If you oppose migration from Africa, empower liberty in Africa

Ever since the Arab Spring, migration from Africa to Europe has increased and so has skepticism towards Africans, in particular. This has empowered anti-immigration activists in both Europe and the United States who argue for closing down borders. There are, however, solutions that both sides of this argument could actually get behind.

Why Do People Move, Anyway?

Have you thought about moving abroad? You possibly have, and yet it’s equally likely that this intention will never materialize. You might picture spending your days on a tropical island, or maybe you wanted to learn French and get a flat on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, or you might be a voter who claimed that you’ll “move to Canada if the candidate I didn’t vote for wins.”

Regardless of the motivations you give yourself, the likelihood of you actually moving to another country is actually fairly low. Now granted, some of this has to do with the fact that governments make moving to another country difficult, but the hardships, paperwork, and restrictions won’t masquerade one fact: most people like to stay at home.

Take the European Union as an example. The EU allows its citizens to live and work in whichever member state they like: a rule which has been controversial in the past. When Romania joined the European Union in 2007, the United Kingdom pressured Brussels to postpone the access of Romanians to all other labor markets. The British feared being overrun by the 19 million Romanians, who’d have every economic incentive to move to one of the most prosperous countries of the continent.

They said the same about Poland, which currently does have this access. Out of over 35 million Poles, only 800,000 have moved to the United Kingdom. Why is that? Poland might be blessed with better weather than the British Isles, but no matter what your profession, you’ll be better off working in the UK.

Home Is Where the Heart Is. Unless…

The explanation for these behaviors is that people fundamentally prefer to be home. The tranquility of the everyday routine in a familiar setting is valuable to most people. They remain pretty stubborn about their decision to remain where they were brought up unless there is a feeling that moving can actually increase their happiness. Much in the spirit of opportunity costs, migrants evaluate the benefits of making it to Europe in comparison to their current situation.

For living standards to outweigh the familiarity of “home” for a large part of the population, the situation needs to be critical. There is no “invasion of migrants” leading to the “decline of Western civilization,” no conspiratorial plan, and no hidden agenda. When you perform a mix of walking, driving, swimming, and paddling, through hidden and dangerous roads, spending large amounts of money for the uncertain future of reaching the shores of Europe between 1,000 and 6,000 miles from home, it’s because the only interest you have in mind is your own and that of your family.

The economic benefit of migration isn’t the issue of this piece (spoiler: immigration is very good for the economy), and neither is the moral case for immigration (even though it’s strong), but rather what can be done if the easement of migration flows were to be the goal. It turns out that while droughts and floods contribute to hardship in Africa, governmental policy significantly contributes to the underdevelopment of the continent.

It is certainly true that most of the pro-immigration case has been merely made as a moral argument, missing a clear call to action. So if you’re a hardline right-wing anti-immigration advocate or a “compassionate and tolerant” left-winger, here are two things you should do:

Argue Against Protectionism

With cheap labor and diverse and warm climates, one would wonder why Africa doesn’t compete with European farmers on food. The answer is: protectionism.

While the European Union exempts a large number of African countries from tariffs through a non-tariff initiative called “Everything But Arms” (EBA), it also restricts market access and renders competition unfair through other means. Its high food standard requirements make exporting to Europe confusingly difficult.

In Georgia (a country in the Caucasus), the EU had to fund a project in order to explain how EU food safety frameworks function, ranging from the difference between the current and previous food safety systems, good manufacturing practices, good hygiene practices, food safety management systems, hazard analysis, and the Critical Control Points system (CCP).

The latter requires specific training for employees in order to understand EU regulation of production, storage, and delivery of food. EU rules determine everything, ranging from the heat and duration of milk pasteurization to the fermentation of dry sausages. If you cannot figure out the jungle of EU food standard requirements, your products won’t even reach the shores of Italy.

Far worse than standards is the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The EU subsidizes European farmers and encourages exports. Through taxpayer money (the CAP makes up over 40 percent of the EU’s budget), farmers are given a competitive advantage, and very often, it is cheaper for African consumers to buy imported European goods than their own local products. When African producers can rise up and seize the opportunities provided by their own consumers, as well as the interest of European consumers in their goods, then we provide more of a platform for people to be employed locally instead of seeking to move away.

The same goes for the United States: bringing down barriers to trade enriches both the country profiting from lower production cost and the country that receives these increased opportunities. Each time the government stands in the way of free trade, people suffer economically and seek viable alternatives, including moving abroad.

Empower Africa’s Pro-Liberty Activists

Foreign aid budgets disappear into the bank accounts of corrupt leaders, and European lectures on things like birth rates are even more likely to be viewed as condescending. Most notably on that example, French president Emmanuel Macron had claimed that Africa’s problems were related to having “seven to eight children” (when the actual number is between four and five).

The African continent is suffering from structural problems, ranging from the issue of failed states and complex democratic transitions to security problems related to religious fundamentalism. Change, therefore, also needs to be structural, and should function bottom-up instead of top-down.

African Students For Liberty is one of the pro-liberty chapters on the continent that actually works for real change on the continent. ASFL partnered with libertarian and classical liberal organizations throughout Africa to produce an online course addressing the history, principles, and policy implications of liberty in Africa. Topics include socialism and African culture, colonialism, the rule of law, free trade, cronyism, property rights, economic growth, and entrepreneurship.

The group organizes writing seminars, university tablings, and conferences. Back in November, ASFL gathered over 300 participants fromBurundi, Rwanda, and Congo at the French Institute of Burundi in Bujumbura, learning about the ideas of freedom, entrepreneurship, innovation, and social change.

They face an uphill battle in regions that are unaware of the advantageous nature of free enterprise for local communities, as well as a political class more interested in furthering its own interests than those of the people they are supposed to represent. More important than anything else is this: consider the implications of standing for freedom in countries that are unfree. While we can make the case for liberty anytime we like, activists in many African countries are up against governments that suppress free expression. Being a pro-liberty activist in Africa deserves respect and support, now more than any other time.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Making the economic and moral case for immigration is important. And yet, those on the far-right who won’t be convinced by words will eventually follow up with actions. This is how radical “identitarians” in Europe are now hunting down boats of migrantsfrom Africa who try to make their way through the Mediterranean Sea. What if we could convince those activists that there are more effective tools to reduce immigration?

You should make the case to your leaders that restricting imports from Africa doesn’t make your country, or theirs, any more prosperous. But more importantly: if you oppose migration from Africa, empower liberty in Africa.

Help those activists on the ground make the case of how free markets have made other continents more prosperous and peaceful. Help them raise their voices for property rights and the free exchange of ideas. You can do so by donating to their causes or sharing the content of their articles, lectures, and activism online.

Make a positive case for freedom instead of a failing one for a fortress.


This article was first published by the Foundation for Economic Education.

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About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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