Should more Africans be allowed to move abroad?

January 10, 2013

On Thursday, Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Salopek announced he would walk from Ethiopia to Patagonia over the course of seven years, filing multimedia reports along the way in the hopes of capturing the "major global stories of our time."

(Sipa via AP Images)
(Sipa via AP Images)

Salopek's quest may be the first of its kind, but there's a long history of Western journalists trekking to the developing world for a first-hand look at globalization. 

A new interview with Mark Weston, a British policy adviser who traveled to three of the world's poorest countries for his new book, The Ringtone and the Drum, reveals what these deep dives into war-torn, struggling nations can entail, and the bubbles that are burst along the way.

Weston's journey to Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Burkina Faso was sparked by a 2004 work visit to Ghana, which inspired him to go "have a proper look around."

"It occurred to me that a journey to the fringes of Africa could have a more constructive purpose than satisfying my indulgent craving for adventure," he wrote. "What did West Africans talk about? What did they do every day?"

Weston traveled to three countries that aren't exactly magnets for tourism, as he describes them:

Guinea Bissau -- a very peaceful, quiet country whose tranquility is being shattered by the advent of South American cocaine dealers who are using it as a staging post.

Sierra Leone, famous for its civil war and blood diamonds. 

Burkina Faso -- a dry, dusty country ruled by a dictator.

The name of the book comes from cell phones, he explains, which have proliferated in West Africa and increased Africans' exposure to Western culture and ideas.

"They're able to communicate with people abroad who tell them how great life is in Europe and America. It's pulling them toward Westernization and modernity. It's a disruptive influence," he says to an interviewer from the Irish blog Slugger O'toole

His two big takeaways? Corruption isn't all that it seems, and Western countries should allow more African workers to immigrate and support their aging populations.

Weston argues that many times what seems like corruption is simply the "law of reciprocity," or the idea that if you help somebody, they're supposed to return the favor once they rise up the ladder.

"The first thing is to disperse some of the fruits of power among the people closest to them," he says. "It starts with the family, then the village, then the tribe. You have to help them out by giving them jobs or cash. They don't see it as corruption, they see it as their dues."

What's more, Weston said that every day, people he encountered would ask him for help getting a British visa, and he thinks more Africans should be able to get them.

"We need to be removing the barriers to unskilled workers," he said. "The West is going to need young workers anyway."

"That one's not going to be popular with Britain's politicians," the interviewer says.

"Mmm. But it's probably inevitable in the long run. We could help Africans now by allowing them to move here."

Watch the full interview here:

 

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Max Fisher · January 10, 2013