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Youth exodus: Is Africa being strategically turned into a giant farm?

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Youth exodus: Is Africa being strategically turned into a giant farm?

To far-sighted global conglomerates, Africa empty of its people is far more valuable that an Africa full of them. Could the exodus of African youth, lured by dreams of greener pastures abroad, be part of a strategy of turning the continent into a giant farm?

Is it still reasonable to assume that even half of today’s youth flooding out of Africa will ever return? Will they even want to?

 In an 1890s letter to his sister, the fundamentalist Presbyterian missionary to Buganda, Alexander MacKay reportedly confided: “Where the original intent was to take the African away from Africa…. today, it is to take Africa away from the African.”

The significant number of young Africans who continue to attempt to illegally enter the European Union territories despite unimaginable hurdles and dangers seems to bear out this wish – to take Africa away from the African. 

In a similar vein, another stream of young Africans is being funneled into the Middle East where they work in degrading domestic situations or as poorly rewarded security guards. Some, a few, get sub-contracted into the vast American-sponsored military operations in Iraq, and even Afghanistan. Of this latter group, a few young men and women have personally done well out of it but on the whole, this exodus of African youth ends in bitter disappointment. 

Yet, few seek to return and the numbers wishing to leave increase by the day.

We say that one sign of a home in crisis is when its children hang about the neighbours’ houses at mealtimes and when they will look for every excuse not to return home in the evenings. 

But while that is one aspect, there is another one too. Most of these youths are lured by glowing promises of good jobs and the chance to make money by smooth-talking recruitment firms. They demand upfront ‘facilitation fees’ and for those that do make it to the promised land, they find they have to pay back, with interest, any monies advanced to them, including for the cost of often crowded and filthy accommodation.

These gang bosses as they are known are also contractors to foreign firms looking for cheap labour for often dangerous or unpleasant work. They pass on a small amount of the contract fees to the workers, minus costs. There is no other way to describe it except to say it is nothing less that modern day slavery – the only difference being that instead of slavers capturing people violently, the modern slaves are lured by enticing stories to take themselves into bondage.

These gangs flourish unhampered because, in Uganda at least that I have first-hand knowledge of, they are hand in glove with the top brass in the national security apparatus or are at least well connected with top government people.

More sinister outlook

Of course this is not new and we know the details thanks to the work of international anti-slavery organisations. But another, more sinister thought has been growing in my mind.

It is that all this turmoil, and the death and destruction caused by proxy wars, where the strings are being pulled from thousands of miles away, while our people dance to the tune and kill each other, is not random but part of a bigger strategy.

What if certain far-sighted and ruthless people have worked out that given the rapid growth of the global population and the constant and rising demand for food, among other priorities, Africa may be more valuable empty of people than full of them?

Erik Solheim, currently head of the UN Environment Programme (and before that, a minister in the Norwegian government) has offered a perspective that takes us halfway there. 

In an article in the UK Guardian newspaper, he warns against the growing danger of Africa becoming a ‘giant food farm’ run by global agri-business for the purpose of feeding the planet’s exploding human population.

He looks at scenarios where in an area stretching from Nigeria to South Sudan, elephants and other wildlife would no longer be able to live in their natural habitat but would be herded in designated enclosures surrounded by electrified fences.

This would open up vast areas of the African savannah to very large-scale agriculture, enabling the mass production of food for a population expected to reach 11bn billion globally over the next 80 years. In short, he says Africa could indeed become a giant farm. 

Let us be clear, this means that the African countryside may be more financially valuable to those that dominate global decision-making processes when denuded of people and wildlife, than in its current state.

In Fertility Wars, a deeply- researched essay, analyst Mary Serumaga upends the assumptions regarding the nearly 60 years of primarily American engagement with reproductive health policy in Africa. The general thrust has been on measures to reduce the continent’s population through the process known as birth control.

Erasing our cultural history?

Mary Serumaga’s conclusions are startling, to say the least.  Whatever the putative benefits for some individual women and their families, the underlying motivation for this movement was that “US authorities concluded that rapid population growth in the developing world threatened America’s access to cheap resources necessary for their consumerist lifestyle”.

Of course, we saw the precursors to this in the shape of the old white-settler colonies of Southern Africa (and Kenya), whereby native Africans were evicted en masse to make way for large plantations growing one crop or another needed in Europe. 

In Kenya, many descendants of those white settler families have now followed a South African model and re-invented those spaces as conservation parks open to mainly Western tourists.

The only ‘inconvenience’ now is that the descendants of the displaced and restricted Africans have refused to forget the theft of their land. In a violent echo of the ‘give back the land’ political slogans taking root in South Africa, Kenyan pastoralists have taken to invasions of these wildlife preserves, burning down the tourist lodges and even killing individuals that try to get in their way.

This “giant farm” theory could help explain a few odd things. First, the rather strange lack of outrage by the established heads of Africa’s various governments regarding the mass exodus of the continent’s youth northwards in an attempt to reach the European Union. Second, the active promotion by many of these same players of the so-called ‘employment opportunities’ as basically slaves, sex tools, and minions of the self-important and racist societies of Arabia.

Wedded as they are to the West’s neo-liberal economic programme (regardless of where it has led them to date), one can see the logic of some of our leaders being in favour of kick-starting this emptying-out process.

Clearly, an African without memory would be a more easily relocatable person, as opposed to long-memoried pastoralists and other natives.

To remove them, one has to first make them believe the grass will always be greener somewhere else. This has been going on for decades through the cultural bombardment of Western entertainment which has led many of us to feel that we are missing out on the real fun and the real opportunities.

This would mean uprooting cultural memory, and the native institutions and practices that reproduce it.

Remember that the biggest single impediment to the full execution of the Israeli project has been the fact that the Palestinians that left for the refugee camps in the region over 70 years ago, fled with their memories intact, around which their politics has been organised. 

Are we being stripped of our cultural memories in order to be eventually evicted from our own land?

A person without a history has no future.


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Written by Kalundi Serumaga

Kalundi Serumaga is a cultural activist agitating through theatre, journalism and creative writing. He lives in Kampala, Uganda. He has been engaged also in a long-standing case before the Ugandan courts, challenging a ban on his radio work placed on him by the Ugandan government.

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