Mugabe’s attendance of the latest EU Africa conference in Portugal resembled that of African migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to the coasts of Spain and Italy, looking for “a better life” as Boniface Tushime from Cyangugu put it.
Tushime came to Kigali from Cyangugu searching for a better life before he got stuck on the streets of Kiyovu, before World Vision came to his rescue. Like Tushimwe whom Kigali did not welcome, Mugabe’s journey to Lisbon was mired in controversy. Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, refused to attend the meeting, while Archbishop of York John Sentamu, the second most important person in the Anglican church, dramatically protested by cutting into pieces his dog collar, till Robert Mugabe goes out of office.
Gordon Brown, whose country is responsible for the rise to power of despots in Africa, refused to attend the Lisbon meeting in protest of Mugabe’s attendance. Many African leaders also threatened to boycott the meeting, if Mugabe was refused entrance to Portugal. As it was, Mugabe attended the meeting and Brown boycotted. Bizarre or insane?
The EU-AU meeting was basically about the recently signed Economic partnership agreement between Africa and Europe aimed at increasing trade relations between the two continents. But is the EU ready to take on Africa as an equal partner in trade? Or is Africa ready for that relationship?
Last month, the Swiss right-wing government together with the EU began broadcasting a television advertising campaign in Africa that depicts Africans begging and being arrested in Europe in an attempt to deter would-be immigrants from travelling to the continent in search of work and a better future. The Africans depicted in the advert are Africans that legitimately go to Europe in search of jobs to reduce poverty in their economies, the poverty that so many European governments and NGOs are financing to end.
European NGOs come with the main aim of creating employment for their own citizens and find politically right catchphrases like capacity building or empowerment for poverty reduction. It does not require a sociologist to discover that most jobs in NGOs are held by citizens from countries where they originate. It does not help that Africans have consistently been depicted as very corrupt, incompetent people not capable or trusted to such jobs. Africans who try to go Europe to find cheap dead-end jobs to develop their societies drown in the seas.
“Fleeing does not mean starting a new life,” is the last message of the film which was broadcast on Nigerian state television at half-time during a televised football match between Switzerland and Nigeria recently.
From my interactions with so many western employees stationed in Kigali, I find to my surprise that many of them prefer working in Africa, while Africans are falling over themselves in the quest for a very elusive visa to the western world.
But it is simple ideally - Western citizens who work in Africa live like royalty, just like their colonialist forefathers before them. The aid industry is the new version of imperialism. While the Africans in the western world live like their forefather slaves before them. Fair relationship?
The majority party in the Swiss parliament, (that country so famous for being tolerant) won their election campaign this year by depicting a white sheep standing on a Swiss flag kicking a black sheep from their midst, and yet many governments in the EU are easily rubbishing Robert Mugabe.
EU is a partner in the Swiss campaign which is intended to act as a deterrent to migrants. The advert starts with a phone ringing in a sparsely furnished home somewhere in Africa. An elderly African picks up the receiver and is shown speaking to his son talking on a public phone from somewhere; the father asks if the young man has found accommodation.
He says he is staying with friends. Images of an asylum camp under a bridge fill the screen. The son lies to his father that his studies are going well. He is depicted sitting on a kerbstone and begging in Europe while standing in pouring rain.
This is unfortunately but true of many Africans in Europe, which is a stack contrast to many adolescent Europeans that work in Kigali that can easily afford to rent plush residences in the leafy environs of Kimihurura - thanks to the donor-funding from their countries.
Instead of letting a whole continent live off the crumbs and charity of the western world, is it not better to let competent Africans search for work in the west and then contribute to the development of their own counties?
As politicians make tired clichés about the recent EPA treaties between Africa and Europe, they should reflect on the unbalanced nature of our relationships with the west. As young people from the west head to Africa, sometimes as interns in universities, they come with the security of finding a job - a good paying job with NGOs - and live in paradise, while highly educated Africans who flee to Europe survive off the streets of western cities, or if they are lucky enough they are piled into camps awaiting deportation.