Globalisation at Bay: The Lessons from Berlin Wall and the Great Wall of Calais


Vie Internationale with Bola A. Akinterinwa, e-mail: Telephone : 0807-688-2846

Globalisation is essentially about the broadening of political influence and integration of national economies to the world economy, through removal of national barriers, interconnectivity, and digitisation of democratic governance. This is why the whole world is at times referred to as a global village. Thanks to industrial and technological development, not only are businesses, goods, services, capitals, markets, spread throughout the whole world, they are also done with much precision, efficiency and positive result. The 21st Century is indeed that of international communications and technology.

Berlin Wall is also generally referred to as ‘the Iron Curtain.’ It was the wall whose construction started overnight on August 13, 1961 on the instruction of Walter Ulbricht of the East German Communist Party and whose deconstruction took place on November 9, 1989. Walter Ulbricht ordered the construction of a barricade to prevent East Germans from seeking defection to West Germany.

It should be recalled in this regard that Germany was divided in 1949: Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) which was administered by the victorious Allies, on the one hand, and East Germany, which was run by the former Soviet Union. Berlin, the then capital of Germany, was not only located in Eastern Germany, it was similarly also divided into two, the Soviets have one side, the allies (United Kingdom, United States, and France) also had one side. On the side of the Soviets, the inner German border was closed in 1952 officially and new passport laws were promulgated in 1957.

These developments prompted East Germans to want to emigrate to West Germany and not less than 2.5 million people fled to West Germany between 1949 and 1961. This was the background to the decision to build a wall covering 66-mile concrete section and a further 41-mile barbed-wire fencing, as well as over 300 manned look-out towers in Berlin in 1961. Thus, the Iron Curtain (Berlin Wall) effectively divided the people from 1961 to 1989. In 1990, however, the Berlin Wall was pulled down and the division of the Germans was thrown into the dustbin of history.

As regards the Calais Wall, which has been nicknamed ‘The Great Wall of Calais’ by the social media, its construction is scheduled to begin by end of September 2016 and completed by end of December 2016. It is not clear whether the reasons behind the construction are, stricto sensu, traceable to preparations for the emerging new Cold War or to Brexit. What is however clear is that the Police Commissioner, Patrick Visser-Bourdon had noted that there had been 22,000 breaches of the port road defences in June, compared to 3000 in January 2016 and that it is impossible for him ‘to put a policeman every ten meters in order to secure the route, as this would require mobilising ‘2000 officers every night.’

More important, the British are to fund the construction of the project to the tune of 2.7 million euro (£1.9million). The Calais Wall will also be built from smooth concrete to make it impossible for hardened migrants to pass through without ladders. Consequently, the wall is expected to replace the existing barbed-wire fence.

The relevant point of reflection here is that, when the Berlin Wall, which once existed and later ceased to exist, is compared to’ ‘The Great Wall of Calais,’ many problems emerge but are unattended to: Why is the construction of the wall taking place now? Is it in furtherance of the fall outs of the Brexit? There is no disputing the fact that many migrants want to quickly enter the UK before the processes of the Brexit are completed. In the same vein, the UK also wants to avoid illegal inflow of migrants for reasons of national security. This means that the factor of Brexit may not be set aside in understanding the need for urgent construction of the wall.

In this regard, the position of the UK in the European Union and the position of Nigeria in the ECOWAS are not in any way different. As such, can a situation in which, one day, there is Nigexit, that is, Nigeria would want to withdraw her membership of the ECOWAS, not arise? Is the purpose of globalisation served with Brexit, for instance? Will it be served with Nigexit? To what extent is the quest for regional integration consistent with the spirit of Calais Wall? This question is necessary because globalisation and regional integration are about networking. In fact, integration is an agent of globalisation while the building of walls does not help the objective of togetherness and networking.

Besides, to what extent is the quest to have European Union become a major centre of global power helped by anti-migration policies, such as the Calais Wall? Is globalisation not really at bay or on the path of being challenged with the renewal of nationalism in all its dimensions? What is the implication of the ‘Great Wall of Calais’ for the ECOWAS, in general, and Nigeria, in particular, by January 1, 2017 by which time the wall would have been completed?

Whatever is the case, there is no disputing the fact that construction of concrete barriers is gradually becoming a major pillar of what we can call a ‘fence and wall diplomacy’ which is gradually becoming an important phenomenon, as virtually all countries of Europe are building walls against migrants, but without anyone seriously raising eyebrows.

The Case of the Great Wall of Calais

On Tuesday, September 6, 2016, the United Kingdom (UK) and France announced the building of a four-metre high wall at an estimated cost of $4 million at the maritime port city of Calais in France. The wall will cover one kilometre and will be funded by the UK. Work on the project is scheduled to begin this current month of September and be completed by end of December 2016.

As noted by the UK junior Minister, Robert Goodwill, in his address to a parliamentary committee, the UK ‘is going to start building this big new wall very soon. We’ve done the fence, now we are doing a wall.’ The main rationale for the construction of the wall is to prevent illegal migration from the French territory to the UK, especially those desperate migrants who not only want to stowaway on UK-bound trucks and ferries, but also want to violently attack the law enforcement agents at the maritime port.

In 2003, France and the UK signed the Le Touquet Treaty by which the UK was allowed the location of its border controls on the French side of the English Channel. On this French side, UK simply mounted a barbed wire to control unauthorised access and the UK now wants to reinforce the fence by strengthening the barbed wire with a tall concrete wall that will make any unauthorised access impossible.

This project has raised many interesting foreign policy issues and questions: renewal of the spirit of the Berlin Wall; emerging ‘fencing and wall diplomacy’ as an instrument of security management in international relations; and the extent to which there can be globalisation with the rivalry between increasing national authority and supranational authority. Is globalisation not at bay politically?

For instance, at the level of the Berlin Wall, it was constructed within the context of the East-West ideological rivalry or the so-called Cold War when Germany was sharply divided into West and East, in an attempt to prevent East German from crossing from East Berlin to West Berlin where the economy was more vibrant and freedom was lifestyle. Eventually, when the Cold War came to an end in 1989 and the war ceased to be cold but re-directed against development issues and in favour of reconciliation and reunification, all irritants and obstacles to unity were removed and Germany became one again.

In the case of the British fence and wall in the port of Calais in northern France, the environmental context is quite different. While the Berlin separates the same people, the same nationals, the Calais Wall is to separate British nationals from foreigners called migrants. By implication therefore, while it may be easier to remove obstacles to removal or destruction of the Berlin Wall, the same cannot be done in the case of the Calais Wall for various reasons.

First, French truck drivers and the local residents in Calais are protesting against the presence of large groups of migrants and large migrant camp outside the city. Secondly, the need to prevent on a permanent basis violence between the aggressive migrants and the local residents has become a desideratum. The aggressive migrants are located in a camp which is equidistant from London and Paris. It is inhabited by about 7000-9000 refugees most of who are Sudanese and Afghans who always create situations of insecurity in their attempt to force their way through to the UK. As a result, French drivers are protesting. Thirdly, Brexit seeks self-protection in terms of national security, national interest and self-preservation in terms of self-identity. There is the considered need to prevent cultural pollution and British tradition. Fourthly, many other countries are also constructing various concrete barriers against unwanted migrants. In fact, as explained by the British Home Office, ‘this measure is intended to further protect the Rocade (which is the access road leading to the port) from migrant attempts to disrupt, delay and even attack vehicles approaching the port.’

This project is currently generating a lot of controversies at home and abroad. Police Commissioner has explained that the border would not be abandoned and that the new wall would help protect truckers who are threatened with daily violence from armed migrants and the residents of Calais who are currently suffering ‘intrusion into their homes and gardens.’

However, Jean Lambert, a member of the European Parliament and the migration spokesperson for Britain’s Green Party has it that ‘the decision to build a wall in Calais is the latest wrong move in what is the ongoing scandal of the handling of the plight of refugees in northern France. The UK government must get its act together.’ But do we make of this for Nigeria?

The Lessons

The implications of the would-be Great Wall of Calais for Nigeria’s foreign policy not only raise critical questions but also require long-term strategic calculations. For instance, is Nigeria currently or likely to face violent migration of ECOWAS community citizens to Nigeria as the UK is at present facing? If we consider the geo-political and socio-economic situation in Nigeria of today, the answer can be no, because the environmental conditionings of life are not good enough. Nobody would want to go for hardship anywhere.

If we consider the new efforts being made by PMB to lay a new foundation for a better Nigeria, the future of Nigeria that will be great, strong, resilient and secure, cannot but be very great. As a result, Nigeria will be another el dorado where greener pastures can be sought. In this case, everyone may have to struggle and queue up in Nigeria’s diplomatic missions for entry visas into Nigeria. So the answer to the question will be yes.

Consequently, in both situations, there will be need to monitor developments on the Calais Wall, especially that the camp in Calais, where the refugees are kept, is meant to be a place of abode, a place of assistance, but it has also become a jungle and source of threats to national security of France and the UK. In fact, the French government is reported to be considering the possibility of closing down the camp. But if this is done, where will the refugees be taken to?

Explained differently, the way Nigeria spearheaded the establishment of the ECOWAS in collaboration with Togo is not in any way different from the way France and Germany also spearheaded the establishment of the European Economic Community in 1957. To ensure peace and promote mutual trust, a quarterly Franco-German Summit was instituted in 1963. With Brexit and with mounting pressure on the French government to review its membership of the European Union, there is nothing to suggest that there will not be a Frexit, and therefore that Nigeria cannot opt out of the ECOWAS if need be. But if that happens, what are the likely scenarios? Is Nigeria thinking along this possibility line?

Additionally, Brexit is a rejection of the supranational authority of the European Union and also an expression of self-reaffirmation. With the increasing threats to national unity and security, how should, and to what extent, can Nigeria reassert herself in international relations? Is Nigeria not playing the disintegration card as wanted by the speculators?

Without doubt, the foregoing questions are raised for the purposes of the lesson to be learnt from both Berlin and Calais Walls. At the level of the Berlin Wall, if the Germans could be disunited, essentially as a resultant of international politics, there can be no big deal about the indivisibility of Nigeria, especially that some unseen hands do want the fragmentation of Nigeria by predicting it. For now, there is nothing to suggest any seriousness of purpose on the part of government that it has any interest or concerns about the prediction, or the need to investigate what led to the prediction. Boko Haram and the Niger Delta crises might have domestic origin, however, the strength of the two of them cannot but have foreign dynamics.

One point that Nigeria’s foreign policy makers should bear in mind is that a new Cold War is in the making, meaning that, sooner or later, alliances and re-alliances will become a new issue. Currently, there are many forces strongly militating against the US-driven unipolar politics. Russia, India, China, the European Union, etc, are all interested in multipolar centre of decision-making processes. Even the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping is championing the replacement of the current international monetary system as put in place by the post-World War II Brettons Woods institutions.

The most unfortunate thing is that every region of the world is seeking to be a relevant centre of power in global politics. It is only Africa that has always been an appendage and that does not bother much about the appendage. Countries that are expected to lead Africa out of the woods are not taking the bulls by the horn.

In fact, with South Africa’s membership of the BRICS, the commitment of South Africa to ‘priority for Africa’ is quite questionable. Egypt gives priority to anything Arab over that of Africa. Africa is also secondary for the Maghrebin countries. Their first priority is either the Arab world or Europe. Nigeria that has Africa as the centrepiece of her foreign policy is deeply engulfed in many internal contradictions. This is most unfortunate.

Consequently, the main lesson for Nigeria is the need to appreciate the fact that what the UK is currently doing is as a result of force majeure and the same can happen to Nigeria in the ECOWAS. Nothing should be taken for granted.

QUOTE: With South Africa’s membership of the BRICS, the commitment of South Africa to ‘priority for Africa’ is quite questionable. Egypt gives priority to anything Arab over that of Africa. Africa is also secondary for the Maghrebin countries. Their first priority is either the Arab world or Europe. Nigeria that has Africa as the centrepiece of her foreign policy is deeply engulfed in many internal contradictions. This is most unfortunate