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Let's address the elephant in the room

Africans continue to subsidise us

Eritreans holding a protest in Malta demanding "basic rights". Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Eritreans holding a protest in Malta demanding "basic rights". Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The dominant (indeed overwhelming) story pumped out in many media outlets and certainly on social media is that the ‘migration reality’ is totally one-sided.

‘They’ arrive (invade) in huge numbers, ‘they’ turn up here ‘illegally’ (even though no crime has occurred), ‘they’ live off our (too generous) welfare system and ultimately ‘they’ distort our normal way of life and in some vague manner undermine our development.

In short, it’s a one-way story, ‘they take’, we naively ‘give’ and it is now time to stop this soft ‘liberal’ approach, get ‘real’ and get ‘tough’. The ‘balance sheet’ of migration is lopsided – ‘they’ gain, ‘we’ lose.

And, as with so many other ‘stories’ today, nothing could be further from the truth.

Despite deeply-entrenched public belief, ill-informed media comment and the pronouncements of populist politicians, the simple fact remains, the countries of Africa continue to contribute more wealth to our world and to our development than they receive.

Despite our resolute belief in the opposite, more wealth is leaving the world's poorest region than is entering it... and to our benefit.The countries of Africa continue to contribute more wealth to our world and to our development than they receive

According to United Nations and International Monetary Fund figures, in 2015, the outflow of wealth from Africa amounted to a conservative estimate of US$203 billion as against a total inflow of US$161 billion and this official figure does not include illegal or illicit transfers.

A 2017 report by 10 UK-based NGOs fills in some details. African countries currently receive about US$19 billion in aid but over three times that much (US$68 billion) is taken out in capital flight, mostly by multinational companies deliberately misrepresenting the value of their imports or exports to reduce tax liabilities.

While Africans receive $31 billion in personal remittances from citizens overseas, multinational companies repatriate a similar amount ($32 billion) in profits to their home countries each year.

African governments received $32.8 billion in loans in 2015 but paid $18 billion in debt interest and principal payments, with the overall level of debt rising rapidly.

An estimated $29 billion a year is being stolen from Africa in illegal logging, fishing and the trade in wildlife/plants. These are just some of the examples.

The balance sheet implies that each man, woman and child in Africa (unknowingly) contributed US$3.50 to development overseas; the balance sheet highlights how we continue to benefit from the wealth of Africa’s 50 plus countries.

The poverty of a majority of their people contributes to our wealth and their lack of adequate human development subsidises our overdevelopment. This reality is part and parcel of the context of migration whether we choose to ignore it or not.

In any ‘honest’ discussion of the issue, it would feature prominently.
The situation mirrors the general world picture where developing economies transferred some US$405 billion to developed economies in 2015 while approximately US$1 trillion is the estimated figure for illicit transfers (by corporations, traffickers, corrupt politicians and business elites).

Official figures suggest that a staggering US$9,300 billion was transferred from poorer to richer countries in the period 2000-2015 through the normal and legal workings of the international economy. Faced with such incredulous figures, most people respond – this can’t be true, surely? In our upside down world, sadly and unforgivably, it is true.

The illegal extraction of wealth is equally staggering and we are only now beginning to get the full picture. The illegal trade in oil, fish, timber, gold, drugs, wildlife, human organs, small arms and weapons and diamonds amounts to a conservative figure of US$ 375 billion annually.

Additionally, human trafficking amounts to US$ 31 billion and counterfeiting (a new ‘growth’ area) at least US$250 billion annually. The figures may fluctuate up or down year by year but the overall pattern is steady. In social justice terms, the poorest of the world’s people continue to subsidise its richest in a grotesque mockery of what many of us would believe or want.

In order to participate in a serious discussion of the issue of migration as distinct from simply using it as an excuse to exercise our in-built prejudices or phobias we need to begin to address this elephant in the room.

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