Is the EU’s Trust Fund to Africa a bribe?

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Last week, African and European heads of state met in Valletta Malta to discuss migration, in particular Africa – Europe migration. By the end of the two-day summit, a European Agenda on Migration had emerged and it makes for interesting reading.

The European Union (EU) announced a European Trust Fund for Africa that will address the root causes of irregular migration as well as address issues of stability in countries in the Sahel Region, the Horn of Africa, North of Africa and in those countries in near those three regions.

The EU acknowledges that in some instances, migration is the best and most powerful strategy for an individual to escape poverty, that there is a “high degree of dependency between Africa and the EU” and that both continents share in the common challenges that impact migration. These challenges include socio economic development, mitigating causes of climate change, terrorism, armed conflict etc.

That a meeting like this happened at all is a very good start, yet I can’t help but feel a little cynical.

There is something paternalistic about the idea of a Trust Fund; it is something that parents do for their children. The purpose of the Trust Fund bothers me too; in my minds eyes it amounts to a pay off to African countries to ensure to take back those Africans that the EU doesn’t want.

The money

The value of the Trust Fund is a reported €1.8 billion, an amount not to be sniffed at. However, I am not entirely convinced that the money will make a huge difference if at all. This is because the EU has been throwing money at Africa-EU migration for sometime via a plethora of initiatives yet the “problem” persists.

In the first instance if this amount of money were to be handed out in cash to everyone on the African continent it would work out at roughly €1 per person and as such it is not a transformative amount to the extent that it would prevent irregular migration into the EU.

It is important to note too, that this is not necessarily new money; some of it has been diverted from elsewhere as follows; European Commission financial instruments under the EU budget, 11th European Development Fund reserves, Regional Indicative Programmes for West and Eastern Africa, National indicative programmes for the Horn of Africa, Development Cooperation Instrument and the European Neighbourhood Instrument.


Put simply, remittances are amounts of money migrant workers/Diaspora send home to families that stayed behind. According to the World Bank remittances from migrants amount to €492.15 billion in 2014 compared to €157.10 billion in Official Development Assistance in 2013 (ODA).

Given the fact that remittances are higher than ODA, the EU has acknowledged Diaspora’s contribution to development and one of the agreed actions at the Valetta meeting is to promote Diaspora engagement in countries of origin.

On the other hand, one of the functions of the Trust Fund is to facilitate the return of economic migrants as they have been labeled. But who is an economic migrant? Is it the Zimbabwean Nurse, Nigerian Doctor, the Ghanaian train driver? Is it a road sweeper, ward orderlies, a care assistant in a nursing home or an athlete? How will the EU choose which migrant to send back?

Economic Migration is certainly not a one-way street as mainstream media would have us believe. For instance EU countries have experienced a recession so deep that young people in countries such as Portugal have found it difficult to find jobs in Portugal or elsewhere in the EU. They have left consequently left in large numbers to countries such as Angola and Mozambique

There is hope yet

The question that occupies everyone that cares about Migration is how to make it work in a positive way. The final document from the Valetta meeting contains several actions and the elephant in the room is implementation. Can African and EU leaders find the political will to implement  the sets of actions they agreed on or will interests get in the way?

I’d like to see the action on rural development in particular, taken seriously and implemented. I believe that rural to urban migration contributes to cross border migration and that it is a form of migration that can be managed through economic development, investment in agriculture as well as mitigating effects of climate change. This would improve the lives of an awful lot of people and hopefully mean that migration is not the only option that people have to escape poverty.

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