Productive or Paternalistic?: The EU Trust Fund for Africa

Productive or Paternalistic?: The EU Trust Fund for Africa
By Gabriella Mikiewicz

MM22.3 – African Perspectives on Migration: Security and Visual Representations of Mobile Lives
April 16th 2018 
Lotte Pelckmans
EMMIR, University of Stavanger
Word Count: 2914


With an incoming number of over 3 million refugees from certain African countries to the European Union in 2015, EU officials were mounted with pressure to create an action plan to stop irregular migration (Castillejo, 3). The European Commission proposed the expansion of a trust fund that was originally intended for the Sahel region to create a larger “initiative focused on migration that would include two key regions of origin of irregular migration (Sahel and Lake Chad, and the Horn of Africa), as well as the transit region of North Africa” (3). While there was some skepticism among EU countries, the “intense pressure” (3) for European action resulted in the creation of the ‘European Union Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing the root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa’ (from now on referred to as EUTF for Africa). The EUTF for Africa was established at the Valletta Summit in 2015 and is planned to continue until 2020 (Castellijo, 3).

Most of the EUTF for Africa funding across the three regions is distributed to projects related to migration management and development, thus this paper will examine the EUTF from a migration-development nexus lens as well as an academic lens to determine whether the fund can make a positive impact on the recipient countries. In the reflection section, I will criticize three main areas of the EUTF for 1) being paternalistic and dehumanizing, 2) not based on academic research, and 3) based on a flawed narrative in order to restrict mobility.

About the EUTF

According to the EUTF 2017 Annual Report, there are four main strategic objectives for the initiative: 1) greater economic and employment opportunities, 2) strengthening the resilience of communities, 3) improved migration management in countries of origin, transit, and destination, and 4) improved governance and conflict prevention (EUTF 2017 Annual Report, 8-9). The fund targets three regions and twenty-six countries across Africa that are deemed as countries of origin and of transit by the EU:

Figure 1: Map of EUTF receiving countries, from EUTF Annual Report 2017, pg. 8

According to current numbers provided by its official website, the EUTF has a present budget of EUR 3.39 billion. In total, there is about 22% of all funding going toward migration management, and 63% of funding going toward development cooperation:

Figure 2: Funding allocation from Oxfam Analysis, pg. 4

As for the regions, or as the EU calls them, “windows”, the Horn of Africa receives 40% of the funding, the North of Africa receives 20%, and the Sahel and Lake Chad region receives 40% (EUTF 2017 Annual Report, 68).

In an Oxfam analysis of the EUTF for Africa conducted two years after the Valletta Summit on Migration, it was found that some of the projects in the EUTF “respond to a European political sense of urgency to stop irregular migration to Europe” (Oxfam, 2) and that the “European migration agenda is prevalent throughout the EUTF for Africa, and a considerable portion of its funding is invested in security measures and border management” (3). The aim of the EUTF for Africa

Development Theories

According to Nyberg-Sorensen, the “migration-development nexus… denotes a complex and multi-dimensional relationship, which does not refer to one concept of migration and development, but rather to multiple concepts which have evolved over time and might even contradict each other” (as quoted in Koppenberg 2012, 3). The understandings of these concepts and their effects on each other can be described in two ways: the effects of migration on development, and the effects of development on migration.

Impact of Development on Migration

The first example of the relationship between migration and development in the nexus is the impact that development may have on migration. According to Koppenberg, in classical theories, it was expected that an increase in development would lead to a decrease in migration due to a shifting in the balance of wealth and human development in different regions (Koppenberg, 4). Thus, many development initiatives, especially across the African continent, have “sedentary roots” that focus on the “control of mobility and tend to cast migration as a symptom of development failure” (Bakewell 2008, 1341). However, studies over recent years have disproved these assumptions about the connections between underdevelopment and migration. For example, De Haas has showed in a study that emigration initially rises with increased development, “and only goes down once countries have reached a high level of development” (Koppenberg, 4). Thus, from a social scientific perspective and from a theoretical perspective, it can be seen that there is no substantive evidence for the assumption that more development aid will in turn decrease irregular or forced migration. On the contrary, these perspectives suggest that development may initially provoke an increase in emigration, as exemplified by De Haas’s evidence. This will be expanded upon in the reflection section.

Impact of Migration on Development

Another relationship between migration and development can be viewed as the impact of migration on development. While this relationship has been viewed more recently in positive ways such as remittances and concepts such as ‘brain gain’, there hasn’t always been such a favorable view (De Haas 2010, 229-230). The opinions of scholars have shifted in a way that De Haas describes as a pendulum, moving back and forth from “developmentalist optimism in the 1950s and 1960s, to neo-Marxist pessimism over the 1970s and 1980s, and towards more optimistic views in the 1990s and 2000s” (De Haas 2010, 227 as quoted in Koppenberg, 3). In the 2000s, a post-development theory emerged within development discourse, which critiqued the potentially “dehumanising consequences of a Development Project which fails to accord with common-sense and human-scale understandings of what it is to lead a good life” (Corbridge, 138). In Bakewell’s article about the relationship between development and migration in Africa, he argues for the reconsideration of what is considered a “good life” for the people receiving developmental aid and advocates for the abandonment of the “paternalistic paradigms that fail to recognise the agency of migrants from poor countries” (1341, 1342).

Reflections on the EUTF

We can see from above that within the ‘migration-development nexus’ there is clearly an intricate and complicated relationship between the two phenomena that has an impact on people in social, political, and economic ways. In the following section, I will use the theoretical perspectives and findings from above to critique certain aspects of the EUTF ,which I believe are both problematic and counterproductive to its purpose.

Invasion Narrative & Paternalistic Response

In the introduction section of the 2017 Annual Report, the EUTF is described as being an “implementing tool that provides a rapid, flexible and effective response to an emergency situation” (7). This rhetoric of an “emergency situation” and a “crisis” is one of the underlying problems with the formation of the EUTF. What is this “crisis” that the EU is responding to? It is based on a series of visual and verbal representations by the media and political officials which are a “heavy over-representation” (Berriane and de Haas, 1) of the actual migration flows. This representation “contributes to the ‘myth of invasion’” (1), and according to Berriane and de Haas, it is commonly fuelled by political campaigns but is not based on any real evidence (2).

Additionally, from a Western perspective, very often we are only exposed to certain images of ‘Africans’ that reinforce a narrative of helplessness and underdevelopment and dehumanizes the millions of people who live on that continent. In my own experience, this often leads to Westerners having paternalistic approaches to aid and development that look down on Africans. Part of the issue with the paternalistic development projects and aid groups is that “they fail to understand the rationale for people’s mobility and tend to assume away the agency of migrants, especially poor migrants, casting them as victims who need assistance” (Bakewell, 1353). One of the most shocking characteristics of the EUTF I found while researching was that the African governments that receive the funding have no role in the procedure and no say in where that funding goes. According to Oxfam, “they are able to comment on projects in Committee meetings in their observer role, [but] the process gives European donors clear priority in determining the nature of the projects and, subsequently, of the EUTF for Africa” (Oxfam, 15). This is a clear sign of the paternalistic nature of the European Union that assumes they know better than the people of Africa. This is a problematic way of thinking because it undermines the autonomy of the African government and its citizens, and it contradicts the overall goals of the EUTF: “the priority of African regional bodies in respect to migration governance is to maintain free movement, not restrict it or classify it as irregular” (Oxfam, 15) and this clearly goes against the intentions of the EU.

These images of ‘swarms’ of migrants, coupled with images of ‘people we need to help’ that are reinforced by media and spread by everyday people, I believe, also end up influencing policies and governmental systems in relation to the European/Western relationship with Africa. It can also be argued that this paternalistic approach to Africa, plus the ‘invasion narrative’, contributed to the European Union’s response to the refugee “crisis” with the EUTF. This is very problematic for a policy as large and expansive as the EUTF because it really takes away the agency of people to be able to migrate and have freedom of movement, and it also presupposes the reasons for people to move.

“Root Causes Narrative”

In the Oxfam analysis on the EUTF, one criticism was that the initiative follows a flawed “root causes” narrative that assumes certain causes for migration. Because the EUTF has the goal of addressing the “root causes of ‘forced displacement and irregular migration,’” this is a large concern for organizations such as Oxfam, which see a huge difference in the definitions of forced displacement and irregular migration. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), irregular migration is defined as “movement that takes place outside the regulatory norms of sending, transit and receiving countries” (Oxfam, 14). On the other hand, forced displacement refers to the situations that force people to flee their homes: conflicts, persecution, violations of their human rights, natural disasters, instability, inequality, corruption, climate change, and more (14). Therefore, development aid should aim to facilitate migration in a safe and regular way, and “measures designed to restrict irregular migration or weaken incentives for it will only make migration more costly and unsafe, if the overall result is to reduce mobility options” (15). Oxfam argues that the

“phenomenon of migration is part of human nature. Individuals’ ability to travel across borders to engage in trade and labour is important for their own economic resilience, as well as that of their families and communities back home who benefit from remittances” (14).

By trying to curb “forced displacement and irregular migration” and grouping these two vastly different concepts together without much thought into the causes of different types of migration, I believe that the EU is not only looking at African migration through a paternalistic lens as mentioned above, but also essentializing the causes of migration in order to fulfill a policy goal based on keeping migrants out of Europe.

Lack of Appropriate Data

Another main issue with the EUTF goals and implementation methods is the fact that there is no proof that a lack of development leads to migration. While the EUTF 2017 Annual Report states that the “EUTF for Africa relies on an evidence-based approach to enhance knowledge and understanding of the complex root causes, drivers and underlying factors of instability, insecurity, irregular migration and forced displacement…” (EUTF Annual Report 2017, 5), it is unclear which ‘evidence’ this is based on. In fact, a lot of migration research is so influenced by the Northern perspective, that it reproduces and reinforces many problematic notions of African migration, such as the paternalistic paradigms mentioned above. This type of research is often based on short-term policy interests to “‘solve’ what are perceived as ‘migration problems’ or ‘migration challenges’” (Berriane and De Haas 2012, 2). It seems that the EUTF is a perfect example of such a policy move that is so concerned with a quick reaction to a “migration problem”, that the policymakers are not as concerned with facts and data.

If the purpose of the EUTF is to curb migration to Europe, there is a large potential, according to research, that the fund actually be counterproductive to its own end goal. Many scholars have challenged the classic notion that development leads to a significant decrease in migration. As mentioned above, Bakewell argues that development initiatives “tend to cast migration as a symptom of development failure” (Bakewell 2008, 1341), however recent studies have actually disproved this assumption: “more development leads, at least until a certain level, to more migration” (Koppenberg, 4). In a study by De Haas, it was shown that emigration rises with an increase in development, and then drops once the sending country has reached a high-level of development (De Haas 2010, as cited in Koppenberg, 4).  

According to Castillejo in an analysis of the EUTF, even though the stated goal may be to “address the root causes of forced displacement and irregular migration”, there may actually be large differences in opinion on this among “key actors within EU institutions and member states over what they want or expect the fund to achieve” (Castillejo, 4). Several EU member states see the fund as a way to have greater cooperation from African partners on migration, specifically with border management. This is a large red-flag when it comes to questioning the aims and implementation methods of the EUTF. The lack of evidence that the EUTF is founded upon, as well as the lack of consensus between EU officials and participating countries and financial contributors, raise serious questions to the validity of the EUTF as a means for curbing irregular migration and helping displaced persons.

The EUTF cannot be blamed for being all ‘bad’ – there are, of course, some positive characteristics. According to Oxfam,

“despite certain problematic approaches, the EUTF for Africa also supports many positive initiatives that should be further explored and built on as a way of bridging the gap between humanitarian assistance and longer term development, building the resilience of most vulnerable populations, creating economic opportunities and increasing participation in local governance” (24).

A few of the implementing programmes that are mentioned in the Oxfam report include different initiatives to provide capital to households and aiding in the recovery of trauma and shock. However, despite the micro-scale contributions of the EUTF for Africa, I have identified three main areas of critique in the fund: the paternalistic and dehumanising narrative it’s based on, the erroneous narratives of invasions and “root causes”, and the lack of a foundation in scientific evidence. I believe that these three areas will in the end show that the EUTF for Africa was counterproductive to its goals and flawed in nature.

According to Berriane and de Haas, the systematic research conducted is both broad and lacking on emigrants and immigrants in African countries, due to many difficulties scholars may face while trying to understand the irregular nature of a lot of African migration (Berriane and De Haas, 3). I believe there is a large need for more accurate scientific data and studies on the intricate, contextual processes of African migration. Only once this exists, can there then be well-informed policies being made and put into practice.

From what I have observed from my research, the EUTF has vague goals that are not based on any substantive evidence and go clearly against the priorities of African partners that receive the funding. There is also cause for concern between European partners of the EUTF who have different agendas and priorities and expectations when it comes to the outcomes of the funding. The EUTF for Africa is also a product of, as well as a contributor to, flawed narratives of European paternalism toward Africa. In its efforts to curb migration, the EUTF for Africa also ends up dehumanising people who have a natural will to migrate.  


Bakewell, Oliver. “‘Keeping Them in Their Place’: the ambivalent relationship between development and migration in Africa.” Third World Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 7, 2008, pp. 1341-1358.

Berriane, Mohamed and Hein de Haas. “Chapter 1: New Questions for Innovative Migration Research.” African Migrations Research: Innovative Methods and Methodologies, Africa World Press, 2012.

Castillejo, Clare. “The European Union Trust Fund for Africa a Glimpse of the Future for EU Development Cooperation.” Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungpolitik, 2016.

Corbridge, Stuart. “‘Beneath the pavement only soil’: The poverty of post-development.” The Journal of Development Studies, vol. 24, no. 6, November 2007, pp. 138-148.

De Haas, Hein. “Migration and Development: A Theoretical Perspective.” International Migration Review, vol. 44, no. 1, Spring 2010, pp. 227-264.

European Commision. “2017 Annual Report EU Trust Fund for Africa.”

Koppenberg, Saskia. “Where Do Forced Migrants Stand in the Migration and Development Debate?” Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration, vol. 2, no. 1, June 2012, pp. 77–90.,

Published by gabriellamikiewicz

Gabriella Mikiewicz is a 20-something Polish-American student and writer whose interests are as eclectic as her apartment decorations.

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