* Germany's Merkel sought to curb migration on Africa trip
* Population boom driving joblessness, desperation
* World's poorest nation Niger benefits from smuggling
By Tim Cocks and Edward McAllister
DAKAR/AGADEZ, Oct 13 When German Chancellor
Angela Merkel toured three African nations this week for talks
on curbing migration to Europe, the leader of the world's
poorest country, Niger, suggested it would take a "Marshall
Plan" of massive aid to stop people coming.
Merkel politely declined the request, expressing concern
about how well the aid would be spent and noting that, at a
summit in Malta last year, the European Union had already
earmarked 1.8 billion euros for a trust fund to train and
But Niger's President Mahatma Issoufou also proposed
something perhaps more significant, in the long run, than a
development package - bringing Niger's population growth down
from 3.9 percent, the highest in the world.
Though he gave no details on how this could be achieved,
demography clearly holds the key both to Europe's migration
crisis and to the African poverty feeding it. As long as
population growth in African countries outstrips their ability
to educate, house and employ their citizens, large numbers of
people will continue to brave the deserts and seas to escape.
"You can't resolve this by just paying money," said Owoeye
Olumide, a demographer at Bowen university in southwest Nigeria,
one of the world's most densely populated regions.
"There are going to be too many people ... the development
you need will not be possible. You have to lower fertility rates
and bring down population (by educating and empowering women)."
Niger, a vast, largely desert nation to the north of
Nigeria, presents the starkest example of Africa's challenges.
With an average of 7.6 children born to each woman, its
population is projected to more than triple to 72 million by
2050, from about 20 million now, according to the latest U.N.
figures. By then, Africa will have more than doubled its
population to 2.4 billion, the United Nations says.
Frequent droughts in Niger cause hunger, and low investment
in education means a dearth of skills. Yet somehow it must
hugely increase food production just to stay where it is.
Ironically, Niger's location in the largely unpoliced sands
of the Sahara also makes it a draw for migrants. They come from
across Africa hoping to be smuggled to a better life in Libya or
Algeria -- or over the Mediterranean to Europe.
In doing so, the migrants bring cash to Niger, a country
that has repeatedly proved unable to feed itself.
Ousmane Diallo, 38, travelled for 10 days by bus from Sierra
Leone on the Atlantic coast to Agadez, a Saharan town in Niger
at the crossroads of the people-smuggling business. He spent
$700 on police and military checkpoints along the way.
His is precisely the kind of ambition the German chancellor
would like to discourage.
"I want to work in a car factory in Germany," he said in a
dimly lit restaurant in Agadez, his few possessions - spare
trousers, shoes, water and a Bible - crammed into a small bag.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) expects
migration through the Agadez region this year to reach 300,000,
more than twice the 120,000 it estimates came through in 2015.
EU officials hope to deter migrants like Diallo by making
clear that life as an illegal immigrant in Europe is hardly
better than staying in Africa. But that message has yet to
Diallo was swindled out of 150,000 CFA francs ($256) he paid
smugglers in Agadez to reach central Libya. Desperate, he has
given his last 50,000 CFA to a gang he hopes will come good.
"(In) Europe ... I can save and earn money. I cannot return
back. I have nothing there," he said of his native Sierra Leone.
In 2013, Niger's corruption investigators did a study on
smuggling that was never published, but which Reuters has seen.
It said Niger's security forces make almost half a million CFA
francs ($850) from every round trip by a smuggling truck -- just
from migrants alone, not including payoffs from the gangs.
The government did not respond to a request for comment.
Agadez, a desolate town of sandy streets and mud houses, is
booming. Touts flock to fresh migrants at the bus station. For
$10, they offer space in padlocked courtyards where arrivals
sleep on dirt floors. Landlords might squeeze 40 migrants into
one yard, making hundreds of dollars a night.
Money changers and motor oil vendors throng the streets.
"Pretty much the whole population of Agadez now lives off
providing services to migrants in transit," said Richard
Danziger, IOM regional director for West and Central Africa.
"What we can't do right now is offer real alternatives," he
said, adding that "a mixture of development aid and job creation
is the only way forward".
According to a theory popular with investment bankers and
management consultants, Africa's population woes will solve
themselves. Africa, they say, will reap a "demographic dividend"
as its bulging youth population drives innovation and consumer
markets -- as happened to Asia in decades past.
The latest commodity crash highlighted reasons for being
less optimistic: Africa remains over-dependent on raw materials
and has failed to create the manufacturing or service jobs that
helped drive Asia forwards.
And despite predictions, economic growth hasn't
significantly cut birth rates in most African countries.
Yet even if Africa is 'rising', says Renaissance Capital's
Charles Robertson, himself an optimist, migration will remain
Any bright youth who chooses to stay in most African
countries has a good chance of doubling his wealth over 10
years, he says, but that still presents a dilemma:
"You can stay where you are and go back to where Germany was
in 1920 or you can leapfrog 90 years of development and have a
better standard of living now," he said. "That isn't going to
change for half a century."
($1 = 585 CFA francs)
(Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke in Niamey, David Lewis
in Nairobi and Alastair MacDonald in Brussels; Editing by Gareth