French PM Calls for Euro-African Erasmus University Exchange Programme to Break Down Borders

The European Union should create an ‘African Erasmus’ student exchange programme as part of reparations for the slave trade, the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has proposed.

His call comes in an article written for The Africa Report magazine, in which he details the “hell” of the African slave trade and the horrors suffered by those affected.

Valls asserts that “in the name of greed and contempt for human life, [the slave trade] depleted the African continent of its vital energy, trampled on African societies, and denied cultures, knowledge and an ancestral heritage.”

He adds: “The slave trade was a disaster on a large scale. That reality must be remembered, taught and hammered home.”

As part of reparations for that historical event, Valls suggests a new Erasmus-style student exchange programme designed to break down the boundaries between Europe and Africa. The European programme has been linked with open borders.

“Freeing oneself from the past is also about turning to the future with enthusiasm,” he writes.

“It is not so much about living for the idea of reparation – as the great Martiniquan poet and a descendant of slaves, Aimé Césaire, said, slavery is ‘irreparable’ – as about looking to tomorrow, about strengthening the ties between our two continents on either side of the Mediterranean.

“That is why I am proposing to create a Euro-African Erasmus-type programme – which will need a name – so that young Africans and young Europeans can come and study in each other’s countries, meet, exchange ideas and learn together.

“That is also why we must support young African entrepreneurs, as I did in June of this year when I met the 100 young business creators, from 44 English-speaking and French-speaking African countries, who were awarded prizes by the Institut Choiseul. There is so much we can still do to build bridges between our two continents.”

The European Erasmus programme (‘Erasmus’ stands for ‘European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students’) was first set up in 1987 to encourage European students to live and study in other European countries as a way of breaking down national boundaries by encouraging stronger ties.

Currently, around 4,000 higher learning institutions across 33 countries take part in the scheme, and more than three million students have taken part since its inception, many of whom have gone on to work in the European institutions. As of 2012, Erasmus students represented about five per cent of European graduates.

A 2014 European Commission study into the impact of the Erasmus programme found that nearly a third of students who participated in the programme met their long-term partners while being on Erasmus. As a result, as many as 1 million babies are likely to have been born to Erasmus couples since 1987.

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