The 'illegal' immigration of Africans into Europe is one of the greatest tragedies of our times. Tens of thousands of people risk their lives each year, trying to reach the 'promised land'. Thousands of them drown and die during the perilous journey, to wash up ashore on the beaches where well-off European tourists are enjoying the sun and the sea. Those who make it, can expect to live clandestine lives as 'aliens', often exploited by ruthless employers, or they end up in concentration centres as 'sans-papiers'.
Fortress Europe has been debating the difficult issue in-depth for months now, on an EU level, with many different political visions on how to tackle the growing problem in a reasonable and humane way (see the recent Euro-African top on illegal immigration). Broadly speaking, three visions can be distinguished. First there is the idea of an open-door policy which wants to welcome a quotum of Africans who must be helped with their integration into European society and whose stay will result in 'regularisation' (obtaining citizenship) after a few years time ('immigration régulée', a vision shared by many at the center of the political spectrum). Secondly, there is an extremist position which comes down to the 'selection' of those with "useful" skills (such as doctors and nurses), and expulsion or rejection of those Europe can't use ('immigration choisie'). This purely utilitarian position, which threatens to result in an even bigger braindrain, is shared by many on the 'right', most notably by the neoconservatives in France. Finally, the most rational and fundamental position looks at the source of the problem and wants active cooperation and partnerships with the countries of origin. Europe must help these economies and invest in job creation overseas, so that the socio-economic 'push-factors' are diminished in strenght. This position of a shared burden, 'l'immigration partagée', is held by many at the left - and by most African governments.
President Wade shares this last vision, and he is supported in it by former president, African Union leader and chief of La Francophonie, Mr Abdou Diouf. The president thinks bioenergy projects can play a crucial role in eradicating the clandestine emigration of Senegalese youngsters from the rural areas:
bioenergy :: biofuels :: energy :: sustainability :: poverty :: emigration :: illegal immigration :: Africa :: Europe
Within the framework of an 'immigration partagée', European Union 'development aid' and economic investments in the South would be increased. Bioenergy could be one of the sector where such investments make most sense, for several reasons: the production of liquid and solid biofuels is labor-intensive but results in competitive commodities that Europe can use to diversify its energy portfolio. Such a relationship would actually be a win-win situation, with Europe sharing capital, technology and knowledge, and African partners contributing land and labor. The locally rooted employment opportunities generated by this exchange, could effectively reduce poverty and take away the reasons why so many Africans want to leave their homes, towns and families.
Now President Abdoulaye Wade, who recently created a 'Green OPEC' of non-oil producing African countries, said something very similar when he launched a first 1000 hectare test plantation for biofuels in Ouro Sidy, a rural community in the Matam region of Senegal's Kanel département.
Wade stresses the two main objectives of such projects: to find a solution to the lack of rural energy access, and to eradicate illegal immigration by stimulating employment through biofuels production projects.
This last aspect was elaborated by Adama Sall, minister of the Fonction Publique, of Labor and of Professional Organisations. Sall is also the political leader of the Senegalese Democratic Party of the region mentioned earlier. It is in this capacity that he has undertaken a sensibilisation campaign amongst the youngsters of the Matam region. In particular, he adressed the youngsters of Wagadou, a place inhabited by Soninke who have been very active in building networks that support illegal immigration.
Sall urged the youngsters to invest in the economic development of their own region, instead of trying to emigrate to Europe. A special plan called 'Retour vers l’agriculture' (plan Reva, 'back to agriculture') has been created to stimulate this development, and biofuels play a major role in it. He congratulated the Rural Council of Ouro Sidy for taking prompt action under the plan by establishing a 1000 hectare plantation of energy crops.
Sall and the Rural Council of Konaté are convinced that similar plans will "help these youngsters forget the temptation to emigrate clandestinely, because of the simple fact that numerous jobs will be created and considerable profits should be made." He added that "the development of Senegal must absolutely come from the bottom-up".
Of course, lots of questions remain about how to lobby and link European organisations, investors and politicians to the countries of origin of the many 'illegal' immigrants. The complexity and variety of political visions and policy goals surrounding the issue will not make the task easy. But when African countries start to show that bioenergy projects like the one in Ouro Sidy can effectively contribute to curbing the flow of young emigrants to Europe, we are certain that stakeholders here on the continent will look at the this proposition a bit closer.
Dossiers on the immigration debate, and on policy options, strategies and visions in Europe can be found on the Euractive/immigration pages: Immigration at Euractiv.
Sivan Kartha and Gerald Leach (Stockholm Environment Institute, 2001), Using Modern Bioenergy to Reduce Rural Poverty [*.pdf].
Le Soleil (Senegal): Production d’énergie alternative : 1000 hectares de terre pour la culture de biocarburant à Ouro Sidy - Oct. 3, 2006