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Misguided mission of the Banksy Boat


SOME consider Banksy the graffiti artist rather edgy and a little transgressive. Really, he’s nothing of the kind. He’s an establishment darling, as shown by the love he receives from the art world and the likes of the Guardian and BBC for his safe, Leftish messages.

Now he’s taking things a bit further than just daubing walls. He’s helping support the flow of African migrants across the Mediterranean; people who are risking their lives in boats that look about as seaworthy as inflatable beach toys. He has used some of the fortune he has acquired though the sale of his art work to fund the purchase of a decommissioned French naval patrol ship. It is now ‘rescuing’ migrants from the perils that the seaborne conveyor places them needlessly in front of.

Saving lives is laudable. But I wonder if Banksy has considered that giving assistance to those making the crossing only helps persuade yet more into terrible risks. Every person picked up at sea or who makes it ashore means more will follow in their own floating death traps. The consequences are horrendous. Al Jazeera reports that since 2014, at least 20,000 people and possibly far more have died at sea trying to reach Europe.

It cites the United Nations’ description of the central Mediterranean route (where the Banksy-funded ship is operating) as ‘the most dangerous migration route in the world – one in six people who departs the North Africa shores dies’. Just think about that number, Banksy.

The crew of the ship claim they want to ‘rescue anyone in peril without prejudice’. They could save far more lives if they used Banksy’s money (the boat cost over £800,000) and his skills on a publicity campaign warning these poor people not to come.

But that wouldn’t help achieve the underlying political objectives of those who want to subvert Europe’s borders. I don’t know the views of the individuals crewing Banksy’s boat so I’m indulging in supposition but some factors strongly suggest their likely beliefs. They describe themselves as a ‘non-hierarchical vegan collective’ and their vessel is named after Louise Michel, a 19th century anarchist. A bit of a giveaway perhaps.  

They are seemingly part of a wider Leftist movement which supports completely uncontrolled migration as a means to attack a social order they reject. Many of these people actively and semi-openly want revolution. Consider this wording from a manifesto on migration on the website ‘No Borders UK’. I’ll stress these aren’t words from the Louise Michel crew. Assigning guilt by association is unfair but the language is typical of the movement. They want a ‘new world,’ with the use of ‘sabotage’ and ‘resistance’ to help construct ‘alternative social and political structures’, which become the ‘infrastructure for open rebellion.’

 If you think I’m being overly selective, please read the full thing. There’s plenty more.

The migrant bodies crammed into the boats become weaponised; little more than a battering ram in the adolescent fantasies and anti-western ideology of the ‘rebels’. It’s a nasty game of moral hazard. Every action the European countries take to police their borders, the most basic right of a nation state, is painted as cruel. But anything that increases, however slightly, the chances of success for the migrants only puts more at risk. Every drowned soul is blamed on evil governments for not doing everything to facilitate the passage of anyone who gets into a boat, however rickety. But the pious radicals who aid this traffic accept no guilt for the deaths.

The reservoir of people who would make the trip if they could is immense. In 2019, the BBC reported that 37 per cent of Africans wanted to emigrate. Of these, 27 per cent wanted to go to Europe. According to ‘World Population Review’ the population of Africa is 1.34billion, (and rising fast). Doing the maths means that 133million want to live in Europe.

Underneath the numbers are stories of people with the wholly understandable desire of finding a better life for themselves and their children. Africans are as entitled as anyone else to happiness, comfort and a reasonable standard of living. That doesn’t mean Europe is capable of accommodating them, and you will never solve Africa’s problems by draining away its most enterprising and energetic young people. What Africa really needs is better government, meaning less conflict, less corruption, improved access to world markets and the sustained economic growth that capitalism brings.

For years Africa has been crippled by authoritarian governments whose economic policies in the decades after decolonisation were disastrous. As Swedish economist Jonah Norberg has described, they followed policies of ‘tariffs, nationalisation and the detailed control of industry’. Government purchasing monopolies were a common feature across the continent, controlling prices and the distribution of necessities. Africa’s economy was fundamentally broken for decades.

But slowly, the continent is liberalising and economic progress is starting to make a difference. The ideas of free market economics are helping push African growth, which over the last few years hasn’t been stratospheric, but has at least been good. 

And although it’s a decline that can never be fast enough, the proportion of Africans living in dire poverty is dropping fast.

Somehow, though, I don’t think we’ll see Banksy and his no-borders Leftie friends calling for things that really can improve the lives of hundreds of millions of Africans: more capitalism and more of the ideas and institutions that sustain it.

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Ollie Wright
Ollie Wright
Ollie Wright is an ex-Labour Party man with a life long interest in politics and history.

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