By Jean H Charles
Paul Collier, the British economist, has a household name as famous internationally as the late Canadian/American economist John Kenneth Galbraith. He is not afraid to tackle difficult issues that deal with poverty, underdevelopment and, lately, immigration in his research.
In his new book, the Exodus, Paul Collier seeks to find out the impact of migration on three groups: the migrants, the host country and those left behind; in other words, whether migration is good for both the host country and good for the departing nation.
He contends that it is good for neither. It may even be detrimental to some countries. He used the extreme example of Haiti, which sends some 10% of its population abroad. I agree with Collier that, if migration was that good for a country that sends its people abroad, Haiti should be the perfect example to prove that migration does work. In fact, the brain gain there does not add up to the brain drain.
The Haitian Diaspora is sending $1 billion and half as remittances back home; most of that money is being transferred to the Dominican Republic for food and other consumer goods that Haiti does not produce, reducing that fund into finally garbage which the country does not have the means to manage anyway.
I remember around the year 1965, when Haiti started sending the cream of its population abroad. It was a venture initiated by the United Nations to help the Democratic Republic of Congo engage in nation building as it was exiting from the colonial womb of Belgium. Haiti offered its best teachers, its bankers, and its lawyers to forge a new nation. The experience did not last long. The United Nations, as usual, does not engage into sustainable practice.
Those teachers found themselves soon in Quebec, Canada, and Brooklyn and Queens, New York, where they are still engaging in the process of building vibrant communities. Very few have returned to Haiti. That island nation has gone downhill since.
Collier has started but does not go far enough in charting the road map for building a successful nation. Collier, with his international aura of adviser to the UN and to the World Bank, has on hand the means to rehabilitate Ernest Renan, the founding father of nation building.
Renan was and is still on target when he proposed to the leaders of nations to engage in three steps that will lead to the bliss of successful countries. Build a strong army that teaches the glory of the past and dreams a common vision of the future. Root your citizens in their own localities with strong institutions and adequate infrastructure so they will not become nomads in their own country before becoming migrants abroad. Engage in a national consensus to lift all those who are left behind.
It is the road map to the non-Exodus, as Collier wishes it could be, in a world where the Exodus produces no happy result either for the host country neither for the departing one. As an iconoclast economist, Paul Collier is not afraid of attacking the sacred cows. In a successive parley of books: The Bottom Billion, Wars, Guns and Votes, Democracy In a Plundered Planet and now the Exodus, Collier extends his classroom presentation as professor of economics and public policy at Oxford, England, to teach not only to his classroom but to the entire world.
One of my essays, The Diaspora as a tool for nation building
, I have demonstrated that the departing country is the best instrument to organize its Diaspora. This lesson has been adopted by very few countries. In fact, only Israel and South Korea have a functioning Diaspora that impact the homeland positively. The government of these countries did not leave it to their Diaspora to engage with the homeland. It was the homeland that set the direction and the mission.
Examining Collier’s three dimensional concerns: the migrant, the country they leave and the country that receives them, he finds that the migrant tends to do better in the host country as compared to his situation at home. He is forced to adapt into an optimum functional setting as compared to his dysfunctional home. As such he is a much better productive worker. The Haitian migrant, with no education but with resilience and creativity, shines in a Brooklyn setting where the infrastructure is sound and the institutions friendly.
While the host country has benefited from the impact of the new migrants, it becomes, according to Collier, a burden if it turns into a free for all migration. The cultural cohesion that existed before is compromised by the mass of newcomers.
Collier argues that the host country can be infected by the culture of dysfunctionality of the migrants. Europe is facing the backlash of this misguided policy of making believe that it cares for the influx of African migrants. Marine Le Pen and her National Front party have produced an earthquake in the most recent European election. It is the direct result of the frustration of the natives for a migration policy that pleases nobody, the Europeans as well as the Africans.
Reflecting on the last leg of Collier’s analysis, the only countries that have taken the issue of migration with a scientific approach have been the Scandinavian countries. A survey by Finasavisen, a Norwegian newspaper, indicates that it costs Norway $600,000 to integrate an African into the Norwegian culture and ethos. It costs $1.2 million to integrate a Somalia migrant.
How much money the Western countries have been willing to spend to convert a belonger into a national or helping a prospective migrant to remain home? Coming back to our point of departure, migration might be an international right, but it is fraught with minefields at home and abroad that request an inquisitive mind as Collier, who is not afraid of facing the sacred cows to tell it like it is.
Collier informs that 75% of Haiti’s educated population lives abroad. The mass of Haitian peasant nomads in their own country are an easy prey for illegal immigration. You would imagine a creative policy of the United States, The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic to settle the prospective migrants in their own land? There is no such agenda in the pipeline at home or abroad. As such, Haiti will continue to upload a critical mass of its population in search of a bluer sky to Florida or other Caribbean islands.
Last month, my nephew, who was born in the United States, brought his African fiancée to check on hotels and arrangements to get married in Haiti. Like the salmon that seek to come back to the source to lay its eggs, the hope is the next generation of migrants will chose the homeland of their parents to facilitate the building of a functional society where migration will be out of place and out mind.
Paul Collier is forcing us to look at receiving the migrants not as a do-gooder proposition or as the only salvation for self-realization. After all, the better nations, or the true nation keeps its people at home because home is hospitable to their dreams and to their aspirations.