European and African leaders gathering in Ivory Coast have an opportunity to confront one of the biggest sore points between the two continents: migration.
The two-day African Union-European Union summit begins Wednesday as Europe is grappling to stem the biggest wave of asylum seekers since World War II, with more people arriving by sea from African countries this year than from war-torn Syria. Anxiety over migration has stoked populism in Europe and driven electoral gains by far-right parties from France to Hungary.
“For the Europeans, it’s a priority because it’s also a domestic political issue and their electorate is very sensitive to this question,” said Gilles Yabi, head of policy group Wathi in Senegal’s capital, Dakar.
Yet few African leaders want to be seen as curbing migration in a region where going overseas is often considered a rite of passage and remittances are vital for economic survival. That’s why African Union member states favor talks that touch on broader issues such as economic development, security and trade relations, according to Yabi.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected to attend the summit in Abidjan. Among African leaders to join the talks are Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari and South African President Jacob Zuma.
Africa will only persuade its young people to stay if there are prospects for economic development on the continent, Moussa Faki Mahamat, president of the African Union Commission, told Radio France Internationale last week.
“We have to start at the root of the problem, with development, with concrete projects,” Mahamat said.
The views of African and European leaders on migration are fundamentally at odds, the International Crisis Group said in a report last month. “The European Union is doggedly focused on trying to prevent irregular migration, whereas the African Union is looking for ways to increase legal flows,” the Brussels-based research group said.
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