The original version in French of this article was posted on 27 November, 2008
One of the most current controversial policies in France is that on “immigration and integration” initiated by former French Minister of Interior, Nicolas Sarkozy, and adopted by French parliament in May 2006. Even this morning, I was listening to RFI (Radio France Internationale), which was broadcasting a very lively debate over the issue.
Not surprisingly, most people in Africa and within French civil society tend to condemn this “selective immigration” policy that aims at easing the process of obtaining residency permits for very skilful African migrants such as artists, intellectuals, sportsmen, and businessmen (read article in French), while making it cumbersome for those without a potential to create some value added in France to get such precious documents.
Note that I am referring to Africans and not to foreigners in general because it is likely that Africans are the main targets of this immigration and integration law and not Indians, Chinese, Eastern Europeans ...who encounter fewer difficulties to socialise in France. The evidence is that France is now asking African countries to sign its agreement on “concerted immigration” in order to facilitate the deportation of undocumented Africans to their respective home countries. Hence, this easy conclusion: France will no longer welcome any African trying to escape from poverty and deprivation in his/her country, only the elite please!
As ever, African leaders failed to predict this decision by French government. It is only when the policy is in place that they set out to react by arguing against its fairness and by accusing France of intending to empty Africa’s skilled labour force. I suspect that most African leaders are yet to overcome their pains and bad memories from slavery and forced labour during the colonial period. Of course, I agree that parts of their arguments against the policy are right but let’s not deceive ourselves. What Nicolas Sarkozy is proposing to African leaders is nothing but a deal. And that reminds me of my Finance lecturer’s one favoured quotes: “In business, there is no such thing as a win–win contract; I win and you lose”. France always wins its agreements with Africa.
However, I’d like to acknowledge the ability of France to recognise that some Africans should be compensated for their skills. Africa itself seems not to be aware of its own potential. In most African countries, distinguished scholars are treated as they were insane, researchers are not listened to, technicians are underemployed, exceptional artists and sportsmen are exploited by their greedy managers, and clientelism is the rule in business. In short, there is no room for merit in Africa’s current social and economic environment.
The brain drain issue indicates, in my view, a state of bad governance in the source country. A State severely hit by brain drain phenomenon is inefficient in its human resources management. Poverty is rarely the main cause as poverty alone does not account for the lack of opportunities in a country. India is a case in point. For many years, India has seen its skilled workers fled to Great Britain and United States but this tendency was reverted when the country started to implement sound structural reforms that have sustained its ongoing growth.
As long as Africa does not succeed in setting up competitive and stable economic and social environment, many of its children will continue to value their skills in France or elsewhere. I guess African leaders should count on themselves to address many challenges for the future.
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