(Editorial written by Samir ABI and published by the German newspaper “Taz” on 28 June 2017 within the framework of the Global Forum on Migration and Development in Berlin: https://www.taz.de/Archiv-Suche/!5423914&s=samir+abi&SuchRahmen=Print/)
More than a quarter of a century after its fall, the Berlin wall remains in the collective conscience as one of the most memorable events of the last century. The shame it represented and the expressions of joy that characterized its demolition are forever engraved in our memories. At the time of the wall’s fall, in 1989, I was still a young boy living in Togo and in admiration of Europe and its values of freedom and democracy. And, as was the case for many young Togolese, Germany was the country we most admired.
As historical fate would have it, my country “Togo” was given its name by the German colonists. Following in the footsteps of the other European nations scrambling to conquer African lands, the Chancellor Bismarck sent Dr Gustav Nachtigal to negotiate “treaties of Cooperation” with the royal families that lived on the lands that the Germans were to call “Togoland”. And that is how the country named “Togo” came to be born and of which I am currently a passport holder. Although Togo was later to become a French colony, the people of these lands have always continued to hold a special affection for Germans who gave Togo its main national road network and railway system, its capital Lomé and its first development plans. In spite of the German troops’ brutality in crushing all the peoples who refused to sign “cooperation treaties” with these European migrant “invaders” of their day, the Togolese people still remember the efficiency of the German work ethic and their pragmatic self-management of the “model colony” that “Togoland” was in their eyes.
As an heir to this history, and the fact that Berlin in Germany has been a venue for the Global Forum on Migration and Development, I am prompted to share our common past with the German people. In recent years, Germany has also proved to be the European country that has supported the Togolese people the most, particularly in their fight for democracy during the nineties. Fleeing the repression of those dreadful years of terror, Togolese political opponents found refuge in Germany where they were able to continue their fight to establish the Togolese people’s will for democratic alternation. Now, as migrants, rather than refugees, they contribute 10% to Togo’s GDP through their transfer of remittances. But such memories of this common past are now superseded by the bitterness felt by many Togolese currently facing the walls that Germany is erecting with Africa.
The policy by which a large number of failed Togolese asylum seekers are expelled and a massive number of visa applications for Germany refused to Togolese citizens, is rapidly destroying the romantic idyll between the descendants of “Togoland” and Germany. The political rapprochement between Lomé and Berlin has also dampened ardour for Germany in Togo. The German government’s determination to gain an economic foothold in Africa, while ignoring whether democratic governance and respect for human rights are upheld by the African governments with which they sign the “cooperation treaties”, is continually denounced by civil society both in Germany and in Africa. The new “Marshall Plan” that Germany is offering to certain African countries, where the guiding principle for cooperation between European countries and Africa is the pursuit of economic opportunities, is extra proof of a return to the days of colonial conquest.
With new “Berlin” walls being erected on the African continent as a result of the funding awarded to African countries by European countries, like France, Spain, Italy and Germany, to block the mobility of African people on their soil, the time has come to remobilize. As was the case in 1989 to achieve the fall of the Berlin wall. For this, the role of journalists in Europe, but also in Africa, is essential. Sound, images and pens provide journalists with the tools to raise public awareness and defeat the ideas propagated by fascist groups and parties that create situations of conflict between peoples to ensure the success of their own conquest for and conservation of power. It is, therefore, our duty to join the campaign launched by the German newspaper Taz (die Tageszeitung) and to use our pens as a powerful weapon to tear down the new “Berlin” walls. May these words inspire other to build more bridges between peoples and cultures throughout the world.
(Samir ABI is the Permanent Secretary of the West African Observatory on Migrations)