The Scramble For Europe by Stephen Smith

The Blurb On The Back:

From the harrowing situation of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean in rubber dinghies to the crisis on the US-Mexico border, mass migration is one of the most urgent issues facing our societies today.  At the same time, viable solutions seem ever more remote, with the increasing polarisation of public attitudes and political positions.

In this book, Stephen Smith focuses on ‘young Africa’ – 40 per cent of its population are under fifteen – and a dramatic demographic shift.  Today, 510 million people live inside EU borders, and 1.25 billion in Africa.  In 2050, 450 million Europeans will face 2.5 billion Africans – five times their number.  The demographics are implacable.  The scramble for Europe will become as inexorable as the ‘scramble for Africa’ was at the end of the nineteenth century, when 275 million people lived north and only 100 million lived south of the Mediterranean.  Then it was all about raw materials and national pride, now it is about young Africans seeking a better life on the Old Continent, the island of prosperity within their reach.  If Africa’s migratory patterns follow the historic precedents set by other less developed parts of the world, in thirty years a quarter of Europe’s population will be Afro-Europeans.  Addressing the question of how Europe can cope with an influx of this magnitude, Smith argues for a path between the two extremes of today’s debate.  He advocates migratory policies of ‘good neighbourhood’ equidistant from guilt-Rudder self-denial and nativist egotism.

This sobering analysis of the migration challenges we now face will be essential reading for anyone concerns with the great social and political questions of our time.  

You can order The Scramble For Europe by Stephen Smith from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Stephen Smith is Professor of African Studies at Duke University and spent 30 years as a journalist in Africa.  His book is strong on the human geography of Africa, particularly the problems of its youthful population, the tensions with gerocentric political structures and the levers encouraging migration to Europe and America but is weak on how to address this and at times he offers up literary tangents that give colour but no facts.  

I picked this up because I’ve been trying to read more on the migration and refugee crisis that has increasingly come to dominate the news cycles within both the US and Europe in recent years and thought this would be a good way of learning more about the African dimension to the migration crisis.

Smith certainly has a lot of experience within the continent, and his feel for the cultural and economic push-me-pull-yous between young and old really comes through within the text.  Also good is how he points out the problems in measuring population within African countries and how a lot of it is essentially educated guess work due to the unreliability of the census counts (something that I had not previously realised).  What comes through within the text is how young and old are at odds within many of the continent’s countries and that the desire for a better life is driven in part by access to the internet and consumption media.  Also clear is that migratory patterns have so far largely been to specific African nations rather than an en masse move across the Mediterranean.  In fact, I think that the back cover blurb is a little misleading in this respect because what is clear is that the 2015 migration crisis was driven by the war in Syria rather than African migration (which is not to deny that there were migrants from Eritrea and other nations, but certainly not in as great a number).

I thought that Smith offers a good analysis of the political issues within a number of different African nations to explain why the youth feel stymied, notably Nigeria.  He’s also right to point out that Europe, by contrast, will soon be facing a major issue due to its ageing population, although he is not so uncouth as to suggest that Africa’s surplus should be viewed as a solution to this.  As he correctly points out, there are a number of sensitivities and issues with taking in a migrant population, not just on the part of the host country but also due to the expectations of migrant labour and their relationship with existing communities.  However, he doesn’t really offer up much in the way of potential policy solutions other than lamenting how losing its youth will cause damage to Africa as a continent in the long run and that, for me, was a disappointment.

I also wasn’t convinced by the way that Smith tries to bring popular culture and African literature into his analysis.  He quotes from a number of African writers (including Chris Abani and the legend on Sundiata Keita) and western films about Africa, including Out of Africa and while these do bring some colour to the text (which I found a little dry and academic in places), I’m not sure that they really added anything to his arguments and at times they read like odd tangents.

Ultimately, I did find some of this book useful and felt that I came away with more information about what will always be a difficult topic, but it is a frustrating read that’s not immediately accessible (surprising given Smith’s career as a journalist) and it all seemed just a bit wishy-washy.  

THE SCRAMBLE FOR EUROPE was released in the United Kingdom on 26th April 2019.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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