Out of Africa: Why the Migration Wave?

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram,  former UN Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development and Anis Chowdhury, former Professor of Economics, University of Western Sydney, who held various senior United Nations positions in New York and Bangkok. Originally published at Inter Press Service

Not a single month has passed without dreadful disasters triggering desperate migrants to seek refuge in Europe. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least 2,247 people have died or are missing after trying to enter Europe via Spain, Italy or Greece in the first half of this year. Last year, 5,096 deaths were recorded.

The majority – including ‘economic migrants’, victims of ‘people smugglers’, and so on – were young Africans aged between 17 and 25. The former head of the British mission in Benghazi (Libya) claimed in April that as many as a million more were already on their way to Libya, and then Europe, from across Africa.

Why Flee Africa?

Why are so many young Africans trying to leave the continent of their birth? Why are they risking their lives to flee Africa?

Part of the answer lies in the failure of earlier economic policies of liberalization and privatization, typically introduced as part of the structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) that many countries in Africa were subjected to from the 1980s and onwards. The World Bank, the African Development Bank and most Western donors supported the SAPs, despite United Nations’ warnings about their adverse social consequences.

SAP advocates promised that private investment and exports would soon follow, bringing growth and prosperity. Now, a few representatives from the Washington-based Bretton Woods institutions admit that ‘neoliberalism’ was ‘oversold’, condemning the 1980s and 1990s to become ‘lost decades’.

While SAPs were officially abandoned in the late 1990s, their replacements were little better. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) of the World Bank and IMF promised to reduce poverty with some modified policy conditionalities and prescriptions.

Meanwhile, the G8 countries reneged on their 2005 Gleneagles pledge to provide an extra US$25 billion a year for Africa as part of a US$50 billion increase in financial assistance to “make poverty history”.

Poor Africa

Thanks to the SAPs, PRSPs and complementary policies, Africa became the only continent to see a massive increase in poverty by the end of the 20th century and during the 15 years of the Millennium Development Goals. Nearly half the continent’s population now lives in poverty.

According to the World Bank’s Poverty in Rising Africa, the number of Africans in extreme poverty increased by more than 100 million between 1990 and 2012 to about 330 million. It projects that “the world’s extreme poor will be increasingly concentrated in Africa”.

The continent has also been experiencing rising economic inequality, with higher inequality than in the rest of the developing world, even overtaking Latin America. National Gini coefficients – the most common measure of inequality – average around 0.45 for the continent, rising above 0.60 in some countries, and increasing in recent years.

While the continent is experiencing a ‘youth bulge’, with more young people (aged 15-24) in its population, it has failed to generate sufficient decent jobs. South Africa, the most developed economy in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), has a youth unemployment rate of 54%.

The real situation could be even worse. Discouraged youth, unable to find decent jobs, drop out of the labour force, and consequently, are simply not counted.

Surviving in Africa

Most poor people simply cannot afford to remain unemployed in the absence of a decent social protection system. To survive, they have to accept whatever is available. Hence, Africa’s ‘working poor’ and underemployment ratios are much higher. In Ghana, for example, the official unemployment rate is 5.2%, while the underemployment rate is 47.0%!

Annual growth rates have often exceeded 5% in many African countries in the new century. SAP and PRSP advocates were quick to claim credit for the end of Africa’s ‘lost quarter century’, arguing that their harsh policy prescriptions were finally bearing fruit. After the commodity price collapse since 2014, the proponents have gone quiet.

With trade liberalization and consequently, greater specialization, many African countries are now even more dependent on fewer export commodities. The top five exports of SSA are all non-renewable natural resources, accounting for 60% of exports in 2013.

The linkages of extractive activities with the rest of national economies are now lower than ever. Thus, despite impressive economic growth rates, the nature of structural change in many African economies have made them more vulnerable to external shocks.

False Start Again?

Africa possesses about half the uncultivated arable land in the world. Sixty percent of SSA’s population work in jobs related to agriculture. However, agricultural productivity has mostly remained stagnant since 1980.

With agriculture stagnant, people moved from rural to urban areas, only to find life little improved. Thus, Africa has been experiencing rapid urbanization and slum growth. According to UN Habitat, 60% of SSA’s urban population live in slums, with poor access to basic services, let alone new technologies.

Powerful outside interests, including the BWIs and donors, have been advocating large farm production, claiming it to be the only way to boost productivity. Several governments have already leased out land to international agribusiness, often displacing settled local communities.

Meanwhile, Africa’s share of global manufacturing has fallen from about 3% in 1970 to less than 2% in 2013. Manufacturing’s share of total African GDP has decreased from 16% in 1974 to around 13% in 2013. At around a tenth, manufacturing’s share of SSA’s output in 2013 is much lower than in other developing regions. Unsurprisingly, Africa has deindustrialized over the past four decades!

One cannot help but doubt how the G20’s new ‘compact with Africa’, showcased at Hamburg, can combat poverty and climate change effects, in addition to deterring the exodus out of Africa, without fundamental policy changes.

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    1. Tony Wright

      Which part of TOO MANY PEOPLE don’t many African countries understand? E.g 40% population growth in Ethiopia since Live Aid. The best aid that can be given is birth control education and support, and calling out and vilifying the overpopulators, who in today’s overpopulated , and therefore increasingly ecologically devastated, world should be treated as the destructive , narcissistic sociopaths that they are.
      And that vilification should be aimed at India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and many other countries where human population growth and consequent ecological destruction is out of control.
      The alternative? The same ecological consequences which apply to any overpopulating species, I.e. Increased conflict, famine, disease. So our children inherit a world which is a cocktail of Mad Max, the Manila rubbish tip and Syria.
      Humans demonstrating their superiority over animals.
      Of course the Spoilt brats in chief could have hissy fits and short circuit the whole process by pushing the big red buttons. We shall see.

      1. Ishmael

        On target Tony. When Napoleon landed in Egypt the country had approximately 2 million people and France had approximately 26 million people. Since then Egypt has grown to 90 million and France has grown to 52 million approximately. The same is true for the whole content of Africa. People have ran around the whole continent feeding and vaccinating the population but did nothing about birth control. The number of people pouring out of Africa into Europe will turn Europe into a third world country craphouse. The same is happening south of the border of the US. Look at the collapse in Venezuela. These people will look North, This is just the pure mathematics of the situation.

        This is brutal but the combined IQ of the human population is equivalent to yeast. Drop yeast into a tank with grape juice and they start multiplying, eating and crapping like crazy. Now the crap is alcohol. Soon the population is swimming in its own excrement and it kills them. Say this to people and they go crazy. That is why some scientist refer to us as Yeast People!

        The number one contributor to almost all ecological problems is population growth. Sierra Club will not talk about it because they get big donations which restrict them from discussing population.

        1. John k

          I see this as the only issue… destroying habitats, global warming, etc are all a consequence of vastly too many people. Africa and South Asia would all be in a better place if they followed China’s lead.

          Us crazies fight birth control tooth and nail, but why isn’t eu making this a condition of aid?

        2. Foppe

          People have ran around the whole continent feeding and vaccinating the population but did nothing about birth control.

          They did nothing about birth control, except “giving” money with the attached string that said “the state may not promote birth control”. They paid lip service to educating populations, while propping up petty tyrants so they could extract resources wherever, including “cheap labor”. Furthermore, keeping the poor downtrodden is also a great way to create opportunities for White Saviors to salve their consciences by “building houses, wells and schools” — thereby displacing labor that could’ve been endogenously sourced (yes, people with non-white skins *can* build wells, houses and schools themselves, if the social context makes spending resources on that rational).

      2. Foppe

        I’m afraid I don’t follow. Westerners can breed as much as they like (pop density over here, never even mind carbon footprints, are orders of magnitude greater than they are in African countries ex the Sahara), but Africans must not, because “too many”?
        The migration isn’t caused by natural barriers/limits, but a cultural and socio-economic context (including, but not limited to, wars over access to resources that ‘we’ want, and are willing to prop up and work together with dictators for) in which migrating is the only viable option. Plus IMF/WB-encouraged policies, IMF rules forbidding land redistribution and encouraging fiscal conservatism, etc..

        1. Foppe

          To add: I’m not thinking in terms of landmass as sucm, I’m talking about urbanization levels in W-Europe coupled with economic development.

          The current population of Western Europe is 193,574,648 as of Thursday, September 21, 2017, based on the latest United Nations estimates.
          Western Europe population is equivalent to 2.56% of the total world population.
          Western Europe ranks number 2 in Europe among subregions ranked by Population.
          The population density in Western Europe is 178 per Km2 (462 people per mi2).
          The total land area is 1,084,793 Km2 (418,841 sq. miles)
          79.5 % of the population is urban (153,827,973 people in 2017).

          Whereas the pop density for Africa ex the Sahara (1/3 of the land area) is about 36*1.5=54/km².

          Additionally, while it’s true that urbanization is rapidly increasing (see Planet of Slums, it’s happening in a context of what David Harvey aptly calls accumulation by dispossession — specifically, in a context where a minimal state on Lockean-liberal principles has been created (at the behest of the West generally, and the WTO/IMF/WB specifically) basically to enforce the property claims made by those who wish to lay claim to natural resources including, but not limited to, arable land. (And one driver of the mass expropriation of arable land has been the creation of livestock industries at the behest of the WB starting in the ’60s, for purposes of exporting the meat produced from those animals to the rest of the world. I’m sure you can guess what that did for Africa’s ability to produce food for human consumption, and what that population displacement has done for tensions.)

          In most of Europe (ex. the ex-Soviet Bloc) this has happened centuries ago already, and people have since fought to reorganize society in such a way that most everyone gets fed, and sufficient protections exist for wage slavery to not take too many lives.
          Africa doesn’t have that, and one may argue that it’s a lot harder to achieve now, because the state-finance nexus’s capacity for violence has grown rather markedly, in part because the mass media and communication tech make demonization leading to genocide so much easier to engender. Divide and conquer, etc.

  1. Thuto

    While the article’s analysis of the ills facing Africa is fairly sound, it falls victim to toeing the line of the often repeated “official versions” of what’s wrong with Africa while glossing over several key issues, aka as inconvenient truths, that are unmissable by someone like myself, a black African living in Africa:

    1. Local despots/revolutionaries-turned-despots/ruling classes/financial elites etc collude, and have colluded for decades, with outside forces (western countries, transnational corporations, bretton woods institutions, and lately China) to keep Africa an economic basket case in spite of the fact that it nonetheless supplies a not insignificant percentage of the commodities and raw materials that keep the wheels of the global economy turning.
    2. Double dealing, obfuscation and subterfuge by the very institutions that, when the cameras are rolling, shed crocodile tears at how Africa’s situation “is a blight upon the consciousness of humanity”, as B. Obama so poignantly put it. The IMF pressured the government of Zambia, ostensibly to prevent defaults on payments due to it, to sell off/privatize its entire stock of highly strategic copper mining assets for a firesale price of $600m to swiss mining giant Glencore, with Glencore subsequently employing transfer pricing shenanigans to underreport profits and cheat the Zambian government out of hundreds of millions in much needed tax revenue. Civil wars over resources and control of strategic territories are sponsored by transnational corporations, who then move in to “invest” once the contest has been settled and clear winners decided (in some cases the “winners” are sponsored for decades to maintain a brutal strangle hold on power). In Ethiopia, prime arable land is being sold off or leased to international agrobusiness at prices/rates that are so ridiculously below what the market would deem just and fair, and labourers are paid less than two dollars a day for back-breaking work while in some cases being displaced from land they’ve called their own for generations.
    3. Colonialism only ever ended on paper, much of Africa’s economic assets are still in the hands of white financial elites and “former” colonial powers still exert, to this very day, considerable influence over day to day life in Africa (France in francophone West Africa, Portugal in its former colonies etc). Apart from a few co-opted black elites, the hands on the levers of economic power in my country remain as white as ever, 23 years after the “end” of apartheid.
    4. Racism: in much of Africa, black people still experience dehumanizing forms of racism on a daily basis by those wielding economic power and its institutionalization means economies are set up to make black upward mobility a very difficult prospect.
    5. Being hemmed in between local ruling despots and opposition party demagogues advancing the agenda of neoliberalism and representing the interests of global capital.

    The tools Africa needs to shape its destiny remain locked away in a toolbox whose key is kept deliberately out of the reach of Africans themselves by the scheming and shameless colluding of local deposts with outside forces. Until the inconvenient truths are addressed and the very foundation of orthodoxy is shaken, corrective and remedial measures prescribed by the likes of the world bank will change nothing on the ground.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Yes there is a decided lack of agency as to who caused the economic and other problems discussed in the article.

      Also don’t see much mention of all the destabilizing wars, often fomented by Western countries looking for access to natural resources.

      These economic problems don’t just happen in a vacuum.

      1. Enquiring Mind

        Note the large, under-reported US military base presence all over Africa, and map that against the resources and the Chinese investments. There is a resource variation on the Great Game being played out once again with human pawns.

    2. Ted

      Thanks for this. It hits the nail on the head. Generally, when I encounters a perspective from someone who grounds their expertise in some tenure at a multinational organization, I put on my hip waders before reading further. It is the sort of stuff that plays well at expatriot birthday parties and in college seminars at well-heeled colleges. It is not a perspective that has any practical, real world value. The continent of Africa is a raw material resource basket for powerful state and capital inteterests in North America, Europe and increasingly East Asia. It is not in their interest to allow domestic capital development and democracy. It never has been. It never will be. Other colonized and oppressed people realized that that the only way to either capital development or democracy is to throw the foreigners and their local elites out, lock stock and barrel. Sadly, this has often required considerable violence historically.

      1. Tony Wright

        Agreed, but it takes two to tango – the breathtaking levels of corruption by many African leaders/ dictators both past and present is also part of the overall problem.

        1. witters

          Corruption takes two parties, and here the party with the greatest need for corruption lies not with local elites, but with external elites who (as they have done since Henry the Navigator) want a Resource Extractionn Zone above all else.

    3. Jef

      I had been following the Pan-African developments championed by Gaddafi to rid the continent of IMF/World Bank debt, create an African Bank and using revenue from African resources to build infrastructure and more.

      In my opinion this is at least part of the reason he was assassinated, all the infrastructure destroyed, and the banks looted. No question a massive human tragedy setting back African development for africans once again.

  2. Felix_47

    Demography is destiny. The problem is way beyond economics or the IMF or what the western banks have done. We can`t even get family planning subsidized by the state in the US. Why would Africans be any different? Hopefully, in the next 100 years we will figure out how to export excess population to other planets. Until then Europe and the US seem to be their most reasonable options.

    1. Thuto

      I’m sorry but this is part of the mythology, that “population surplus” stands uncontested as the largest contributing factor to Africa’s impoverishment. Europe has a population just over half of that of Africa on a landmass only a third of Africa’s total (even with deserts reducing the habitable land mass, the “population surplus” argument falls short). India has a population larger than the rest of Africa on a land mass just over a third of Africa’s, to say nothing of China. Why are we not seeing wave after wave of Indian and Chinese migration to the West in search of a better life? While they have their own internal challenges with inequality and related issues, the economic molestation and destabilization of those countries by outside forces pales in comparison to what Africa has experienced over the centuries and continues to experience today. Africa has enough arable land to feed its population, enough resources to fund the modernization of its economies, and speaking from the ground, certainly enough people who care deeply about her destiny to contribute to her upliftment. Those who continue to plunder and pillage Africa will however not allow his to happen, but will instead frame and advance, ad infinitum, a narrative that puts forward the effects of their molestation as the causes of Africa’s misery. There are many well meaning people around the world who care about Africa’s plight, but unfortunately use this narrative that’s designed to obscure the molestation and allow it to continue unabated, as their looking glass when commenting on issues affecting Africa. Rapid population growth is an effect, not a cause, of Africa’s misery and the population has not, at present, reached levels beyond which, sans said economic molestation, would not be comfortably sustained given Africa’s endowments of land mass and resource wealth. People escape Africa because in certain parts of it, the extent of the devastation wreaked by those who molest it has reached levels beyond which young people especially see no other option but to risk everything, including their lives, to seek greener pastures elsewhere.

      P.s. The merits or demerits of resource wealth and its extractive nature are not part of this discussion and warrant a separate engagement.

      1. travis bickle

        Eloquent and pertinent: keep writing. You may want to break your thoughts up with paragraphs, to make them easier to follow.

      2. Vatch

        Of course you are correct that the legacy and continuation of colonialism in Africa is a major cause of Africa’s misery, but it’s not the only cause. Rapid population growth is both an effect and a cause of Africa’s misery. One of the clear differences between overpopulated India and overpopulated Africa is that the rate of population growth in Africa is much higher than it is in India, so the African growth is truly overwhelming. And the only population growth in Europe is due to immigration, not births.

        Aside from the differences between India and Africa, they share one feature: vast numbers of people are miserable in both locations. Also, where will the suffering people of India flee to? Pakistan? Bangladesh?

        1. Thuto

          ::)I think you conflate circular causation (economic molestation causes misery which causes rapid population growth which causes more misery) with pure cause and effect (economic molestation causes misery which causes rapid population growth). Population growth being a cause rather than effect of Africa’s misery only makes sense as a proposition if it’s circular causation you refer to, not pure cause and effect…

          1. Vatch

            Of course overpopulation causes or worsens poverty. As I pointed out elsewhere, it costs more to support a large family than a small family.

      3. justanotherprogressive

        Thule, thank you for your posts!!
        It seems that everyone is using the meme of “population explosion” as an excuse to cover up and distract from the bad behavior of the “power centers”. It’s time we all saw through that and started addressing the real problems, like the corruption and inequality that those “power centers” have foisted on us….

      4. divadab

        “Why are we not seeing wave after wave of Indian and Chinese migration to the West in search of a better life?”

        We are – the largest source of immigrants to the US, Canada, and Australia is Asia – both east and south. Moneyed Asian immigrants are creating significant residential real estate price spikes in Vancouver BC, San Francisco, Toronto Ont, and LA, to name just a few examples. However, yes, population densities in India and CHina are much higher than in Africa – and both in India and China, climate change and pollution are going to reduce the carrying capacity of both countries – creating more migration pressure.

        The African situation is similar, but due to the less-developed economies, there is less carrying capacity for surplus population – so, agreed that economic development in Africa will increase the carrying capacity and hence reduce outmigration. And there is more room for this given the existing lack of development in Africa. We shall see if Chinese neo-imperialism will benefit Africans or just the Chinese.

        1. Thuto

          There’s a difference between migration driven by, amongst other things, capital flight and wanting to expose your children to Western culture and its trappings than migration driven by hopelessness visited upon you by the inconvenient truths I outline in my first comment on this article. Imho the two cannot be compared…

      5. Sluggeaux

        Why are we not seeing wave after wave of Indian and Chinese migration to the West in search of a better life?

        But we are! Visited Silicon Valley lately? The only difference between Africa and South and East Asia is that the Pacific Ocean is more difficult to cross than the Mediterranean.

        These regions continue to suffer from stifling over-population, and there is huge demand to emigrate to the West. There are many kinds of “colonialism” in the world and the most pernicious is the exploitation of girls and women, which along with increasing life expectancies has lead to unsustainable birth rates which cannot be supported under any sort of agrarian-based social structure.

        1. Sluggeaux

          To add to the gender component: Nearly every African migrant is male, mostly between the ages of 14 and 30.

          Many (if not most) of these young men come from societies in much of Africa that practice plural marriage, where girls and women are treated as property by wealthy men. These young migrants have little hope of marriage or family-formation in their home societies. They have no home to leave behind.

          1. Jessica

            Thank you. I hadn’t heard about this angle.
            Is there a specific article about this that you could link to?

      6. tony

        Europe and India are overpopulated. Europe has the benefits of being at the centre of the world system, having well organized societies capable of securing resources and low birth rates. Western Europe would not survive without imported promary resources.

        India might seem like it’s doing great, but in India 44% of children under the age of 5 are underweight. 72% of infants and 52% of married women have anaemia, and I work on the assumption that India will face a population collapse in the near future. Climate change alone might destroy a lot of India’s food production capacity, some estimating that India will lose over 50% of it’s crop yields.

        Syria’s collapse might have been triggered by ISIS and American power games, but the place was already a powderkeg due to having outgrown its resources.

        Starting in 2006, Syria suffered its worst drought in 900 years; it ruined farms, forced as many as 1.5 million rural denizens to crowd into cities alongside Iraqi refugees and decimated the country’s livestock. Water became scarce and food expensive. The suffering and social chaos caused by the drought were important drivers of the initial unrest.

        Climate scientists have argued that global warming very likely exacerbated the historic drought, thanks to potentially permanent changes to wind and rainfall patterns. Thus, even if negotiators do reach a resolution, the underlying strains in the region may be here to stay. In fact, almost half of the countries most at risk of water shortages in the coming decades are in the Middle East or North Africa.

        The sad reality is that supply disruptions are increasingly likely at the same time as the world is facing rising demand for water. The toxic combination of population increases and water-intensive lifestyles, driven by affluence, may lead to devastating price spikes. Expect water wars in the decades ahead.

        A major contributor to the Syrian conflict? Climate change

        The same dynamics are playing out all over the world, and they are likely to end up in a similar end. Of course, a few million Syrians, is a lot easier to help than a few billion Indian, Pakistanis, Africans etc.

      7. lyman alpha blob

        India has a population larger than the rest of Africa on a land mass just over a third of Africa’s, to say nothing of China. Why are we not seeing wave after wave of Indian and Chinese migration to the West in search of a better life? While they have their own internal challenges with inequality and related issues, the economic molestation and destabilization of those countries by outside forces pales in comparison to what Africa has experienced over the centuries and continues to experience today.

        Others have noted that there is immigration from overpopulated India and China but it’s largely the educated and more well-heeled. I would ask are those people immigrating permanently or just parking their cash in foreign real estate?

        I think what you were getting at is that foreign nations are not destabilizing China and India and forcing the poor of those nations to emigrate for greener pastures. And why aren’t outside forces destabilizing those nations as they do in Africa?

        That’s an easy one – it’s the nukes.

      8. ottinoz

        I am having a hard time following your line of argumentation. Migration flows are generally Africans heading towards Europe. Yet, your reasoning indicates that racism and colonialism by white people are causing the blight of Africa. All of Africa.

        Why would Africans, oppressed in Africa as they are, run to their oppressors? Is the only thing worse then a racist white person not being able to live next to one?

        Also, I fail to see the major colonialist empires of Sweden, Norway or Austria. Could you elucidate why so many Africans have a right to live in Sweden? And call themselves Swedes? Is this not, itself, a form of colonialism?

        1. Thuto

          The line of argument is very simple, you make my home uninhabitable then where do you think i’m going run if yours is the only home that remains inhabitable? To yours of course, ever heard of the doctrine of “the lesser of two evils”? Do you think the decicion calculus of someone fleeing a war fomented by Western power interests involves not wanting to “live next to my oppressor” as a deterrent to choice? I can tell you now that it doesn’t, besides Africans have lived side by side with their oppressors for generations so this represents nothing new, except this time it’s in the very homelands of those opressive power interests where Africans are heading. Simply put, the chickens are coming home to roost. Someone fleeing a volatile situation doesn’t intellectualize their decision calculus the way you seem to think (re: rights to live here or there), they’re risking their very lives to escape. That the Nordic countries are caught in the crossfire of this migration is unfortunate but the American military has a term for that, collateral damage. Speaking of rights, don’t Africans have the right to have their continent treated with respect and dignity, and not as a natural resource basket case the way it has been for centuries?

  3. divadab

    All contributing factors, I’m sure. However, with birth rates higher than on any other continent, surely the source of young African migrants is surplus population? Combined with the effects of climate change – significant desertification extending South across the Sahara belt – it seems to me that technical economic factors are a distant third to demographic and environmental trends.

    And it will only increase as the planet warms – there is no way surplus Southern populations can be accommodated in the global north and conflict is inevitable.

    1. Bill Smith

      Part of it is the fall in the price of communication.

      Anyone can see that in other places it’s better to live. (By anyone can see I mean that it is their opinion – so they leave.) At one extreme it is because if they don’t go somewhere they will die. At the other it because they will simply do better than staying.

    2. Allan

      Spot on with the birth rates. IMO this is the real reason for people fleeing. For example, between 2000 to 2050 population in Nigeria is slated to almost double which is impossible without wars, famine and/or massive emmigration. I wouldn’t be surprised if their problems with Boko Harem don’t stem from these pressures. This is the same picture in most of sub-Saharan Africa but there are obviously those who can’t see the writing on the wall – even those who deny there is a problem at all.
      Angela Merkel better backtrack on her crazy immigration policies or the EU is toast. Sadly there are no easy choices left and ultimately its every country for themselves, something EU politicians seem loathe to admit – some Eastern Europeans excepted. And IMO this has nothing to do with fascism or racism either as some would have us believe – its purely survival. No amount of economic or food growth is going to stop this looming catastrophe. Those acquainted with the mathematics of compound growth will know how quickly these pressures can and are going to arise.

  4. David

    To that you can add unequal development. In Tunisia, for example, the Ben Ali regime invested in the North of the country, in the cities where the europeanized elites lived, and effectively neglected the poorer, agricultural South. That’s why so many young Tunisians come to Europe (especially France) in search of work. I’m sympathetic to Thuto’s argument, which I’ve heard a lot in Africa, and which seems to me to be basically sound. I’d just add a qualification: to say that Africa in general is a victim of the current world economic system, is not to say that the West and western economic interests are behind everything that happens in the continent. There are Africans who do think that, and they easily fall victim to paranoia and the kind of Afro-pessimism that is part of the problem because it denies that anything can be done.

    1. Thuto

      David, totally agreed on some Africans adopting an attitude of resignation to the current plight, which hardly solves anything.

  5. TG

    It’s the demographics, stupid.

    We are told that first a nation must become prosperous, then fertility rates fall. We are lied to. The Iron Law of development is that FIRST fertility rates moderate, and THEN – if everything else goes mostly right – the population can slowly accumulate real per-capita wealth.

    But I don’t blame the Africans so much as our own econo-whores, parroting the lie that people having more children than they can support will magically result in more to go around (it makes no sense when you phrase it this way, does it?).

    Milton Friedman, Julian Simon, Paul Krugman, etc., with all these notable economic figures DEMANDING that people must be bred like cattle, INSISTING that sustained high fertility rates are vital to progress, how can we be that critical of some poor African having an excessively large family? The experts insisted that this was the right thing to do!

    I suggest that it is a foolish politeness that turns away from the root cause of African poverty. We avoid temporary unpleasantness, but that does not make the real issue go away. Instead it compounds, and builds momentum, until we can no longer ignore it, but at that point it’s a fait accompli.

    Bottom line: Malthus was right. He’s always been right, and he’s right today. He did not predict a global catastrophe, but only described how the world works: when people have more children than they can support their society becomes crushed into misery. Nothing in the last two centuries contradicts this.

    1. WobblyTelomeres

      Absolutely!! The surest way to end widespread poverty is to give women control over their own bodies.

    2. justanotherprogressive

      Yep, we have to limit the population growth of those “other” people, while we are driving our SUV’s, using A/C to keep the temperature in our houses at 72, flying everywhere on vacations or for work, eating meat at each meal…….
      Perhaps instead of trying the limit the population of those “others”, we should consider limiting the population of the mega-consumers (like us!).

      1. Vatch

        Many parts of the world are overpopulated: Africa, India, China, and the United States all have too many people. We need to stop population growth everywhere.

        1. justanotherprogressive

          Are you purposely missing the point? There is no way that thousands of people in Africa or India or China could do the damage to the world that just a few Americans can do. So why are we worried about their populations? It’s just a distraction to keep us from dealing with the hard truth that WE have to stop consuming so much of the world’s resources….

          1. Vatch

            Yes, WE should stop consuming so many resources, but then will THEY consume huge amounts of resources? Some of the worst air pollution in the world is in the megacities of the Third World. I agree that people in the US cause far more pollution per capita than people in Africa or India cause, but the people in Africa and India still cause a lot of pollution, simply because there are so many of them. They also cause deforestation and species extinction.

            Did you miss the part of my message where I said that the United States has too many people? I’m not blaming people in the Third World for the world’s problems, but they aren’t completely innocent, either. And large families worsen the effects of poverty, because it costs more to feed, house, and educate five or six children than it costs to care for only two children. Having smaller families is one of the most empowering things that people in the Third World can do. It is one of the few ways that they can take some control over their lives.

            1. Thuto

              I don’t doubt that you might be well meaning, but your use of the phrase “third world” is instructive here. Such “othering” of others, allied with your prescriptions, given from the “first world” no less, about what Africans need to do to “take control of their lives” is precisely the attitude that disenfranchised people rebel against, however well intentioned it might be. Africans are keenly aware of the impediments that stand in their way, and a not insignificant amount of those impediments are foisted upon us by “first world” powers working in kahoots with our ruling classes, and no doubt driven by a sense of superiority that we are better off than before this all this exploitation. Distinctions such as these, first/third world, should be consigned to the scrapheap of history because while you personally may use them without malicious intent, there are forces in this world that use them to justify the most barbaric treatment of other human beings.

              1. Vatch

                They’ll have fewer impediments if they stop having so many children!!

                Semantic analysis of the phrase “Third World” won’t help Africans, Indians, Chinese, or anyone else who lives in a impoverished country.

                1. Thuto

                  I think it’s best if you come out and say it, so that we can put this to bed. You believe that Africans have made their bed by, as you put it, “having so many children”, and must now lie on it. I spoke earlier of the narrative that is advanced by those plundering Africa, a narrative that places the blame for Africa’s plight squarely at the feet of Africans, and that’s precisely where the plunderers want it. You’re clearly captured by that narrative and have unwavering devotion to it, even in the face of information to the contrary. I say again, you confuse circular causation with pure cause and effect and one can only hope that you have actually travelled to Africa and engaged with those who daily have to jump over those impediments as a matter of course, not read about them in journals written by well heeled western intellectuals. If not, perhaps remembering what a wise person once said “you never know a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” might help you tone down the authoritativeness with which you comment on this subject.

                  1. Vatch

                    At 10:25 AM today I said this in response to another commenter:

                    Of course you are correct that the legacy and continuation of colonialism in Africa is a major cause of Africa’s misery, but it’s not the only cause.

                    Complex problems usually have multiple causes and multiple solutions. The widespread use of effective family planning will help to solve the problems of impoverished nations, and those problems are partly caused by overpopulation.

                    The imperialists who plunder Africa and other poor nations are not forcing the people to have large families. Large families are more of a cause of poverty than a consequence of poverty. Resenting my opinion won’t do anything to solve Africa’s problems, but encouraging the use of contraception will help to solve those problems. By itself, of course I acknowledge that contraception isn’t enough. But it will help.

                    1. Thuto

                      I don’t “resent” your opinion, though I think it’s made rather authoritatively. Of course there’s a complex interweaving of causative factors at play here, but to say rapid population growth stands uncontested as the major driver of Africa’s ills is something that I consider to be factually inaccurate. I’ve lived here all my life and have travelled extensively throughout the continent and Africa’s population is not at the point where, sans the plundering and economic molestation, carrying capacity would be a crisis, given, as I said earlier, her endowments of land mass, mineral wealth and plentiful arable land. Re: contraception, my mother is a nurse and family planning is at the forefront of attempts to address the issue of population growth. This is not widely reported in the Western media of course so it’s easy to assume, if one is not on the ground, that African governments are not headway in these areas. We’ll agree to disagree

                    2. Vatch

                      to say rapid population growth stands uncontested as the major driver of Africa’s ills is something that I consider to be factually inaccurate.

                      I believe rapid population growth and/or high population density in some areas is a major driver of Africa’s ills. Not the major driver, but a major driver. I’m not sure what the major driver is; perhaps there isn’t one.

                      I also believe this about many parts of South and East Asia, and about parts of South America. It’s even true about parts of the United States of America and Europe. While trying to do many other things, I firmly believe that we need to stop population growth everywhere.

          2. tony

            China is the biggest polluter in the world. India etc have high growth of pollution per year, while Europe does not. There is also the issue that first worlders can cut back on their lifestyles. Can Africans? There is a certain amount of resources you do need as a human to survive.

            1. Synoia

              There is also the issue that first worlders can cut back on their lifestyles. Can Africans?

              Do the Africans have a lifestyle on which they can cut back? Half of zero is zero.

              1. tony

                If they had nothing, they would be dead. You can cut consumption in the rich world, but not in the poor countries. So for the poor population=consumption.

              2. Thuto

                To answer this question, as an African in Africa: Firstly, I think the “problem” here is that we’ve up to so far been speaking of Africa as though it’s one big country, it’s not, it’s 54 countries, which unsurprisingly creates a diverse set of circumstances to which Africans are exposed. Africans do have a lifestyle, and in some parts comparable to and exceeding what is taken for granted in the west. To assume that Africans can only congregate at the “zero” end of the lifestyle scale is mistaken…

                1. Synoia

                  True enough, not homogeneous However the number of people living on very small incomes is quite large in Africa.

  6. Louis Fyne

    If one believes like me, that all humans should have a reasonably equitable distribution of resources, then there is zero chance that 7.5+ billion people will equitably support a !modest! first world standard of living—barring a leapfrog in technology. (tell that to the anti-GMO folks)

    If anything increasing populations will only allow hard-liners in the first world (and their third world sycophants) to exploit the developing world.

    Environmental sustainability or standard of living or geometric population growth. Humans can only pick two of the three — again barring multiple leapfrogs in tech.

    1. Synoia

      tell that to the anti-GMO folks

      It is becoming clear that industrial farming and use of GMO crops is reducing food production, while depleting topsoil, and making seas (e.: Gulf of Mexico) ocean deserts – devoid of life.

      Not to mention the beneficial effects of Glyphosate on Human health.

  7. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

    Manufacturing’s share of total African GDP has decreased from 16% in 1974 to around 13% in 2013. At around a tenth, manufacturing’s share of SSA’s output in 2013 is much lower than in other developing regions. Unsurprisingly, Africa has deindustrialized over the past four decades!

    Does that having anything to do with those apartheid practitioners leaving South Africa?n

    With the end of apartheid, that country’s GDP has been growing again, after declining for over 10 years previously.

    Maybe 1974 is not the benchmark year to use here, but 1993 or 1994.

  8. Synoia

    Mozambique used to have a very good Cashew Nut export business. The country levied an export tax on the product to fund growing, collecting and processing the Cashews.

    This apparatus was demolished after the IMF became involved, with the net result the Cashew business is owned by outsiders, and the locals have lost jobs and wages.

    South Africa used to have a very nice almost closed economy, and encouraged local manufacture of goods (a little Autarky). Now it run a massive trade defect, and the Rand, which was $1 – 1Rand (approximately), is now $1 = R19.

    The Government under the ANC was well advised by the IMR et al.

    Which has worked wonders for my ex-colleagues who had pensions in Rand.

  9. David

    It’s a question of over-population or population growth relative to what? Traditionally, migration was from poor countries, or poor regions, where agricultural production could not support a growing population. This was partly behind the Greek diaspora in classical times, leading to something of a specialization in mercenary soldiering by young males who could not be supported by generally poor agricultural land, and had to find something else to do. My impression is that much of the nineteenth century immigration to North America was from countries or regions that were then very poor. These days, of course, it’s not just having enough to eat, it’s also finding a job.

    1. Jessica

      You are largely correct.
      The early Irish immigration (pre-1840s) was mostly Protestant Ulster Irish (Scots-Irish) who were more middle-class and wanted more opportunities than were possible in Ireland. (After the 1840s and the potato famine, most of the immigration was Catholics from the rest of Ireland and they were mostly quite poor.)
      There was much German immigration after the failure of the 1848 Revolutions (a kind of European Spring). They were more from the middle of German society and even from the top. The kind of folks who would have done fine if Germany had functioned the way France or the UK did at the time.
      Other than that, immigrants were mostly poor. They were often from the poorer regions within the source nation (for example, Sicily in Italy and Scania in Sweden).
      The Chinese indentured servants (coolies) on the West Coast were also quite poor.

  10. Patrick Donnelly

    It used to be well known that sunspots were strongly associated with human behaviour. Possibly both were altered by an external cause. Now, we accuse each other.

    It seems clear that whatever the cause of dissatisfaction among young African males, they are being ferried to Europe by NGOs.

    Immigration is usually increased to keep down wages or protect a culture from another.

    Denuding countries of those who could create regime change may enourage rapist corporations to chip in to those NGOs, making a profit for the organizers.

  11. digi_owl

    Back in 92 Adam Curtis released a set of documentaries called Pandora’s Box.

    Episode 5 is titled Black Power, and it talks the building of a hydroelectric dam in Ghana after its independence from UK.

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