The media show us regularly the drama of forced migration. It is characterized by gory images of tragedies such as the migrants at the border of Poland and Belarus, people affected by environmental disasters such as those in the Niger Delta, caravans of migrants crossing deserts to nowhere, death people trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the overcrowding of migrants in detention centres. However, these media outlets forget that the causes of forced migration start at the desks of political, economic, and financial decision-makers. This article aims to visualise the international context of the African continent, which allows investments in favour of a supposed development but which end up with the expulsion of millions of people from their homes and communities.
There are several relevant facts that have made Africa the object of rich countries’ greed like the facts that the continent has one third of the world’s mineral reserves, or that Africa has at least half of the world’s arable land. Moreover, I n terms of population, Africa is a young continent with more than 1.2 billion people, and by 2050 there will be almost 2 billion people, which makes Africa a continent with a consumption potential that allows for the assured expansion of the planet’s major economies.
Faced with these very general figures, capitalist logic wants to make its presence felt in Africa and provides solutions from the offices of investors and TNCs to improve production and alleviate poverty, but without taking people into account and without respecting the rights of local communities. For capitalist logic, the only objectives are to do away with subsistence and family farming, to create infrastructure and to make Africa part of the big market economies.
The International Organization for Migration identifies forced migration as migratory movements caused by a range of non-voluntary circumstances such as escape from persecution, natural and man-made disasters, ecological degradation, or other situations that threaten their existence. And such forced migration is classified into three categories: those caused by conflict, those caused by natural disasters and those caused by economic development.
The last type of forced migration ironically originates from economic development embarked upon by large companies and consented to by the political and administrative leaders of the countries affected. This type of forced migrations is not only caused by infrastructure megaprojects, but also by the location of certain companies, mineral or oil extracting companies, or agricultural companies on the site occupied by a population or a community. The activities of these companies end up destroying the environment and socio-economic life of the population and they are compelled to leave to look for greener pastures.
But how is it possible for TNCs’ activities to cause such forced displacement of populations when indeed they come with promises of better living conditions for the population?
Africa is crisscrossed by a multitude of multilateral political and economic agreements that favour the establishment of TNCs. Political agreements facilitate investment from wealthy investor countries by giving companies advantageous economic conditions, as well as the possibility of operating in the country without accountability, with tax advantages, and with dubious transparency of the benefits received and impunity in the execution of the projects. Unfortunately, when these treaties focus on the trade aspect, people’s rights are forgotten and lead to a destruction of traditional livelihoods and open a door to privatisation of public companies.
Transnational companies have been establishing themselves in Africa for decades and are responsible for the continuous plundering that the African population continues to suffer. We are therefore facing a new colonialism exercised by TNCs protected by trade treaties and that are provoking forced migrations. Thus, putting an end to forced migration requires the inclusion on the world stage of binding agreements that are firmly aimed at protecting the human rights of peoples and their communities. Moreover, as long as structural problems of corruption in the countries where human rights violations take place are not solved and impunity of TNCs are allowed to continue, the situation can only be expected to worsen.
Africa has the potential and capacity for development in itself and should not be dependent on political and economic arrangements that limit its freedom. These problems require internal legislative coherence within African countries, as well as limiting international political agreements that serve as an alibi and permissive legal framework for the economic activity of big business. Forced migration will continue to cause irreparable damage to African countries themselves if they do not protect their populations and let skilled people with cultural and human capital leave.
Finally, I believe that the existing legal mechanisms that could help to control the behaviour of large companies and respect for human rights are insufficient. The UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights as well as the OECD’s general guidelines for business are voluntary in nature. Therefore, direct obligations on the part of companies and an express legal recognition that allows the extraterritoriality of international law to prosecute conduct that violates human rights and causes forced migration are required. Only a commitment to solidarity that puts people and communities at the centre of political agreements can truly alleviate poverty and restore the damage caused.
José Luis Gutiérrez Aranda
AEFJN Advocacy Officer