Thomas Meaney hat in London Review of Books das Buch von Stephen Smith besprochen, auf das wir in einem früheren Post bereits eingegangen sind. Auf Englisch ist das Buch unter dem Titel „The Scamble for Europe“ erschienen.

Aus der Besprechung zitieren wir hier die auf die Border-Externalisation der EU bezogenen Passagen. Schon der erste Satz dieser Besprechung sei der politischen Klasse ins Stammbuch geschrieben.

The Sahara is one of the few places on earth no one has been foolish enough to try to conquer. There have, however, been attempts, over the centuries, to govern it. In Ghat, one of the last Libyan towns in the Fezzan before the desert takes over, there are vestiges of efforts to bring the land to order: Bedouin trails that date from the Middle Ages; a rough-hewn fortress, started by the Ottomans and finished by Italian Fascists, that overlooks the hollowed-out ruins of a medina below. The traders, militiamen, shop owners and tour operators here have a range of views about Europe’s rekindled interest in their region. For some, it is the promise of a better livelihood: to get their share of the vast amount of money the EU is now pouring into North Africa, or at least to recoup the losses that followed Nato’s destruction of Gaddafi’s distribution networks. (When Gaddafi’s son was released from prison two years ago, the citizens of Ghat celebrated in the streets with gunfire.) For others, new electronic fences, biometric scanning stations, military outposts and an increasing number of European soldiers are signs that delicate circuits of kinship and commerce are being disrupted. At a makeshift café in a petrol station on the outskirts of Ghat I met a Tuareg man associated with a local militia. ‘They get tired, they want to leave,’ he said of the European forces, as if their arrival was a nuisance rather than a paradigm shift.

Since the start of the Libyan and Syrian civil wars in 2011, European policy towards North Africa has stepped up another gear. In Agadez, an old trading town in central Niger, hundreds of white pick-up trucks lie impounded at a military base. They are the former cash cows of men who made their living transporting their fellow West Africans across Niger and the Sahara towards Libya, but who now, if they aren’t in prison, try to pass as entrepreneurs in a mostly non-existent start-up economy. On the Niger-Mali border, more than two hundred miles to the west, temporary villages have been built with EU and UN funding for those fleeing uncertainty in Mali, itself a consequence of Nato’s intervention in Libya. Women and men line up to have their fingerprints remembered by machines to help the state keep track of them – scanning is required if you want to be offered housing. In Niamey, Niger’s capital, French and UN specialists assess asylum claims at a distance of several thousand miles from the French coast, with only the most plausible applicants approved for the onward journey. It’s the sort of offshore processing that the UK Border Force can only envy.

The reconnaissance drones, border fences and scanning stations across the Sahara and the Sahel form only part of an expanding array of new technologies and strategies that Europe’s humanitarian agencies, corporations and militaries have devised to keep Africans and their goods where they are, or to return them to where they came from. Since 2011, an ongoing UN operation called Minusma – Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali – has deployed more than 12,500 troops to North Africa. French soldiers involved in Operation Barkhane, Minusma’s anti-insurgency offshoot, have nominally been sent to mop up the chaos in central Mali, but their mandate has since been expanded and they now operate anti-migrant patrols. Meanwhile, multilateral operations such as the EU Capacity Building Mission in Niger, headed by a former chief superintendent of the Belgian police, are increasingly popular among European states. They may find it hard to agree about much when it comes to their own continent, but on North African territory intra-EU co-operation is all the rage. Last year the Italian parliament voted to divert a battalion from the Middle East to Niger; Germany has sent a thousand troops to West Africa, with the Bundeswehr now operating a military camp in Niamey.

The dirtier work is still left to proxies. […]

The militarisation of large sections of North Africa has been a bonanza for the global security industry. […]

European politicians are convinced that the survival of the European project depends on limiting African movement and fecundity. There is little need to look to the right for evidence of this fear when it comes as readily to the lips of the continent’s purportedly centrist leaders. […]

Some dance partners, like Niger, perform the required steps with perfect fidelity. At the 2015 Valletta Summit on Migration – the first major conference of European leaders after the start of the so-called migration crisis – Niger’s president, Mahamadou Issoufou, presented a set of measures he would undertake to keep refugees from Niger out of Europe. […]

Government officials in Niger are fluent in the language of humanitarianism, regularly soothing the consciences of Western journalists. I met Kalla Moutari, the defence minister, at Pilier, a restaurant in the Deizeibon district of Niamey that could have been transplanted straight from interwar Paris. Liveried waiters rolled dessert carts sprayed with mosquito repellent, while security men sat outside in the dust watching a TV programme about English vocabulary. I asked Moutari whether the human trafficking law that came into effect in 2016 had benefited Niger. ‘We had a severe humanitarian catastrophe in the north,’ he told me. ‘We had people dying up there, getting killed, risking our relations with our neighbours. Algeria, you know, sends people right back into the desert, but we don’t do that – that’s not our way. The Algerians think that it’s better when unwanted people disintegrate in the desert than when they drown in the Mediterranean in front of the cameras.’ Niger had recently deported migrants to Sudan. ‘Sometimes you have to send a message,’ he smiled. I asked him about the EU technicians who help draft the agenda for cabinet meetings in Niamey. ‘When you are as poor as we are,’ he said, ‘what is needed is knowledge, financing, money – we need it all.’

Rentier humanitarianism of this kind is on the rise in North Africa’s halls of government. It pays to speak the language of human rights, and to indulge European nightmares about vast smuggling networks that make no distinction between young girls and cigarettes. But the rhetorical recalibration has come at a cost. In carrying out the anti-smuggling agenda of European states Niger’s government must find a way of compensating the country’s extensive network of freelance transporters, or else write them off as political constituents altogether. Until 2015, the smuggling network, which among other things was responsible for supplying Gaddafi’s modernisation projects with Western African labour, was a multimillion-dollar business. It fit few of the stereotypes attributed to it by the Western media. As the political scientist Max Gallien has shown, just because an economy is informal doesn’t mean it’s unregulated. For more than thirty years, the borders of Saharan states have been controlled zones of carefully choreographed illicit trade.

When I drove through the Tunisian border town of Ben Gardane last November, the roads were lined with multicoloured mountains of plastic petrol canisters, along with rows of cars dramatically jacked up into the air, waiting to be turned into mechanised camels for contraband. Patrol officers make a show of sizing up suspicious vehicles, knowing that even the tiniest, rusted-out Fiat may be equipped with an extra petrol tank to carry cheap fuel out of militia-controlled Libya into petrol-poor Tunisia. The bribes paid at checkpoints are settled via negotiations between Libyan traffickers, Tunisian wholesalers and Tunisian and Libyan police. Everyone knows that traffickers carrying more than $2000 worth of merchandise have to pay a fixed bribe. Everyone knows that you need a doctor’s note for medical supplies, and that alcohol – even, as Gallien notes, the alcohol in sanitary towels – makes the price go up. These networks experienced a shock when Gaddafi fell; most of them quickly rebounded. Yet the demonisation of smugglers by the Western press – more interested in the evils of individual characters than any consideration of political economy – has been decisive in the treatment of the ‘European refugee crisis’, which can only be alleviated one bad actor at a time. […]

In tone, if not in argument, Stephen Smith’s Scramble for Europe belongs to the crisis literature that began to appear in 2015 after Merkel’s decision to allow more refugees into Germany than EU burden-sharing rules required. […]

London Review of Books Vol. 41 | 07.11.2019

„Who is Your Dance Partner?“