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With the latest deal on migration, Europe is wooing Africa’s dictators

The agreements made at the Malta summit reveal that European leaders have decided that it is prudent to live with African leaders, no matter how unsavoury some of them might be.

The unprecedented EU-African summit that has just ended in the Maltese capital Valletta was proclaimed a success. It was an example of African leaders co-operating with their European counterparts to resolve a common problem: the refugee crisis.

The political communiqué (pdf) was replete with motherhood and apple pie.

 “We recognise the high degree of interdependence between Africa and Europe as we face common challenges that have an impact on migration: promoting democracy, human rights, eradicating poverty, supporting socio-economic development, including rural development, mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.”

The reality, buried in the action plan (pdf) was rather different. Certainly there were elements that were welcome. These included a recognition that African states bear the greatest burden of refugees – only a minority of whom actually make the journey to Europe.

There was also an understanding that the camps in which so many languish need to be upgraded. Security in the camps must be improved, education and entertainment needs to be provided, so that young men and women are not simply left to rot. There are even suggestions that some – a tiny, educated minority – might be able to travel via legal routes to European destinations.

What is really worrying is contained in paragraph 4 of the document. Here are details of how European institutions will co-operate with the African partners to fight “irregular migration, migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings”.

This aim is laudable enough. But consider the implications through the eyes of a young refugee struggling to get past Eritrea’s border force, with strict instructions to shoot to kill, or to escape from the clutches of the dictatorship of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Europe will offer training to “law enforcement and judicial authorities” in new methods of investigation and “assisting in setting up specialised anti-trafficking and smuggling police units”. The European police forces of Europol and the EU’s border force (Frontex) will assist African security police in countering the “production of forged and fraudulent documents”.

While there would be few who would oppose offering such support to democracies like Ghana, what will be the implication for the majority of refugees fleeing from notoriously repressive African states like Eritrea and Sudan? The price of forged passports is certain to rise all along the paths refugees tread, from Khartoum to Niamey.

The threat this poses refugees is no idle speculation. The latest quarterly report from Frontex (pdf) indicates that Eritrea is the main driver of African refugees. Eritrea is responsible for the third largest exodus of all refugees landing in the EU (10 per cent of the total) behind Syria and Afghanistan. Even war-torn Somalia does not come close.

The Eritrean government has made plain its intention to end this embarrassing exodus. At the last high-level meeting with the EU in 2014 the Eritrean Minister of Foreign Affairs, Osman Saleh, told the gathering that:

“Eritrea values its partnership with the European Union and is determined to work with the EU and all European countries to tackle irregular migration and human trafficking and to address their root causes. We call for an urgent review of European migration policies towards Eritreans, as they are, to say the least, based on incorrect information, something that is being increasingly acknowledged.” [emphasis in the original]

The Eritrean government will never accept that it is its own policies that force its young people into exile. Yet this is clearly the case.

The UN Commission of Inquiry into Eritrea’s human rights made this clear in June this year. Its key finding was that: “The Government of Eritrea is responsible for systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations that have created a climate of fear in which dissent is stifled, a large proportion of the population is subjected to forced labour and imprisonment, and hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled the country... Some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity.” [emphasis added]

Despite this scathing finding European leaders, including David Cameron, had no qualms about reaching an agreement with the Eritrean and Sudanese governments. The aim of the European leadership is to attempt to slam the continent’s doors shut at any cost. Hardly surprising that Eritrea’s Foreign Minister welcomed the outcome. “A clearer and more accurate picture of the reality is emerging,” he said.

In reality, the West has decided that it is prudent to live with African leaders, no matter how unsavoury they might be. The Arab Spring is today seen to have led to the chaos that gripped Egypt and the collapse of the Libyan state. Rather than face a renewed threat of Islamist extremist regimes foreign ministries from Washington to Rome would rather back the current dictators. Better the devil you know. . .

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. With Paul Holden, he is the author of Who Rules South Africa?

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How to end the Gulf stand off? The West should tell Qatar to reform its foreign policy

Former defence secretary Geoff Hoon on the unfolding crisis in the Gulf. 

Only one group stands to benefit from a continuation of the crisis in Gulf: The Quartet, as they are now being called. Last week, The United Arab Emirates foreign minister tweeted that Qatar and its Gulf Cooperation Council neighbours are heading for a "long estrangement". We should take him at his word.

The European political establishment has been quick to dismiss the boycott by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt as naïve, and a strategic mistake. The received wisdom now is that they have acted impulsively, and that any payoff will be inescapably pyrrhic. I’m not so sure.

Another view: Qatar is determined to stand up to its Gulf neighbours

Jean-Yves Le Drian, France's foreign minister, was in the region over the weekend to see if he could relay some of his boss’s diplomatic momentum. He has offered to help mediate with Kuwait, clearly in the belief that this is the perfect opportunity to elevate France back to the top table. But if President Emmanuel Macron thinks this one will be as straightforward as a Donald Trump handshake, he should know that European charm doesn’t function as well in the 45 degree desert heat (even if some people call him the Sun King).

Western mediation has so far proceeded on the assumption that both sides privately know they will suffer if this conflict drags on. The US secretary of state Rex Tillerson judged that a Qatari commitment to further counter-terrorism measures might provide sufficient justification for a noble reversal. But he perhaps underestimates the seriousness of the challenge being made to Qatar. This is not some poorly-judged attempt to steal a quick diplomatic win over an inferior neighbour.

Qatar’s foreign policy is of direct and existential concern to the other governments in the Gulf. They will not let Qatar off the hook. And even more than that, why should they? Qatar has enormous diplomatic and commercial clout for its size, but that would evaporate in an instant if companies and governments were forced to choose between Doha and the Quartet, whose combined GDP is almost ten times that of their former ally. Iran, Turkey and Russia might stay on side. But Qatar would lose the US and Europe, where most of its soft power has been developed. Qatar’s success has been dependent on its ability to play both sides. If it loses that privilege, as it would in the event of an interminable cold war in the Gulf, then the curtains could come down.

Which is why, if they wanted to badly enough, Le Drian and Tillerson could end this conflict tomorrow. Qatar’s foreign policy has been concerning for the past decade. It has backed virtually every losing side in the Arab world, and caused a significant amount of destruction in the process. In Syria, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, Qatar has turned a blind eye to the funding of Islamic revolutionaries with the financial muscle to topple incumbent regimes. Its motives are clear; influence over the emergent republics, as it had in Egypt for a year under Mohamed Morsi. But as we review the success of this policy from the perspective of 2017, it seems clear that all that has been achieved is a combination of civil unrest and civil war. The experiment has failed.

Moreover, the Coalition is not going to lift sanctions until Doha suspends its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. When Western leaders survey the Gulf and consider who they should support, they observe two things: firstly, that the foreign policy of the Quartet is much more aligned with their own (it doesn’t seem likely to me that any European or American company would prefer to see a revolution in Dubai instead of a continuation of the present arrangement), and secondly, that Qatar would fold immediately if they applied any significant pressure. The Al Thani ruling family has bet its fortune and power on trans-Atlantic support; it is simply not credible that they would turn to the West’s enemies in the event that an ultimatum was issued. Doha might even welcome an excuse to pause its costly and ineffective programmes. Even if that involves some short term embarrassment. It is hardly going to lose support at home, with the highest GDP per capita in the world.

It would be necessary to make sure that the Coalition understands that it will have to pay a price for decisive Western intervention. The world will be a more dangerous place if our allies get the impression they can freely bully any smaller rival, knowing that the West will always come down on their side. That is however no great hurdle to action; it might even be a positive thing if we can at the same time negotiate greater contributions to counter-terrorism or refugee funding.

Unfortunately the reason why none of this is likely to happen is partly that the West has lost a lot of confidence in its ability to resolve issues in the Middle East since 2003, and partly because it fears for its interests in Doha and the handsome Qatari contributions in Western capitals. This cautious assessment is wrong and will be more harmful to Qatar and the aforementioned interests. The Quartet has no incentive to relent, it can’t afford to and will profit from commercial uncertainty in Doha the longer this drags on. If the West really wants this to end now, it must tell Qatar to reform its foreign policy or face sanctions from a more threatening ally.

Geoffrey Hoon was the UK defence secretary from 1999 to 2005.