Voluntary colonialism anyone?

A controversial proposal by a German minister that foreign powers acquire land in Africa to curb migration has been rejected by the African Union.

26 November 2018 | International

Vountary colonialism: That's the solution a German minister has offered to end migration from Africa to Europe. The proposal calls for foreign powers to acquire land in Africa.

The European Union, or a body like the World Bank, should build and run cities in Africa in order to boost job creation and development on the continent, Germany's minister for Africa, Gunter Nooke, told the BBC in an interview in which he outlined his thinking on how to stem migration to Europe.

This will mean African countries leasing their land to a foreign body to “allow free development for 50 years,” Mr Nooke said.

But the AU says “it's a lazy answer to concerns about migration” and “implies that Africa needs to give up sovereignty”.

The suggestion has also sparked a lot of criticism on social media.

It is a controversial idea, rejected by critics as reeking of colonialism. But others - like Carol Musyoka, an academic at Strathmore Business School, one of Kenya's top universities - are open to the concept.

In a BBC interview, Musyoka described the proposal as “fascinating”, and said she would support it if it was a genuine attempt to ensure that Africans - not foreign powers - benefited.

American Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer developed the idea a decade ago.

In 2009, he said developing countries should consider surrendering part of their territory to foreign states which would then build what he called “charter cities” from the ground up.

The cities, he added, would operate under a set of laws separate from the host country.

In 2008, Madagascar's then-president Marc Ravalomanana expressed interest in implementing the plan in the Indian Ocean island following a meeting with Romer.

He said two such cities would be built where locals and migrants from neighbouring states could live.

The opposition accused Ravalomanana of treason, and organised protests which killed the idea and helped trigger his downfall in 2009.

Honduras' then-president Porfirio Lobo Sosa also expressed support for the idea, saying in 2011 that “charter cities” would improve the lives of Hondurans by offering competitive jobs, better health and education, and a “top class” legal and security system.

The independent Honduran La Prensa newspaper said at the time that the plan would make the country “the Hong Kong of Central America”.

Sosa failed to implement it, following a backlash from critics opposed to Honduras losing control over its territory.

As in Europe, migration is a toxic political issue in the Americas and many Hondurans are part of the migration caravan moving towards the US border.

The current Honduran government hopes that the creation of what it calls special economic zones (SEZs) will boost development.

Although it has not fully outlined its plans, it has said that the SEZs would fall under foreign laws and foreign judges as this would make Honduras more attractive to Western investors.

“We believe that when these special economic zones come to life and people see how successful they are in terms of generating employment, the politicians from all the states [in Honduras] will ask for it,” economics minister Arnaldo Castillo told the BBC.

But resistance to the idea remains strong, with many poor Hondurans believing the SEZs will only benefit the rich, and will create extended gated communities which will living under rules separate from the rest of the country, Fajardo said.

Thousands of Hondurans have been fleeing the country in search of a better life in the US

Romer, in a 2011 TED Talk, argued that foreign-run cities could be a model of efficient governance and offer a good quality of life, stopping people from migrating for economic reasons. Some proponents of the idea see Hong Kong as a model. They argue that the Chinese territory owes its economic development to when it was under British control between 1841 and 1997.

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