Mon, Oct 17, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Africa’s population boom fuels
‘unstoppable’ migration to Europe

European funding fails to address a lack of development and a massive gap in quality of life in the continent’s poorest nations

By Tim Cocks and Edward McAllister  /  Reuters, DAKAR and AGADEZ, Niger

Illustration: Yusha

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel toured three African nations this week for talks on curbing migration to Europe, the leader of the world’s poorest country, Niger, suggested it would take a “Marshall Plan” of massive aid to stop people coming.

Merkel politely declined the request, expressing concern about how well the aid would be spent and noting that, at a summit in Malta last year, the EU had already earmarked 1.8 billion euros (US$1.97 billion) for a trust fund to train and resettle refugees and migrants.

However, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou also proposed something perhaps more significant, in the long run, than a development package — bringing Niger’s population growth down from 3.9 percent, the highest in the world.

Although he gave no details on how this could be achieved, demography clearly holds the key both to Europe’s refugee crisis and to the African poverty feeding it. As long as population growth in African countries outstrips their ability to educate, house and employ their citizens, large numbers of people will continue to brave the deserts and seas to escape.

“You can’t resolve this by just paying money,” said Owoeye Olumide, a demographer at Bowen University in southwest Nigeria, one of the world’s most densely populated regions.

“There are going to be too many people... The development you need will not be possible. You have to lower fertility rates and bring down population [by educating and empowering women],” Olumide said.

Niger, a vast, largely desert nation to the north of Nigeria, presents the starkest example of Africa’s challenges.

With an average of 7.6 children born to each woman, its population is projected to more than triple to 72 million by 2050, from about 20 million now, according to the latest UN figures.

By then, Africa will have more than doubled its population to 2.4 billion, the UN said.

Frequent droughts in Niger cause hunger, and low investment in education means a dearth of skills. Yet somehow it must hugely increase food production just to stay where it is.

Ironically, Niger’s location in the largely unpoliced sands of the Sahara also makes it a draw for refugees and migrants. They travel from across Africa hoping to be smuggled to a better life in Libya or Algeria — or over the Mediterranean to Europe.

In doing so, the refugees transport cash to Niger, a country that has repeatedly proved unable to feed itself.

Ousmane Diallo, 38, traveled for 10 days by bus from Sierra Leone on the Atlantic coast to Agadez, a Saharan town in Niger at the crossroads of the people-smuggling business. He spent US$700 on police and military checkpoints along the way.

His is precisely the kind of ambition the German chancellor would like to discourage.

“I want to work in a car factory in Germany,” he said in a dimly lit restaurant in Agadez, his few possessions — spare trousers, shoes, water and a Bible — crammed into a small bag.

The International Organization for Migration expects migration through the Agadez region this year to reach 300,000 people, more than twice the 120,000 it estimates came through last year.

EU officials hope to deter migrants like Diallo by making clear that life as an illegal immigrant in Europe is hardly better than staying in Africa. However, that message has yet to filter down.

Diallo was swindled out of 150,000 CFA francs (US$251) he paid smugglers in Agadez to reach central Libya. Desperate, he has given his last 50,000 CFA francs to a gang he hopes will come through.

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