Europe, Immigration, recent, World Affairs

The New White Man’s Burden

In recent years, we have seen graphic and disturbing scenes of migrants attempting to cross into Europe as they flee the developing world. Especially poignant are the pictures of young, sub-Saharan African men scaling the barrier fences that surround the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco:

Leaving aside whether Spain should return these enclaves to Morocco, the determination of migrants bound for Europe is striking. They have illegally entered Morocco and, from there, are allowed to enter another country illegally—almost certainly with the tacit approval of the Moroccan authorities. Also striking is the sight of the young men crying “freedom” and wrapping themselves in the EU flag upon their arrival in these enclaves. In reality, they are anything but free, as it is highly unlikely that the Spanish authorities will grant them asylum and the right of abode. If it is determined that they are illegal economic migrants, they will be removed in due course. Even so, this is not a remotely sufficient deterrent.

We are often told that such images are an indictment of European heartlessness. It is less often pointed out that they are an indictment of those now ruling Europe’s former colonies more than half a century after independence. Almost without exception, post-colonial governance has been a disastrous failure. Some naively claim that the migrant crisis of recent years is the consequence of Western intervention in the countries from which so many are fleeing. But, for the most part, this is false. While it is true that significant numbers of migrants are from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the largest number since 2013 have been fleeing Syria’s civil war where Western military intervention has been minimal.

Nor are migrants from sub-Saharan Africa seeking refuge from Western-led military interventions. They are attempting to escape poverty, joblessness, corruption, and a lack of hope in their own countries created by their own rulers. Forty years after independence, the economy of Zimbabwe is on its knees. In November 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food warned that 60 percent of the population is “food-insecure,” that is, “the people of Zimbabwe are slowly getting to a point of suffering a man-made starvation.” [My emphasis.] That so many have attempted to cross into Europe—and that so many more will certainly follow—is understandable given that tens of millions from the developing world have already settled there. These migrants believe that their prospects will be vastly improved under the governance of Europe’s democratically elected leaders and the continent’s liberal institutions and laws. 

The number of people who hope to migrate is very large: a Gallup opinion poll conducted in December 2018 showed that 750 million people worldwide want to migrate permanently to another country—that’s 10 percent of the global population. The desired destinations of the vast majority are unsurprisingly Western Europe and North America. And the largest percentage of those polled between 2015 and 2017—33 percent—who said they wanted to migrate lived in sub-Saharan Africa. During the run-up to the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence in 2011, Jamaican newspaper the Gleaner reported that an astonishing “60 percent of Jamaicans held the view that the country would have been better off if it had remained a colony of Britain. Conversely, 17 per cent of those surveyed said the country would be worse off had it remained a colony of Britain, while 23 per cent said they did not know.”

A similar sentiment is likely to be found in many other former colonies in which decades of independence have not produced much progress. Indeed, the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership was launched in 2007 by the Sudanese billionaire Mo Ibrahim for precisely this reason. The prize may be won by former African Heads of State or Government who are judged by the following criteria: they must have left office in the last three years; they must have been democratically elected; they must have served a constitutionally mandated term; and they must have demonstrated exceptional leadership. The prize is a hefty initial sum of $5 million, followed by $200,000 every year for life. Nevertheless, in the years 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2018, no prize was awarded because no candidate had satisfactorily fulfilled these preconditions. This is another damning indictment.

It is unforgivable that the rulers of the countries from which citizens are attempting to enter Europe utter not a word when tragedy befalls unseaworthy vessels in the Mediterranean, and they make no effort to have the bodies of the dead returned home. Egregiously, the Western media falsely calls this Europe’s migrant crisis and focuses solely on the failings of European leaders and institutions. They studiously neglect to interrogate the regimes in the migrants’ own countries about this appalling reality, nor do they condemn their role in it or acknowledge that is their migrant crisis before it is Europe’s.

The occasional exception demonstrates the good this might do. It took a 2017 CNN report of Africans being traded in slave auctions for the Nigerian authorities to bring some of their citizens home. Nigeria is Africa’s largest country and it has a massive oil sector. With effective management, it could have been a prosperous nation. Instead, the reality has been the squandering of oil wealth by some of the world’s worst kleptocrats that might otherwise have contributed to an improvement of living standards.

It is tempting to wonder what percentage (a majority?) of the Nigerian population also believe their country would be better off had it remained a British colony. Certainly, a Victorian colonialist would crudely contend that this demonstrates the validity of what Rudyard Kipling called the “White Man’s Burden.” The full title of Kipling’s notorious 1899 poem is “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and the Philippine islands,” and it was written in an attempt to convince the US that Western men had a moral responsibility to colonise and civilise the Philippines.

Today the White Man’s Burden has been inverted—it is not the West’s duty to colonise but to welcome any and all migrants beseeching the white man (and woman) to provide what their own rulers will not: sufficient food, adequate housing, jobs, education, healthcare, and so on—the foundations of a happy and prosperous life. Though they rarely show it, the leaders of these failing states—be they democratically elected or not—ought to be thoroughly ashamed of this. But Western nations are reluctant to point this out, oppressed as they are by their own shameful history. And so self-flagellation takes the place of constructive criticism and action, and the pushes and pulls that motivate migration flows from the Global South to the North remain unaddressed. 

Meanwhile, it is becoming apparent that there are many Europeans who do not wish to bear this new White Man’s Burden—they find the notion morally detestable and they are beginning to elect politicians who feel the same. The influx of migrants in recent years has produced an inevitable backlash against mass immigration, zero tolerance for illegal immigration, and the rise of populists and demagogues committed (in their rhetoric at least) to ending both. Parties that forcefully campaign on this issue have been gathering strength across the continent. 

However, it is also morally wrong for Europeans to ignore the profound problems of the developing world that impel so many to make the perilous journey for a better life. There are no easy solutions available, but what ought to be offered is sustained advice and assistance designed to help massively improve the self-governance of failed and failing states. Foreign aid has attempted to do this in the past, but its record has been patchy. In response to the migration influx, in 2017, Germany’s Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation advocated a Marshall Plan with Africa, which acknowledges that Africans are risking their lives to enter Europe because of a lack of development and opportunities in their own countries, and asserts a pressing need to tackle this robustly. This was a positive and encouraging development. But other EU countries have expressed little interest and, although the project is still in its infancy, insufficient progress has been made.

If initiatives such as this one are enacted with an emphasis on improved governance and curtailing corruption, the prospects of sustained and sustainable development for Africa and the Global South writ large can significantly improve. In time, this will hopefully put an end to the perilous flight of migrants and the obscenity of the new White Man’s Burden.


Rumy Hasan is a senior lecturer at the University of Sussex and Visiting Professorial Research Fellow at the Civitas Think Tank, London

Filed under: Europe, Immigration, recent, World Affairs


Rumy Hasan is the author of Multiculturalism: Some Inconvenient Truths (2010) and Religion and Development in the Global South (forthcoming 2017); and a member of the EU’s Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) with a special interest in the prevention of Islamic radicalisation.


  1. Time was, both Left and Right agreed that open borders and social welfare could not coexist, with the Right preferring the former and the Left preferring the latter.

    Now, we have entrenched social welfare, but the Left has decided to insist on open borders anyway, having convinced itself through absolutely astounding levels of economic ignorance that “the rich” can be made to fund unlimited social welfare. The Left does this because it believes that economic migrants will all vote left-wing. This left-wing behavior has forced the Right into the unnatural position of opposing immigration, since the welfare state is irrevocable at this point and the Right alone understands the impossibility of funding it if borders are open.

    The root cause of the resulting problems, of course, is the mismanagement of the countries that these migrants are fleeing. If their countries weren’t disasters, they would stay there. But in responding to the victims of such catastrophe, there are two notions to consider: treatment and quarantine.

    If only a few are afflicted by a malady, the sympathetic well-off will desire to offer treatment. However, if the problem rises to the level of a plague, quarantine becomes the priority.

    Our politics are now a battle between those experiencing first hand the “Swedish conditions” brought on by migrant communities and those safely ensconced in their ivory towers, sure that any claims of difficulty are being fabricated by “racists”.

  2. Left will never point out migration is caused by failure of government of countries that people are migrating from for one, simple reason: many African countries are, at least on paper, socialist. We know Left will never admit socialism can fail to the point people see a risky journey to capitalist country as better alternative.

  3. The number of people who hope to migrate is very large: a Gallup opinion pollconducted in December 2018 showed that 750 million people worldwide want to migrate permanently to another country—that’s 10 percent of the global population.

    Many of these people are simply daydreaming. Perhaps 10% of the actors in Hollywood said they would migrate permanently to Canada if Trump won the presidential election in 2016. They never went.

  4. If all cultures are equally valid, then I guess some cultures are more equally valid than others!

  5. If initiatives such as this one are enacted with an emphasis on improved governance and curtailing corruption, the prospects of sustained and sustainable development for Africa and the Global South writ large can significantly improve.

    Giving more billions of Euros to corrupt governments in the hope that, after 50 years of giving billions of Euros to corrupt governments, that this time the money might not be stolen, this time there might be sustained and sustainable development such that Europe can finally stop giving billions of Euros to corrupt governments …

    Wait a minute. Hang on. That’s crazy. No corrupt government is going to allow sustained and sustainable development if means the White Saviors stop sending billions of Euros. This is never going to happen.

  6. We need to tell these countries the secret to economic development: free minds, free markets. OR, as Adam Smith called it, in 1776, : “the system of natural liberty”. It has worked so well in most or all of the countries (or even cities or regions) where it has been actually tried.

  7. There is a large difference between GDP growth figures in African nations, and those in China. In China, this growth is a real growth, less and less people in poverty, more and more in a decent house, year after year more pork on their plate, thanks to a well paid job. Now Africa’s growth, imagine…, an example:
    The minister of fishery allows the Koreans, Chinese Spanish or Dutch to fish shrimps or sardines (quite often for fishmeal, it’s a shame) on their coasts, this fish was caught uptil then by local fishermen, in small, locally made, artisan, wooden boats, and sold for a few dollars to local fishmongers and clients. None of these incomes and productivities appear in any economic table, or is statistically monitored (no administration, no statistics of unregistered, un-official activities). But now, there is a figure on fishing, e.g., 40 million paid by Korea or Holland for official (makes a diffference) fishing rights, neatly appearing in the national statistics and economic tables, this 40 million is national income, but often disappears (officially?) to Swiss banks. The locals after some years notice that the fish has gone, the fishmongers have to look for another job. But GDP rose with another digit.

  8. I really appreciated this article. The dirty little secret however is that there is a large portion of these migrants who don’t have a happy ending once they enter the EU. Many stay unemployed and for the men it seems like many end up being imprisoned(I’m not going to postulate on possible reasons).

    EU Immigrant Unemployment

    UK Prison Demographics

    So for all the talk about helping the immigrants it seems that the EU has inadvertently created a “3rd world nation to 1st world prison” pipeline, to use a phrase. Although you could argue that it’s better to be in prison in the UK as opposed to a regular joe in Nigeria.

    This will create racial tensions as someone will inevitably make the observation of the disproportional amount of darker skinned prisoners in a lighter skinned nation. And in turn one can claim systematic racism or worse Islamophobia since many of these immigrants are Muslim. It boggles my mind that the leaders of the EU did not see this coming. Congratulations EU you are in the process of adopting the racial animus and skepticism towards basic institutions that has dogged the US political system for generations.

  9. Many things, particularly those in the future are hard to predict. However, the IMF has some past data. The IMF WEO Database (April 2019), show that constant dollar per-capita GDP for Sub-Saharan Africa in 1980 was $2,846 in 2024 it is projected to be $3,925. By contrast, China’s per-capita GDP for 1980 was just $722. For 2024, China’s projected per-capita GDP is $22,419. Of course, China is doing exceptionally well. However, it doesn’t appear that Sub-Saharan Africa is taking off.

  10. People immigrate for two reasons: seeking freedom or fleeing persecution and seeking economic opportunities. Most immigrants fall into the latter category. So why are economic opportunities limited in these countries from which the immigrants depart? The answer is market manipulation and a lack of respect for property rights. For example Big Oil may be the favorite bogey man but the industry has a history of expending large sums developing oil fields for under developed countries only to see them nationalized. the governments of the country of origin are either unstable, corrupt or lack respect for property rights, their markets are unsafe for investment.

    Countries that become investment opportunities but lack educated populations become susceptible to economic colonization.

    Regarding those fleeing persecution, Western countries especially the U.S. can not be the World’s policemen. However a world without policemen is a world containing those unable to defend themselves from oppression and who must seek sanctuary elsewhere.

  11. About 40 % of sub-Saharan African migrants die on their way to Europe, and the ones that make it don’t have the skills to make it in Europe’s advanced but slow-growing economies. Europeans have to deal with a much more dependent and criminal population, who often end up flooding tourist centres as panhandlers. It is in no one’s best interests for these migrants to come to Europe, except for the leftists looking to assuage their white guilt by fatally undermining their culture.

    A better way to help the people of the third world would be to immediately send back all people attempting to enter without a valid visa, so that they stop getting themselves killed for a fantasy, and then explore giving colonisation another try. There were some problems with how it was done last round, but it should be possible to come to a deal exchanging the restructuring of their political systems and economies with preferential market and resource access. Countries that embraced their colonial heritage instead of turning it on its head and going socialist have shown remarkably better growth, making it a net positive as far as the current generation is concerned. Not PC, I know, but colonisation by European powers has made the world a much better place, and “the white man” should continue that work.

  12. We’re making preparations. :slight_smile:


    Though I do think Warren et al. should take a look at what happened to British entertainment in the late 60s and 70s when British taxes went through the roof.

  13. If the US trashes their economy it may have the satisfaction that Mexico will take up and then finish the border wall.

  14. Probably the best you Canucks can do is grow a “firm but polite” hedge along the 49th parallel. And make the US pay for it.

  15. Read anything, literally anything, by the NYT’s Nicholas Kristof. The man is an extraordinary danger to civilization.

    He can make any left-wing failure into reason to vote for the Left.

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