HOMOPHOBIA IN AFRICA AND HIV/AIDS RATES – NIRVANA GOVENDER

Image: Bruno Aguirre (Unsplash)

According to a 2018 infographic by Amnesty International, more than half of all African countries have anti-gay legislation. Homosexuality or identifying as LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) is illegal in 33 African countries. In Mauritania, Sudan, Northern Nigeria, and Southern Somalia, homosexuality warrants the death penalty. 

Why is Africa so homophobic? 

What exactly about Africa makes it so antagonistic about non-conformist gender identification and sexuality? Many writers and academics pin homophobia in Africa as a consequence of colonialism, as an import of British imperialism and religion. In a 2020 Stonewall article, Leah Buckle identifies a strong causal relationship between Commonwealth states and anti-LGBT+ legislation. Buckle astutely points out that only 25% of the world population reside in a state that was once colonised by the British, but simultaneously consists of half of the states that outlaw homosexuality. The origins of Britain’s sodomy laws are traced to 1533 when the Buggery Act was introduced, where private consensual “homosexual acts” were punishable by death. It was only in 1967 (which was just 54 years ago) that anti-sodomy laws were repealed in Britain, but not in their colonies. 

In the study of homosexuality in Africa, Boy-Wives and Female Husbands, same-sex relationships are documented as evidence that gender non-binary individuals and relationships existed in pre-colonial Africa. In northern Uganda where “effeminate men could marry men in pre-colonial times” and in Zambia where “youths and adult men had sexual contact” during Ndembu circumcision rites. The book also identifies instances where same-sex marriages between women operated in the same manner as heterosexual marriages, including bride-price and “acquiring husband’s rights” in over thirty African populations. Another example is illustrated by Annabel Sowemimo in a 2019 Gal-Dem article, of King Mwanga of Buganda in the late 1800s, who engaged in openly bisexual relations with royal male subjects. Interestingly, the same royal male subjects refused King Mwanga’s sexual advances after they had converted to Christianity. 

Religion plays a significant role in the reinforcement of homophobia in Africa, especially since 93% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa are either Christian or Muslim. According to a World Values Survey in 2017, mixed Christians and Muslims were more likely to rate homosexuality as “never justified”. American sociologist, Amy Adamczyk, explains that countries are more likely to hold conservative views when a high proportion of the population is “highly dedicated to their religion”. Homophobia in Africa also stems from the misconstrued narrative that homosexuality is “un-African”. According to a 2019 DW article by Kate Hairsine, African elites which include religious, political, and community figures uphold the belief that homosexuality is an “imported Western evil” when it is the hate for homosexuality that was the actual “imported evil”. 

Beliefs about homosexuality in Africa are situated in an ahistorical context. Religious beliefs about homosexuality neglect the pre-colonial gender structures that facilitated gender fluidity that existed before the introduction of Christianity or Islam. Homophobia remains strife in the majority of the African continent because anti-sodomy laws remained intact in post-colonial African states despite Britain repealing those laws in the late 1960s. In addition to multiple stagnations of Africa’s development, deeply rooted internalised beliefs about gender identities and sexual orientations are another unwanted ‘gift’ of European imperialism. 

Even though homophobia in Africa denies people on the gender spectrum in more than half of African countries from ‘legally’ being themselves, homophobia has critical consequences on accessibility to health care and safe sexual practices. 

Homophobia and HIV/AIDS transmission in Africa

The HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/ Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) epidemic is already wrongfully associated with homosexuality, as a disease that only affects gay men. In Africa, the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS among gay men is much higher in comparison to heterosexual men, because of the discrimination and criminalisation of their sexual orientation. According to a 2020 Aids Map article, gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM), in sub-Saharan African countries that criminalise homosexuality, are five times more at risk of contracting HIV than those men in countries that do not criminalise homosexuality. Kate Mitchell, a researcher from Imperial College London, estimated that thousands of gay African men are likely dying from HIV/AIDS every year because of homophobic laws that prevent them from getting tested and treated.

HIV/AIDS is a huge risk to MSM and LGBT+ communities in repressive African states with harsh anti-LGBT+ legislation because they are unable to access sexual health services without compromising their gender and sexual identities and becoming vulnerable to criminal charges.

Therefore, the onslaught of anti-LGBT+ legislation cuts off a large population of people who are at an increased risk of contracting HIV, from accessing the medical help they need. In addition to these repressive laws preventing individuals from having an identity that is considered ‘legal’ and socially accepted, they are endangering the physical and sexual well-being of LGBT+ people. In the 2020 UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS) Seizing the Moment report, stigma and discrimination are identified as the key barriers to accessing sexual health services related to contraception and HIV prevention. In the grander scheme of fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic, these individuals are excluded from research that has the potential to significantly improve health policies and programmes targeted at preventing HIV transmission.

Perhaps instead of hard legislation aimed at controlling who has consensual sexual relations with whom or who marries who, more effort should be focused on legislation that prevents and punishes those who have non-consensual sexual relations with others, and those that incite sexual violence, harassment, and other sex-related offences. Aside from denying someone their identity, repressive anti-gay laws are fueling health epidemics in the African continent that already has too many to deal with. It is overdue that anti-LGBT+ laws should be repealed everywhere, but especially in Africa. It should not be a crime to be one’s true self, and no one should be afraid to access the medical services they need.  

Nirvana Govender is a postgraduate student at the University of Pretoria completing her Honors degree in International Relations. She is a tutor in the Political Sciences Department. She is also the co-creator of the grassroots community organisation, Get Involved. Please follow her page (@getinvolved_gbv) on Instagram to help support her organisation.

VIDEO GAMES OR POLITICAL AND MILITARY TOOLS? – LAURA RUBIDGE

Image: Kabita Darlami (Unsplash)

There are numerous studies which interrogate the impact of military video games on the behaviour of the player due to their excessive violence. There is increasing academic interest into the other implications of military video games. This article will examine the possible influence that military video games can have on politics through the perpetuation of a particular narrative of how or why certain events occurred. Thereafter, there will be a discussion on the use of military video games as a recruitment tool for the US (United States) military. Finally, the links between military video games and military drone operation will be examined, including the possible impact this can have on drone warfare. 

The recent controversy around the video game entitled ‘Six days in Fallujah’ has raised questions about the political and ideological impact of military video games. Most first-person shooter games are situated in fictional situations, by contrast this one aims to recreate the stories of US soldiers and Iraqi civilians during the US led assault of Fallujah in 2004. The game was initially announced in 2009 but due to widespread criticism, it was cancelled. The game has since been given a new release date in 2021. The criticism of the game emerges from the concern that by perpetuating a specific narrative of the Iraqi War it will suppress alternative narratives and could contribute to the normalisation of Islamophobia. The Council for America-Islamic relations has criticised the game for glorifying the violence that took the lives of hundreds of Iraqi civilians, justifying the illegal invasion of Iraq and reinforcing Islamophobic narratives.

Much of this game will be portrayed through the perspective of the US military members. Rodger Stahl contends that military video games which position the player as a representative of the US state, mobilise certain rhetoric and perspectives, often consistent with the Bush administrations ‘War on Terror’, this is done by making the player an actor in the low-intensity warfare used during this ‘war’. Additionally, the enemy is placed as a ‘rogue state’ which is outside the bounds of reason and diplomacy, substantiating the use of force. Although this particular framing of the situation in a fictional situation, somewhat relating to the US’s ‘war on terror’, can be seen as problematic, it is increasingly concerning when it is applied to a true historical event which is estimated to have resulted in the killing of more than 800 civilians. 

Nick Robinson particularly focuses on the concept of US exceptionalism being developed through military video games. The idea of US exceptionalism has emerged in the post 9/11 era which portrays the US in a uniquely vulnerable situation, which justifies the US to employ an exceptional response which is not constrained by the rules of the ‘normal state’. Robinson interrogates several video games including Homefront, Call of Duty, and Battlefield, identifying a common theme which portrays the US as having the responsibility to protect threatened countries and as being uniquely capable of responding to the threats. In addition, these games reject rule bound negotiation process as a possible response because of the rogue nature of the enemy, thus releasing the military from the international conventions and allowing the use of exceptional measures to respond to the threats. 

Military video games have also been used by the US military as a marketing and recruitment tool. One of the most played military video games, ‘America’s Army’ was the first game to be developed and designed by the US military. The game aimed to support military recruitment by identifying players with high-tech aptitude and skills, and raise the public perception of the military to increase recruitment. The game propagated army values to potential recruits and other gamers. The game also directed players to recruiting websites and according to Peter Singer, it has been more effective for recruiting than any other method.  A study found that 30% of all Americans aged 16 to 24 had a more positive impression of the Army because of the game. 

Although most military video games are criticised for their excessive violence, this game was criticised for its unrealistic portrayal of violence and its impact. A study by Anderson and Kurti demonstrated that the lack of realism, portrayed war as ‘clean’, which subsequently lead to the positive feelings reported by young players towards their acts of killing. Only 1 out of 62 teenagers reported bad feelings about gameplay killing. 

Downplaying the devastating cost of war is not the only technique which has raised concern about the desensitisation of military personal, the likening of drone operation to video gaming can have the same effect. The US military forces have sought drone operator recruitment in gaming-locations, hosted video game drone simulators for online players and even re-fitted military drone simulators to be similar to Xbox and PlayStation equipment. This likening of military drone operation to video gaming can be considered a contributing factor to the concerns that the military’s use of drones can create a ‘pathologic emotional detachment’ of a drone operator. Testimony from former drone operators have described the people below the drone as “black blobs on a screen”. Drone warfare is being used increasingly because it reduces the loss of war, for the operators who are far removed from danger. However, it does not fully remove casualties, there are many reports of civilians killed by drone strikes, including children. The concerns about the likening of drone operation and video gaming, increasing the use of drones, and further removing the realisation of the devastating impact of war, is therefore understandable. 

Laura has a degree in BPolSci International Studies from the University of Pretoria and is currently completing a level 4 NALP paralegal diploma. She hopes to complete her honors in International Relations and pursue a career in the field of Public International Law and Human Rights. Laura is one of the permanent members of the writing staff at The Art of Politics.


BILLIONAIRE PHILANTHROPY: WEALTH DISTRIBUTION OR ACCUMULATION? – SELYCIA CURWEN

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We tend to admire the generosity of the wealthy when they donate millions and in some cases, billions of their own money to charitable causes. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Jeff Bezos made the largest donations of 2020, amounting to a total of $10 billion to combat climate change. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was set up mostly to fight diseases such as Malaria, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Deficiency Virus), and Polio and donates roughly $4 billion annually. Since its establishment, the foundation has helped save 122 million lives. Philanthropy is defined as private initiatives taken for the public good. You could, however, argue that it’s more for public influence. Money has been the tool of choice to exercise power socially, politically, and economically. Some corporations have more wealth than the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of some nations of the world. With this, they hold powerful decision-making positions. Recently, there has been much debate about wealth tax, specifically in the US (United States) House bill 1406. This bill is set to impose a 1% tax rate on US households with an income over $1 billion. So, is philanthropy then a way to avoid paying taxes? What does this mean for governments and their power, welfare, and wealth distribution? Do taxes even go where they are meant to go?

The way some billionaires acquire their money is already questionable and highly criticised, from mistreating employees to underpaying them. Billionaire philanthropy has been dubbed a capitalist “PR scam” by CEO Dan Price, to mask the methods in which they obtained their wealth. Former US President Teddy Roosevelt once stated that “no amount of charities in spending such fortunes can compensate in any way for the misconduct in acquiring them”. As well-intentioned as these donations may be, there is cause for concern that they are doing more harm than good. 

These billionaires do not miss out on the money. In fact, the rich have gotten richer over the years despite efforts such as The Giving Pledge campaign, started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, urging the wealthy to donate well over half of their wealth to charity in their lifetime. The question of taxes then arises. Why pay taxes when you are donating the money anyway? What billionaires donate is a mere fraction of their wealth in comparison to what they would pay if the tax rates were similar to those of the working class. Donations of these sizes are in fact tax deductible. Not to mention the return on investment, such as public relations opportunities which only increases their wealth. 

What does this mean for governments who are missing out on hundreds of millions worth of tax money? You could argue that many governments tend to mishandle and mismanage state funds anyway but, be that as it may these donations shift the responsibility from democratic institutions to the rich, thus undermining democracy. Oftentimes, these funds are stored in private foundations and donor-advised funds, as opposed to working charities and public foundations. These private foundations and donor-advised funds, as the name suggests, make decisions often to the liking of the donor. The donors decide what the problem is, and how to fix it. Naturally, this comes with no oversight or democratic controls. 

What is worse, is that these philanthropic efforts of the private foundations can and do cross international borders into developing countries. These bring similar, even detrimental, democratic threats. What is often neglected in these instances, is a sound knowledge of the communities and the cultures where the money is meant to go to. Social and economic issues are multifaceted and historically rooted therefore, without the appropriate direction, oversight, and democratic guidance the money and the decisions made with it could harm the community. For example, should a foundation choose to start a large-scale farming project, small local farmers could be put out of business, the soil may be damaged as a result of modern farming practices, thus proving future farming efforts futile, and/or over time traditional farming methods and products could become obsolete.  

Philanthropic donations rarely make it to the grassroots level as stated above, working charities often miss out on these donations. Consequently, the money does not directly benefit those who need it most nor does it aid the organisations that are already doing the heavy lifting. Wealth tax has therefore become a topic of debate. If the wealthy are taxed, the money could at least be directed and injected into the communities that need it. Having government and public officials in charge of wealth distribution adds transparency and accountability. Citizens will then have a right to demand that they be taken care of and be told how the money was meant to be divided. Whether or not these actors do right by the public in this regard is outside the scope of this article. In today’s capitalist society, money is power and influence. As the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility”, but should this responsibility fall on private individuals who have questionable intentions and motives? 

Selycia Curwen is a BAdminHons Public Administration and Management student at the University of Pretoria. Her interests are widespread and therefore, along with the knowledge she attained from her degrees, she would like to actively participate in the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals at both the national and international level.

SOLAR GEOENGINEERING – LEVERAGING CLIMATE SCIENCE TO FOSTER GLOBAL COOPERATION – TRISHA PATEL

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Scientists across the globe explore the feasibility of innovative techniques to limit global warming to 1.5°C. SAI (Stratospheric Aerosol Injection) proposes spraying particles into the atmosphere to reflect incoming sunlight and decrease Earth surface temperatures. SAI aims to keep air temperatures below 1.5°C degrees but it does not necessarily reduce ocean warming to a safe target. It follows then that it also doesn’t reduce sea level rise to safe levels, nor does it solve the problem of ocean acidification.The controversial proposal would require global cooperation. This article explores the political governance challenges that could arise if SAI were to be deployed, and how we could solve these challenges. This proposition could be opportune for scientists and politicians to work together, to concurrently limit warming to 1.5°C and foster global cooperation.

As the climate changes and the Earth warms the pressing and potentially irreversible threat it poses to life on our planet increases at an alarming pace. The goal is simple: limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement brings this goal into focus by setting a net-zero carbon emissions target by 2050 in order to limit warming to 1.5°C. Sadly, the current efforts outlined by many signatories is unlikely to break enough ground to reach the goal. In response to weak commitments from states, scientists across the globe have been exploring alternative solutions to slow down the rate of warming. 

Enter “Solar Geoengineering” – one of the most frequently discussed approaches to mitigating climate change. The aim is to reflect incoming solar radiation back into space in order to cool the Earth’s surface. One of the ways in which this could be done is through SAI, which aims to mimic the known effects that explosive volcanic eruptions have on the climate. When volcanoes erupt, they release enormous amounts of sulphate aerosols into the second layer of the atmosphere – the stratosphere –swelling into a stratospheric aerosol layer. This newly formed aerosol layer reflects incoming heat from the sun, creating a cooling effect on the Earth’s surface. 

In essence, SAI is underpinned by the idea that mimicking this temporary radiative force on the climate, through continuous injections of sulphur particles by aeroplanes, will reflect enough sun away from the earth to slow down the warming.

Ultimately, SAI would play a role in avoiding climate change that exceeds the limits to easily adapt. A benefit is that, it could buy governments more time to implement effective climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, by slowing warming until these measures are in place. Pursuing SAI is both time and cost efficient relative to other solar geoengineering options, and because of this it is important that policymakers set out to anticipate its impact on political institutions and ultimately on society. It has been estimated that the average direct costs of SAI deployment in a program through to the end of the 21st century would be $18 million per 1°C of warming avoided. This is inexpensive when compared to the estimated cost of carbon dioxide removal, an alternate form of climate geoengineering, which costs over $800 billion/year to remove 650 Gt of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, which is the amount quantified to reduce warming from 2°C to 1.5°C.

The planning stages of SAI necessitates good governance practices because the efficiency, effectiveness and climate outcomes of the programme would be strongly influenced by political choices. There are three primary considerations for the governance of SAI: 

  1. The potential for military use of SAI
  2. Unilateral deployment of SAI
  3. The politicisation of weather and unilateral withdrawal

Each of these brings with it anticipated challenges that require governments to make a strong and legitimate commitment to meeting the goals of the Paris Accord. 

First, the interconnected nature of the global climate system means that deploying SAI in one country or area can affect the climate elsewhere in the world. These effects can be planned for but this outcome has the potential to be weaponised by military actors to affect interstate conflict. Research funders and state institutions – specifically those upholding the rule of law – must be responsible for placing firm restrictions that prevent the weaponisation of SAI. 

The second consideration surrounds the fact that SAI could be unilaterally deployed. Since SAI is a relatively cost efficient option, the actors can vary from a single small state to an alliance of nations or even a private citizen that has accumulated a mass of wealth. Consequently, various interests may underpin the deployment of SAI. To this end, regional cooperation is necessary so that all stakeholders are considered through continuous agreements over long time periods. If done right, greater regional cooperation to ensure the success of SAI can also reduce the potential for regionalised conflict by aligning interests. 

It follows on then, that the third, and greatest, governance challenge is rooted in the potential for SAI to politicise weather and offer the opportunity of unilateral withdrawal. The effectiveness of SAI is in part dependent on lengthy periods of deployment, potentially as long as a century. To facilitate this, strong and lasting global agreements are essential. If one country within the agreement halts deployment of the programme, the unpredictable side of the weather might take over and render harmful outcomes for other areas or regions, despite the overall success of slowed global warming.  

This unpredictability plays out as a consequence of climate change regardless of interventions like SAI. Most recently, the winter storm in Texas, in February 2021, was a clear example of not only how slow governance has been to ready itself for increasing weather extremes, but also of how volatile the changing climate can be. When weather extremes devastate society, political parties and civil society can be co-opted to blame programmes like SAI. This might create distrust for climate science and even science as a broader field, ultimately turning populations away from supporting interventions that will have the long-term effect of cooling the Earth. Fostering societal trust in science and research can concurrently increase general awareness and understanding of climate risk, and prevent SAI from being a victim of domestic party politics. 

Although the risks of SAI seem high, so too are the potential benefits. With well-funded research and global cooperation, the success of the programme would not only cool the earth but also create an overarching global interdependence that like trade, might reduce the likelihood of conflict. 

The topic remains controversial. SAI would produce both winners and losers in terms of local and regional climate outcomes, but with each passing day the need for radical intervention grows larger. Many scientists find themselves questioning the collective ability of humans and institutions in reducing emissions and limiting global warming. There is a growing sense that adopting solar geoengineering technologies is crucial if we are to maintain life on Earth as we know it. The time has arrived for scientists and political actors to collaborate so that innovative programmes are planned and deployed through mechanisms of good governance. As the solutions to climate change come into focus, the need for good governance and cooperation emerge as common denominators.

Trisha Patel is a Master of Science student majoring in Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Cape Town. Her research focuses on solar geoengineering, and her interests include geography, palaeoenvironments and climate science. 

VACCINE DIPLOMACY – SELYCIA CURWEN

Image: Joshua Hoehne (Unsplash)

With the development of numerous COVID-19 vaccines, comes numerous behind-the-scenes negotiations. These include bilateral or multilateral agreements and debates on patent waiving. These vaccines are costly and as the world order stands, many developing countries cannot afford them. In addition to this, it could be argued that negotiations have been largely nationalist in nature to the detriment of others. Vaccines have now become something of a diplomatic currency in order to exercise soft power. This article will briefly look at the issue of patent waiving and the strategic diplomatic decisions being made by India and China. Both of which have the goal to provide affordable vaccines in light of the nationalistic nature of their Western counterparts’ vaccine decisions. 

Patent wavering 

A patent waiver entails a suspension of the rights relating to a patent. In the case of vaccines, this means that private or public entities may use the findings, research done, and other intellectual property in order to develop and sell their own copies at lower costs. This would increase global supply and speed up the vaccination process before the virus has a chance to continue mutating. South Africa (SA) and India were the forerunners in advocating for a patent waiver and are now supported by over 100 countries. Members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) however, are opposing this notion stating it would impede upon innovation as it removes the incentive to make investments in research and development. It is worth noting that the opposing countries are responsible for over 60% of the vaccines globally administered and as of 18 February 2021, 130 countries had yet to receive a single dose of a vaccine. Refusing temporary patent waiving could potentially be detrimental as it has been found that the virus is mutating, thus, adaptations of the vaccines will need to be made swiftly. 

Sinovac, Sinopharm, and Indian-made AstraZeneca

China was one of the first countries to develop vaccines. Sinopharm has had more promising efficacy results than its counterpart Sinovac. What sets these vaccines apart from the well-known Pfizer vaccine is its storage method. Sinovac and Sinopharm are said to be stable at refrigerator temperatures whereas the Pfizer vaccine can only be stored at freezing temperatures. Although the vaccine boasts 95% efficacy, this storage method makes it difficult still for developing countries as the transportation of the vaccine poses challenges. The Chinese vaccines are primarily in use, in the Gulf states such as Bahrain and the UAE (United Arab Emirates). This comes as no surprise since China is one of the largest oil consumers in the world. It is concerning however, that there are discrepancies in the Gulf countries’ reports of the efficacy of the vaccines. For example, Turkey reported a 91% efficacy while Brazil reported 50%. This raises skepticism among countries as there is a lack of transparency from China in the same way as they have released limited information with regards to the first outbreak of the virus. 

India has long been a pharmaceutical giant having already produced roughly 60% of the globe’s vaccines pre-COVID-19. After striking a deal with AstraZeneca, the Indian-made AstraZeneca vaccine could help them hold onto that title. India has gifted roughly 6 million doses and sold approximately 18 million doses. The competitive nature of the vaccine environment can be seen where India and China have conflicting strategic interests in the Seychelles who have received 50 000 doses of both the Indian-made AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccines, totalling 100 000 doses for a population of 98 000 people. In terms of delivery, New Delhi has swiftly sent 1.7 million doses of the vaccine to Myanmar where China promised to send 300 000 doses and has yet to deliver them. China is thus slowly losing its grip on soft power as a result of their lack of reliability. 

Conclusion

In a volatile and uncertain environment like a pandemic, state actors and corporations alike need to ensure the safety of their citizens. However, as explained above, there is an element of greed and nationalism at play. Temporary patent waiving will speed up vaccine distribution and accessibility. Those most vocal against this issue see it as a potential monetary and innovation threat. We live in a globalised, capitalist world where anything can and will affect everyone in a rippled manner. In a pandemic, even more so. States are therefore reluctant to enter into any agreements unless there is something to gain. This was shown by China and India wanting to maintain trade relations and global pharamaceutical influence respectively. It is acknowledged and welcomed that emerging Global South powers are essentially covering the gaps left by the Global North. Naturally, the Global North powers may see it as a potential threat to the world order if they succeed.

Selycia Curwen is a BAdminHons Public Administration and Management student at the University of Pretoria. Her interests are widespread and therefore, along with the knowledge she attained from her degrees, she would like to actively participate in the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals at both the national and international level.

INDIA’S ‘MEDICAL DIPLOMACY’ DURING COVID-19: DIASPORA NATION OF MAURITIUS AS A SPECIAL BENEFICIARY – CHANDANI TIWARI

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The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on on global health systems as the world grapples with it. Apart from the human impact, there is also significant business, commercial and economic impact. As viruses know no borders, the consequences continue to spread. Amid the pandemic, the African Union (AU) has actively developed a joint continental strategy to deal with it. Further, it also complemented Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and the Member States’ efforts by providing a health platform. The pandemic is affecting African countries differently, given varied strengths and vulnerabilities. 

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (ACDCP) boost the region’s capacities by building testing capabilities, promoting knowledge-based pandemic management and supporting governments’ efforts to mobilise resources for a sustained health response.

While the immediate health impact is still evolving, the indirect consequences beyond health, already bring a heavy toll. These include food insecurity, lack of medical supplies, loss of income and livelihood, difficulties in applying sanitary and physical distancing measures, a looming debt crisis, as well as related political and security risks.

Indians in Africa account for 12.37% of the total diaspora in the world. Members of the Indian diaspora are spread over several Francophone, Lusophone, Anglophone, and Arabophone countries of Africa, residing in 47 countries inhabiting all linguistic, cultural, or geographical regions of the continent. Having a sizeable Indian diaspora, African countries have been special beneficiaries of India’s medical diplomacy, especially Mauritius, where 68% of the total population is Indian.

The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General called for world leaders to act together during this pandemic. India’s international cooperation has been termed ‘medical diplomacy’ by many eminent political commentators. This is how India has answered the need for an urgent and coordinated global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

India’s initial steps to send/export Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to affected countries worldwide are based on India’s medical diplomacy history. India has advocated the availability of medicines worldwide through international cooperation and development partnerships in the wake of this pandemic. To safeguard equitable and fair access to essential supplies of drugs and vaccines to fight COVID-19, India has notably signed a UN resolution. 

While referring to the ancient Sanskrit dictum, Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, on May 12th, 2020, stated that while India strongly believes in the concept of self-reliance and does not encourage self-centric arrangements. India’s philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, which means ‘ the world is one family,’ has guided its cooperation with more than 123 countries worldwide.

Mauritius, an island state, with its population density being amongst one of the highest in the world. It is mostly dependent on the external environment. Due to its longstanding historical ties, India and Mauritius share a strong partnership when it comes to public healthcare. During the COVID-19 pandemic, one of India’s first partners to avail the medicines under its diplomacy stand was Mauritius. 

Continuing with its COVID-19 diplomacy, in which India, on April 13th, 2020, sent supplies of the drug HCQ, along with other medicines, to two Indian Ocean island nations—Mauritius and Seychelles—by special Air India charters. The Mauritius consignment comprised 13 tons of life-saving medicines, including half a million tablets of HCQ. A second consignment was sent in the following weeks. There are many other ongoing and earlier instances of this partnership in the healthcare sector, including Ayurvedic and traditional medicines.

Further, the shipment of essential medicines and the Medical Assistance Team aboard INS Kesari during this pandemic was part of the ‘Mission SAGAR’, shed light on India’s commitment towards its maritime neighbours and partners in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The ‘Mission SAGAR’ has also included supplies for the Maldives, Madagascar, Seychelles, and The Comoros to meet our common challenges in these difficult times jointly. Moreover, Mauritian experts are attending some technical webinars on managing the COVID-19 pandemic organised under India’s ITEC (Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation) programme by Indian medical institutions, including by the All-India Institute for Ayurveda. India built a state-of-the-art energy-efficient hospital in Mauritius, opened by Indian PM Modi and PM of Mauritius Pravind Jugnauth last year on October 3rd, being used to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. 

Through the initiative of ‘Vaccine Maitri’ (maitri=friendship) diplomatic mission, launched on 20 January 2021, India aspires to bridge the world’s vaccine divide. The mission comprises vaccine assistances to indigent neighbours, including Bhutan (0.15 million doses), Maldives (0.1 million), Nepal (1 million), Bangladesh (2 million), Myanmar (1.5 million), Mauritius (0.1 million), Seychelles (0.05 million), Sri Lanka (0.5 million), Bahrain (0.1 million) and Oman (0.1 million). Other beneficiaries of India’s strength in vaccine production are the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries (0.5 million doses), Nicaragua and the Pacific Island states (0.2 million doses each).

Diasporas mobilise quickly in such a humanitarian crisis because of the close links to origin countries. They know how to deliver the required resources to the affected communities. As they are engaged with them long before the crisis, they often enjoy the diaspora communities’ trust.

Diaspora philanthropy and resource mobilisation in humanitarian crises do not include sending money to extended family members. Apart from supplying relief to affected regions (whether be it clothes, food, medical supplies and equipment, educational or other materials), diasporas also raise funds for relief efforts. Diaspora skills, technical know-how and expertise are also applied in humanitarian crises. Moreover, such contributions from diasporas are also being recognised as the ‘humanitarian-development nexuses. They help with preparedness and resilience building, emergency response, right through to post-crisis reconstruction and helping rebuild economies shattered by emergencies with remittances and investments in affected areas.

In a post-COVID-19 world, India has a comparative advantage in becoming a reliable global public-goods and healthcare provider. India’s pharma industry is the third-largest in the world. According to India’s government, India supplied 18% of the world’s generic drugs. Due to its lower pricing, India is also one of the leading producers globally, contributing around 50% of the global vaccine demands.

Besides the essential drugs, including HCQ, Paracetamol, and Ibuprofen, India is also sending other antibiotics, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, anti-asthmatic, and cardiovascular drugs to 32 African countries, including Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Congo-Brazzaville, Egypt, Zambia, Uganda, Chad, Senegal, and Zimbabwe. On the list of items to be sent, there are injections, medical devices, and thermometers.

We expect that the COVID-19 threat will eventually fade, as the Ebola, Zika, and SARS viruses have vanished in the past few years. However, the impact would be felt longer in the socio-economic arena. So, we need to overcome this deadly threat to humanity by building a more sustainable and resilient world through enhanced global cooperation. 

Chandani Tiwari is a Doctoral Fellow at the Centre for African Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. She is also the Editorial Associate of the insight on Africa Journal.

GLOBAL PLASTIC GOVERNANCE: ROADMAP TO REDUCTION – LAURA RUBIDGE

Image: Nareeta Martin (Unsplash)

In the time that it would take the average reader to read the following article, at least three garbage truckloads of plastic would have flowed into the ocean. This is based on statistics from 2016, since then the global plastic production has increased by an average of 11 million metric tons each year. 

Within the global ocean area, there are five main ocean ‘gyres’. These are large systems of circulating ocean currents which can carry plastic items across the ocean to a different region. In the centre of the Indian Ocean Gyre, plastic waste has collected and formed a ‘garbage patch’ thousands of kilometres long. Plastic debris is not only floating around the middle of the ocean but finds its way to land. A report surveying the Cocos Islands in the South East Indian Ocean region reported that an estimated 413 million pieces of plastic debris covered these islands. It is impossible to track where the plastic floating in the ocean or collected on coastal land originated from. Therefore, ocean plastic governance is a common problem requiring common action. 

Large items of plastic pollution which gather on beaches and collect to create large plastic patches can cause disruptions in tourism due to unsightly beaches. Additionally, birds and marine life can get caught in these items which can lead to injury or death. However, these macro items are not the only problem. Macro plastics degrade from UV light, wave action and wind into microplastics. Microplastics have already found their way into our food chain. Fish, shellfish and many other marine life unknowingly consume microplastics, onto which toxins attach, these are then absorbed into the animals fat and tissue which is later consumed by humans.

What can be done?

Individual level

The most effective way that an individual can reduce their contribution to ocean plastic is by refusing to contribute to the ‘throw away culture’. Single-use plastic is convenient. Unfortunately, half of all plastic produced worldwide is considered ‘single use’ and is used for an average of only 10 minutes. Eliminating single use plastic would thus eliminate half of plastic produced.

Another method of reducing ocean plastic on an individual or societal level is through plastic waste removal. Recycling can be a viable business option. Currently less than 10% of plastic worldwide is recycled, this is not only due to a lack of effective recycling systems but also because some plastic cannot be recycled by traditional methods. Some of this plastic is left in landfills, finds its way to the ocean or is incinerated. Incineration is an ineffective solution to deal with plastic waste, it releases toxic gases like Dioxins, Furans, Mercury and Polychlorinated Biphenyls into the atmosphere and uses copious amounts of energy. An alternative method to incineration which could help reduce the plastic pollution including that which cannot be recycled in traditional ways is through pyrolysis. Pyrolysis is a method of using a chemical reaction to turn plastic waste into fuel.

One innovative recycling business has had knock-on effects to reduce poverty and create employment. The Plastic Bank pays collectors in developing countries such as Haiti and The Philippines. The collectors receive payments for certain plastic items. This not only creates employment and reduces the plastic pollution in developing countries which do not always have effective recycling facilities of their own, but the collector can also receive credit for their work which can be used to buy cooking stoves and even to pay tuition fees, increasing the likelihood of childhood education in these areas.

Government level

States can impose domestic laws that could reduce the plastic production and use within their jurisdiction. Some countries have committed to end their contribution to the ocean pollution.  For example, Kenya has the most severe penalties, of up to $40 000- and 4-years imprisonment for the sale and use of plastic bags. 

In 2020, South Africa gazetted an amendment to the National Environmental Management: Waste Act to include Extended Producer Responsibility. The new approach would “significantly” decrease waste ending up in landfills, increase the country’s capacity to recycle and therefore contribute to the expansion of the country’s Circular Economy. This amendment requires manufactures and importers of certain products to increase their use of recycled materials and take responsibility for where their products end up after use. Unfortunately, the implementation for this amendment has been extended to May of 2021 due to calls by producers for more time. Although this new amendment will be a great step forward in South Africa’s contribution to the reduction of plastic waste, the extension of the implementation demonstrates the ultimate flaw of national legislation to fight a global problem. Governments are restrained by domestic politics. Many state economies have increasing unemployment rates and businesses are struggling to rebound from the COVID-19 lockdowns. Government’s decisions to implement regulations which might constrain business or cost consumers more will be criticised and could politically hurt their support and legitimacy, despite the positive effect these constraints may have on the environment. The sad reality is that some governments, especially during an election year, may not be willing to take the risk. International laws may be able to alleviate the pressure of individual government action.

International level

International law would be the most effective way to employ plastic governance. A review done by the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Program) confirmed that “no global agreement exists to specifically prevent marine plastic litter and microplastics or provide a comprehensive approach to managing the lifecycle of plastics”. 

Before considering a global agreement or law, it is important to take note of the current regional instruments already in place to tackle the issue. A report done by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) analysed and assessed all of these global and regional instruments and concluded that these play an important role in addressing and monitoring marine plastic pollution. Despite the great effort and relative success of these regional instruments, the report identifies challenges such as varied level of implementation of policies which is due to differing capacities and differing priorities of certain states.  Ultimately, the regional organisation of these instruments relies on willingness by member states to address plastic management issues. The report therefore recommends a global agreement which could promote and harmonise efforts by providing minimum standards, common goals and a comprehensive strategy. 

Recent ministerial declarations have demonstrated a political willingness to create such a global agreement. These include the Nordic Ministerial Declaration, Caribbean and Community and Common Market (CARICOM) St. John’s Declaration, The Durban Declaration, and the new European Union (EU) Circular Economy Action Plan, which all call for a legally binding global treaty. Additionally, Sustainable Development Goal 14.1 directly addresses this issue, calling to ‘prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, particularly from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution’. This goal is targeted to be reached by 2025. The significance of this problem is clearly acknowledged, a cohesive global action plan and implementation is now required.

Laura has a degree in BPolSci International Studies from the University of Pretoria and is currently completing a level 4 NALP paralegal diploma. She hopes to complete her honors in International Relations and pursue a career in the field of Public International Law and Human Rights. Laura is one of the permanent members of the writing staff at The Art of Politics.


THE POWER OF LANGUAGE IN INTERNATIONAL ENGAGEMENT AND THE ROLE OF LANGUAGE AT THE UNITED NATIONS – TSHEGOFATSO M. P. RAMACHELA

Image: Matthew TenBruggencate (Unsplash)

Introduction

The African continent is home to 1.3 billion people in 54 countries, speaking over 2000 languages. Yet these languages and dialects are rarely used by African leaders to convey their agendas in international forums. By contrast, non-African leaders and representatives from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America often speak a language which is familiar to them when engaging in international dialogue, and rely on translators to convey their message. It is the intention of this article to highlight the inherent power dynamic in the use of language as a means of cultural expression, identity and power projection. This article will demonstrate the manner in which the use of language at the United Nations (UN) privileges only a hand full of nations and entrenches power asymmetry amongst its member states. Furthermore, this article will identify the underlying reasons for the sole use of English by African leaders as the language of communication in international engagements. Finally, it is the intention of this article to demonstrate the potential, language possesses in creating jobs for young Africans in the international system.

Language assumes several roles within the social world and its interpretations differ amongst various social actors. Social identities are created and expressed through language. Thus, language is both an instrument of representation as well as socialisation. Often, the role that language plays in the constitution of cultural subjectivities is unacknowledged. Language is not only a vehicle of culture and an expression of identity, but also an instrument which enables the projection of power. It is significantly responsible for shaping society and social relationships. Language itself is very emotive and may be politically loaded. The supranational body that is the UN has six official languages these include English, Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish and Russian. This reflects a major issue with the structure of the UN. An institution revered for its international multilateralism and its dedication to diplomacy, yet it excludes a bulk of its member states in its recognition of merely six languages. This is not to say that only the officially recognised languages may be used at the UN, however it is necessary to enquire and ask why only six languages were adopted by the UN. As an alternative, why did the UN not adopt a system in which the most spoken language from each member state or region is officially recognised by the organisation? In the process, creating a space which is more inclusive and pluralistic. The widespread usage of the six languages mentioned above, prompted the UN recognition of these languages. Yet there are many other languages which are widely used, perhaps not as widely as the official six UN languages, but used nonetheless. For an international organisation as large as the UN with its 154 member states, six official languages are nowhere near an adequate system of representation. The privileged languages of the UN are but one aspect of its structure which disadvantages many if not all the countries of the Global South. The composition of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the veto powers of its five permanent members constitute major factors which disadvantage the bulk of UN member states. These officially designated languages correspond largely with the dominant languages of the five powerful veto wielding states in the UNSC.

From the late nineteenth century to the third quarter of the twentieth century, much of Africa was under British and French colonial rule. Consequently, both English and French are spoken in the bulk of African countries. However, this is not to imply that the majority of Africans speak nor understand these two Indo-European languages, as roughly only 18 percent of Africans speak English and/or French. Perhaps one of the most enduring features of Eurocentric hegemony in Africa today, is the Western education system and the European structures which exist in African universities. Today, the main language of instruction used in most educational systems in Africa is English, followed by French. Yet this works to the disadvantage to the majority of Africans who do not speak these languages. The implications of this, engender inequalities amongst Africans and entrench inequitable access to services and other amenities including the vital job market. As a consequence of this educational system and the UN recognition of only six languages, African leaders have adopted a conformist approach at the UN meetings. In order to accommodate their non-African counterparts, African heads of state and representatives use English and/or French as the language of communication, as opposed to their own mother tongue. 

In a highly globalised world, it is advantageous to adopt the use of an internationally recognised language when engaging at the international level. It is both convenient and facilitatory to communicate in English as it is a widely spoken language and thus an intermediary or third party is not always necessary to translate. However, this places a number of international actors at a severe disadvantage as English may not be their first language nor one that they are comfortable using. Were African leaders and representatives to begin addressing international forums in their own languages as opposed to solely in the English or French language, a greater space for socio-cultural exchange will take form. This shift would facilitate a number of job opportunities in the international system for young multilingual individuals. This would not only open up the diplomatic sphere to young and aspiring international workers, but it would also prompt individuals to learn more languages. Furthermore, the facilitation of translator positions provides young scholars, particularly those of international relations, with the opportunity to travel and familiarise themselves with the diplomatic environment. In the last quarter of 2020, South Africa’s official unemployment rate stood at 32.5 percent, that equates to approximately 7.2 million unemployed persons. The youth, those with tertiary level education and those without, remain the most vulnerable in the South African labour market, as the unemployment rate among this group is more than 50 percent. The high rate of youth unemployment in South Africa (SA) is one of the most pressing socio-economic issues, this coupled with issues of corruption continues to affect the relationship between the government and the public. One of the solutions to the problem of unemployment in SA, is to create job opportunities for the youth in the international system. 

Conclusion

The utility of the UN as a forum for international negotiations, multilateralism, an instrument of peace, development and security as well as its role in promoting and protecting human rights cannot be ignored. However, its anachronistic structure and the composition of the Security Council continues to entrench the long-standing power asymmetry among its members. Its structure does not represent the current global architecture, rather it represents the interests of the hegemonic forces of days past, who continue to dominate the present international system. This coupled with the often-unacknowledged issue of its privileged languages, reflects the inherent asymmetry between its member states and poor representation. In order to address the issue of language and inequality at a global level, African leaders must first identity and address the issues at a national level. There is a pressing need to further decolonise education systems across the African continent, both in terms of their structure and curriculum. Education is the most fundamental basis for individual and collective development, but it is also a basic human right of every individual, to be provided with a good quality education. Access to education in Africa is a persisting issue, and alongside barriers such as poverty, instability and inequality, language presents another unnoticed barrier. Language is powerful and the ability to use language symbolically and as a tool of communication is a dimension of power. This should be part and parcel of the core concerns of the restructuring and transformation agenda of the UN on the quest for equitable representation. 

Tshegofatso Ramachela is a certified paralegal and has an undergraduate degree in International Studies, Political Sciences and History from the University of Pretoria. She is a humanitarian, an intersectional postcolonial feminist and an aspiring international development and peace worker, who hopes to one day be a Doctoral student. Tshegofatso is a permanent member of The Art of Politics writing staff.

INTRARACIAL INEQUALITY IN SOUTH AFRICA – TOKOLOGO RAMODIBE

Image: Markus Spiske (Unsplash)

South Africa (SA) is a country that is renowned for great things, however, it is also conversely known for a few not-so-great things, of which inequality is ostensibly one. Inequality in SA has its roots in colonialism and Apartheid, where the chasm – particularly between black and white people – was deliberately created through state policy. Such inequality has in some ways continued unabated in post-Apartheid SA. In fact, according to the 2018 World Inequality Report released by the World Inequality Database, SA is one of the most unequal countries in the world. Such a statistic was further corroborated in 2019 by StatsSA in its own report – titled Inequality Trends in South Africa: A Multidimensional Diagnostic of Inequality – that showed that one of the causes of SA’s inequality was the stark wage gap among its race groups, particularly between white and black South Africans.

To be sure, interracial inequality in SA is something that is well-known not only nationally, but internationally as well, with a large number of empirical literature on the topic in existence. This is probably because interracial inequality has had a long-existing presence in the country. In this sense, the spotlight on SA’s interracial inequality has long been focused on. What perhaps has received less focus, is intraracial inequality, or inequality within a single race. This is particularly concerning, considering that intraracial inequality equally contributes as much as, if not more, towards SA’s overall interracial inequality. In addition, intraracial inequality, particularly among black South Africans, has been increasing. This is evidenced by the fact that between 2006 and 2015 inequality amongst the black community rose from 0.54 to 0.57 on the Gini coefficient. A Gini coefficient of 0.00 represents absolute equality and 1.00 represents absolute inequality this highlights that inequality amongst black people has magnified. 

What is gravely alarming is that somehow this increase of intraracial inequality in SA is the higher amongst black South Africans than any other group despite that same demographic being the most disadvantaged compared to its counterparts. What has caused the growing chasm amongst black South Africans? The possible answer to such a question is twofold. Firstly, income inequality is a major cause of inequality. That is to say that inequality in income and earnings is directly proportional to inequality. Indeed, this is true when analysing black intraracial inequality in SA. The top 10% of black South African earners accumulated 7 times as much income as the bottom 40% combined. Consequently, by out-earning the bottom 40%, the top 10% of black South Africans have gotten richer while the bottom 40% have gotten poorer, giving rise to a marked and noticeable black elite. 

Secondly, working in tandem with income inequality is government policy as well as government corruption. While StatsSA, in its report, correctly attributes the cause and continuation of SA’s interracial inequality to apartheid government policy, it does err by accrediting intraracial inequality in SA to the same Apartheid policy. In this instance, StatsSA errs because it is not plausible that the same Apartheid policy that is keeping the bulk of black people in the country poor, unemployed and without income is also concurrently producing a growing black elite who are the exact opposite. A more plausible reason for the growth of this black elite class is the post-Apartheid government policy that is geared towards eradicating Apartheid-engineered inequality which has, ironically, proliferated intraracial inequality from 48% in 1993 to 62% in 2008 particularly black intraracial inequality. What surely has not helped is the manipulation of government policy by those politically connected who seek only to line their pockets. Indeed, as Khusela Diko and Smuts Ngonyama – who ‘didn’t struggle to be poor’ – have shown, the politically connected have corrupted government policy for personal gain. 

The essential point of the discussion above was to highlight how income inequality and government policy have played a great part in not only widening the intraracial gap among black South Africans, but perhaps even causing the gap. If this is accepted to be true, then two things can be concluded from that. Firstly, if the gap continues to widen it may suggest that understanding inequality in SA may require a more intersectional approach as the racial approach alone cannot provide the necessary explanations. The intraracial gap highlights that class is an increasingly important way of understanding inequality in the country because it is the basis of class that separates the black elite and working-class black South Africans and not race. Furthermore, class explains access, or the lack thereof, to economic and social opportunities such as ownership, income, and employment. This is not to say that race should no longer be used as a lens when trying to understand inequality in SA, but that a more an intersectional and multidimensional lens that includes race, class, gender etc. is better suited.  

Secondly, if income inequality and government policy are to be accepted as playing a pivotal role in causing a black intraracial gap, then it suggests that there has been a failure on the part of the African National Congress (ANC)-led government to eradicate the perpetuity of black poverty. Such a failure can only be blamed on the fact that the politically connected have, and are, benefitting from said black poverty. Certainly, as Tshepo Madlingozi stated in his article, the black ruling class ‘have an interest in maintaining a world of apartness’. Instead of dislodging the Apartheid-engineered economic dualism between white and black people, or what Thabo Mbeki described as ‘two nations, one black and the other white’, the ANC-led government has further deepened inequality and apartness in the country by creating its own ‘two nations’ consisting of a black elite on the one hand and the poverty-stricken black working-class on the other. The implication of this is that the realisation of black liberation, and economic liberation as a result, is being impeded upon because the existence of any elite, including a black elite, blocks the realisation of such liberation.

Tokologo Ramodibe is a graduate, who is completing his Masters in International Relations at the University of Witwatersrand. His interests include diplomacy, gender studies and human rights. He hopes to one day pursue a career in the foreign diplomatic service.

THE EUROPEAN UNION’S APPROACH TO IRREGULAR MIGRATION IN THE MEDITERRANEAN – TSHEGOFATSO M. P. RAMACHELA

Image: Lāsma Artmane (Unsplash)

Introduction

The number of migrants making the journey across the Mediterranean sea to Europe has risen significantly over the last few years and continues to rise. Subsequently, the European Union’s response to the matter has been less than admirable, as it has chosen to neglect its responsibilities in the Mediterranean and often pursue means to deter migrants and refugees from seeking asylum in Europe. Consequently, several migrants have drowned in the Central Mediterranean. Thus, it is the intention of this article to assess the European Union’s policy as well as its approach to irregular migration in the Mediterranean. In doing so, this article will assess the approaches undertaken by certain European Union (EU) member states to irregular migration and the implications of these approaches. 

Migration in the Mediterranean has been mostly irregular migration, this refers to the movement of persons outside the parameters of the legal frameworks of international law and regulations. This has taken on two main forms, economic migration, migrants who are generally in search of economic opportunities, namely employment and political migration, this refers to political refugees, fleeing from conflict or persecution in their own countries. Granted they are given asylum, political refugees are even more vulnerable than those migrating for economic reasons as they often lack the necessary expertise/skills to gain employment and are thus vulnerable to discrimination and exploitation on the labour market. Migration in the EU is divided into two types, intra-community migration from one member state to another and extra-community migration, this refers to migration outside the EU space. The former has been the main concern of the United Kingdom (UK) expressed through BREXIT (the withdrawal of the UK from the EU), while the latter has remained a priority of the EU as a whole, specifically the states most affected by irregular migration in the Mediterranean, this includes Italy, Greece, Malta, and Spain. Since the 2015 migration crisis (Europe’s biggest influx of migrants and refugees since the second World War), EU member states have failed to reach an agreement on an approach to irregular migration, as a result tensions between its member states and divergent approaches have hampered efforts to address mass migration.

In terms of its migration policy, the EU continues to outsource border management. To confront the issue of irregular migration the EU and its member states have adopted a policy of externalisation, this entails externalising its migration and asylum policies. The externalisation of migration controls refers to unilateral, bilateral and/or multilateral state engagement to prevent migrants from entering the legal jurisdictions or sovereign territories of destination states. Through a series of readmission agreements with third countries, the EU has facilitated the readmission of third-country nationals living in Europe to their home countries. It initially shifted the responsibility of hosting asylum seekers to non-EU states on the Western Balkan migration route and then to Turkey. Moreover, the EU renewed its efforts to establish migration partnerships with African countries. Certain EU member states have fully adopted this externalisation policy, namely Italy. The number of refugees (most of whom come from war-torn Libya), that have arrived in Italy this year has tripled since 2019, when the figure stood at approximately 11 000. Most rescued migrants are disembarked in Italy’s ports; as a result, Italy has undertaken bilateral actions to reduce the flow of migration, often cooperating with Libya. Moreover, Italy has been pushing back migrants from international waters away from its legal jurisdiction and towards Libya.  This is a violation of the principle of non-refoulement, which under international human rights law prevents a state from returning asylum seekers to a country where they may likely face persecution. Many of the refugees in Libya often come from other war-torn countries like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan and Eritrea, these refugees pass through and take refuge in Libya en route to Europe. 

In an attempt to prevent migration in the Mediterranean, the EU has not only ceased its Search and Rescue (SAR) activities, which it believes constitutes a pull-factor, it has also criminalised private sea rescues. Consequently, migrants, many of whom have drowned, have been left afloat in the Central Mediterranean unable to disembark due to EU bureaucratic politics. This leaves rescue boats in the sea for days until eventually one of the EU member states accepts the responsibility to host these migrants. The EU’s withdrawal from rescue operations constitutes a blatant disregard of its responsibility in the region and a violation of international law and international human rights law. The EU has not only withdrawn from SAR activities, but it has also began using drones to monitor irregular activities at sea. Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency has invested in drones to monitor migrants from afar, thus avoiding its responsibility to assist those in distress. Consequently, several refugees have drowned in the Central Mediterranean, this year alone the death toll has risen to over 900. The agency has also been accused of complicity in pushbacks aimed at preventing migrants from crossing the Aegean Sea. Cessation of EU sea patrols has done nothing to curb irregular migration, but rather it has promoted increased illicit activities such as the smuggling and trafficking of migrants. Presently, the COVID-19 pandemic serves as a justification for the EU to prevent the disembarkation of migrants from rescue boats in the name of its national security and that of its people. 

Conclusion

The EU’s inability to devise a coherent policy framework and collective strategies towards irregular migration in the Mediterranean has not only highlighted its bureaucratic inefficiencies and internal divisions but has also created a major human rights crisis in the Mediterranean. Its attitude towards migration, its framing of the matter and its policy have fuelled anti-migrant sentiments in Europe, and entrenched the discourse of ‘othering’, the idea of an ‘us versus them’. This in turn, has very serious implications on the treatment of migrants once they reach Europe’s borders, it has resulted in the demonisation of migrants and perpetuated a cycle of migrant abuse. The main issue remains the avoidance by the EU and its member states to fulfil their international responsibilities. With regards to migration, are the substantive normative principles of the EU, specifically those which enshrine ‘associative human rights’ and ‘social solidarity’ merely rhetoric? Perhaps the EU places its regional security and the national security of its member states above the protection of human rights, specifically those of migrants. The EU’s withdrawal from SAR activities on the basis that they constitute a pull factor clearly lacks corroboration, as irregular migration has continued regardless of the EU’s migration strategies and policy to dissuade migration. Human insecurity is a major contributing factor of forced migration. As long as poverty, environmental crises and conflict persist in Africa and the rest of the developing world, irregular migration to the developed world will continue. The same phenomenon is observable in resettlements in Africa and the Middle East, with many fleeing from war-torn countries seeking refuge in Turkey or in African states, most notably Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and South Sudan. Is the pattern of mass migration to Europe perhaps not poetic justice? In a way, the increase in irregular migration seems to be an ironic redress of the injustices of colonialism and a reclamation of the development Africa was so unjustly denied. The question is, do Africans have a right to claim access to Europe and on what basis? European migrants are accommodated in Africa, yet African migrants are not afforded the same access to the EU space, why is that? In truth, conflict, insecurity and underdevelopment in the Periphery countries of the Global South, specifically in Africa are a long-lasting legacy of European imperial domination and colonial exploitation.

The responsibility to address these matters may primarily lay with periphery countries however, the support of developed countries is necessary. The responsibility to address mass migration lies with both the state of origin and the receiving state. Migration is not the problem, rather it is an underlying issue of persisting socio-economic and political issues. It is a matter of morality, human rights and political consideration combined. If Europe truly seeks to curb irregular migration in the Mediterranean, it must relinquish its contradictory objectives which fuel conflict and hinder progress and development in Africa. The EU must adopt a multi-pronged strategy in cooperation with developing states in order to appropriately manage its migration responsibilities. This policy needs to address and remedy the complex web of push factors as well as increase the EU’s efforts to share the responsibility of hosting migrants within its region.     

Tshegofatso Ramachela is a certified paralegal and has an undergraduate degree in International Studies, Political Sciences and History from the University of Pretoria. She is a humanitarian, an intersectional postcolonial feminist and an aspiring international development and peace worker, who hopes to one day be a Doctoral student. Tshegofatso is a permanent member of The Art of Politics writing staff.