrants are those who are left to fate in an unequal world, and the only solution to the problem is to make it less and less. The migration crisis is a wake-up call. It offers a remind about the urgency of development for countries that are lagging behind because they are poorly governed, because rich countries are plundering their resources, and because they exercise only fictitious sovereignty. China, India, and many Asian countries are dealing with this, on the contrary, because they broke free from the chains of dependence.

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In Europe neither the rejection of migrants who a certain right-wing made its business, nor their welcome with open arms claimed by the humanitarian left-wing constitutes a solution to the problem. Identity ideology and humanitarian ideology are the two faces of the god Janus, and they express twin blindness. They mutually reinforce each other, feeding a sterile outbidding that leads everyone into a dead-end. The media connotation between “globalists” and “populists” is a shadow play designed to mask the true stakes of the crisis and obscure the weight of structures. Promoters of identity politics ignore the causes of global inequality, while humanitarians do not see that they are content with managing the effects. But an addition of partial views rarely allows to see clearly, and it is indeed urgent to overcome this false alternative.

In order to counter this double blindness, there is a need to recall the formula of Spinoza: “neither to laugh nor to cry, but to understand”. Being nothing more than egoism, compassion isn’t enough to understand what unfolds before our eyes. Stimulated by the spur of misery, mass immigration is in no one’s interest. This is neither a chance nor a calamity, but a problem that the North [of the world – ed] and the South [of the world – ed] are co-responsible for, and which must be confronted by ceasing to ignore the causes. The question of rescuing shipwrecked people should not even arise, since the answer is obvious. But the ethics of responsibility must relay the ethics of conviction. The best thing we can wish for those who cross the Mediterranean by giving in to the Western mirage is to contribute to the development of their own country. We know very well which interests the “without borders” discourse serves: those who demand the massive reception of migrants intend to greatly profit from the unequal exchange with the countries of the South [African countries – ed]. The German patrons, to name only them, rejoice at the arrival of a malleable workforce that constitutes, according to the formula of Marx, “the reserve army of labour”.

It’s not that the ideal society is a closed society and that closing the borders is a solution to the problem. But sovereignty can not be exchanged. The aspiration of a State to maintain control over its borders is perfectly legitimate, and it is, by the way, what all States do, except those of the European Union, which accepted in the framework of the Schengen zone “to push this control away towards the Union’s external borders” – a contradiction that has today become explosive, and it’s not for certain that the EU will come out of it unscathed. We cannot get away with stigmatising those in Italy or Hungary who decided to restrict access to the national territory. As Aristotle said, “we are not going to deliberate in order to administer the affairs of the Scythians”, this distant people who the Greeks would have found ridiculous to want to impose anything on. If we are in favour of sovereignty, then we must be in favour of it to the very end, and admit that a State decides its affairs in its own way, even if it is not our way. Let everyone take responsibility, and the cows will be well guarded. It is not Italy that decided to destroy Libya, nor to support terrorists in Syria. The migrant crisis is the mirror of Western turpitude, but we must recognise that Paris, London, and Washington carve the lion’s share. “Our wars, their deaths,” the saying goes, and this is not false. “Our wars, their refugees” should be added. Or better still: “Our wars, our refugees”, because it is our country that they come to in the vain hope for a better future.

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