West Africa is one of the regions in which poverty, a lack of prospects, crime, violence, and conflict are among the root causes driving people to migrate to Europe. Many of the mostly young West Africans seeking a brighter future abroad often spend years of their “journey” stuck at various transit points.
60 years after the end of colonialism, many West African countries still rank among the world’s poorest nations. In Mali, but also in parts of Niger, Burkina Faso, and Nigeria, state institutions remain underdeveloped. State functions and responsibilities are often performed by international organizations providing education and medical services.
In states with particularly weak structures, crime and violence are widespread. In Burkina Faso, self-declared militias have begun to combat the spread of crime. Often, however, they are themselves embroiled in violence. Organized crime as well as drugs, arms and human trafficking are proliferating in West Africa’s weak states. Sections of the political class have been found to make common cause with criminal networks and traffickers.
Many countries across the region have long been governed by authoritarian regimes. Participation in political processes thus remains limited. Particularly in large cities, social movements are pushing for broader democratic participation. Enraged by the indifference shown by ruling classes, people regularly take to the streets, calling on the government to honour its promises. Young people in particular are fighting for their political convictions and social rights.
After decades of crisis, many West African economies have been returning to growth since the early 2000s, with natural resources (oil, bauxite, gold, wood, seafood, etc.) playing a vital role. Extraction is often low-labour-intensive, which means that, in the majority of cases, the local population does not stand to benefit. Profits are shared between multinational corporations, middlemen, and the corrupt elements of the country’s elite, who are quick to move their pocketed wealth to offshore accounts.
This form of aggressive extractivism, however, ultimately destroys many people’s livelihoods in the region. Still, it is often backed by international organizations such as the World Bank, who despite their green pledges continue to fund such projects.
The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation collaborates with partner organizations on a long-term, project-related basis across the region, organizing events with local partners as well as independent events. The foundation partners with NGOs and social movements, academic institutions and trade unions, as well as youth and local organizations. These groups, initiatives, and organizations tend to belong to the left-wing, extra-parliamentary spectrum critical of the ruling powers. In various ways, they all help strengthen democratic processes across the region. The office’s key activities are:
- Young People and Politics
The majority of the West African population is 16–35 years old. However, young people are hardly represented by the political systems of the region’s countries, and they rarely join organisations or movements. Young women are even less likely to do so due to social constraints, compounded by the fact that they are often denied access to education. With seminars, training sessions, workshops, and group events, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation aims to strengthen existing organizations and inspire young people to become politically involved.
- Workers’ Organizations and Social Justice
The broad range of social conflicts across the region is often an expression of social problems, poverty, and a lack of employment opportunities. Ossified political systems and their close ties to economic sectors only add to these problems. There are few civil society organizations, and those that do exist are often connected to the political class.
Independent trade unions therefore play a crucial role in calling for political accountability and fighting social inequality. In this way, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation strengthens civic education on workers’ rights as well as economic and social policies, and supports the structural organization of work and strategic alignment in the face of a large informal sector.
- Resource Booms, Vulnerability, and Development
The number of industrial mines has risen in recent years across many West African countries. Increased exploitation of natural resources could help boost state revenues and provide the funds needed to address social issues. However, citizens and affected groups are too rarely invited to contribute to decision-making processes.
Large areas of land once used for subsistence farming have been lost to mining or agribusiness corporations, which limits access to food and drinking water. Often, their activities have a disastrous impact on the environment. The Rosa Luxemburg Foundation fosters participation, especially on the part of affected populations and civil society groups, and promotes alternative forms of natural resource management.