A food crisis is creating a new refugee crisis
Across Africa, the threats of population growth, resource scarcity, and conflict are endemic. Vast population movements have already occurred as a result. To date, the dominant trend has been sweeping rural-to-urban migration within the continent, as people flee the countryside for new horizons in teeming mega-cities like Lagos and Kinshasa, as well as dozens of ‘smaller’ cities with overwhelming growth rates like Luanda, Niamey, Kampala, and Dakar.
National governments, NGOs, and multinational organisations are striving to manage urban sprawl, stabilise rural areas, and create economic opportunity. Yet the fundamentals are insurmountable. There is no prospect of stabilisation across broad swathes of Africa’s rural interior. The militant networks and environmental stresses that wreak havoc across the Sahel are growing in power. Nor is there any prospect of African cities sustaining double-to triple-digit growth rates year after year. Demographic growth rates may have peaked a decade ago, but net growth is simply overwhelming.
Vladimir Putin’s deliberate disruption of global food supplies via the war on Ukraine is adding to an already dangerous conflagration. A food security catastrophe is imminent, and large-scale migration across the Mediterranean will be the inevitable result. In the months to come, the only open question is how far these migratory flows will dwarf those seen over the past decade, and the scale of the attendant human suffering.
In securing Europe’s southern flank, what can be done? The stabilisation of international food supplies is paramount, but will take time. In the interim, an essential step is to bring stability to Libya. Since NATO’s 2011 intervention to remove Gaddafi, Libya has been in chaos: the undisputed centre of gravity for illegal migration across the Mediterranean, a playground for international mercenaries, and a staging area and operational springboard for a host of terrorist networks.
At present, Libya is divided. Rival governments compete for legitimacy. Foreign mercenaries like Russia’s notorious Wagner Group run amok. The country’s vast energy sector is paralysed. The rule of law is compromised, enabling black marketeering by networks engaged in human trafficking, terrorism, and narcotics. The United Nations-backed government in Tripoli is neither transparent nor accountable. The current status of Libya poses an extraordinary latent risk to European security — which, if unresolved, will lead to catastrophe as African migration patterns shift.
The United Nations is a process-oriented institution, as distinct from being results-oriented. Its processes have failed to achieve results in Libya, as they have failed elsewhere time and again. Faced with the continuing chaos, Libya’s political institutions have looked to resolve their own problems. Earlier this year, they chose a new Prime Minister to stabilise the country and lead it to national elections. Their choice — the former Interior Minister Fatih Bashagha — understands the dangers posed by illegal migration and is on record as working to resolve the problem.
The incumbent prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, has refused to cede control. Instead of working toward Libya’s future, he has turned increasingly to Moscow for support. In a move that should be of great concern in European capitals, however, the United Nations has continued openly to support him, beholden as ever to continuity of process.
In Europe, unity of focus and action came too late to prevent disaster in Ukraine. Europe cannot afford to mount another retroactive, post-crisis campaign on its southern flank. The United Nations is supporting a failed prime minister who is clinging to power in pursuit of his own personal interests, while colluding in increased Russian influence on the ground. When migratory flows escalate, Europe cannot rely on his good faith or his competency in managing a crisis. Now is the time for decisive, forward looking action in Libya, to support a Libyan solution to Libya’s long-running challenges. This is an essential step to manage and mitigate the dangers that loom on the horizon.