A realistic plan for, and with, Africa

Europe's World

Asia, Africa & Emerging Economies

Picture of Giampaolo Silvestri
Giampaolo Silvestri

Secretary-General of the AVSI Foundation

Africa is a divisive subject. While certain analysts claim that the continent’s future is bright and full of opportunities, others fear that it is condemned to stagnation.

Regardless of what the future holds, the world has clearly renewed its interest in Africa. Various actors see in the continent investment opportunities, a young labour force to tap into, and in some cases, a solution to Europe’s intensifying demographic winter.

The potential benefits presented by the continent make it essential to devise a practical plan for, and with, Africa. The rest of the world cannot stand by as mere onlooker nor should it approach this as a ‘gold rush’. Cooperation does not work that way.

Thankfully, recent years have seen a transformation in the process of planning renewed Europe-Africa relations. While all plans must be realistic – acknowledging both opportunities and inevitable obstacles – they must also retain the ambition to innovate.

In this new century, colonial logic must be abandoned in favour of one that respects African interlocutors

In Italy, a new budget law provides just such an opportunity. With the drastic drop in migrant arrivals, a significant amount of money has been freed up for housing. Indeed, 2018 saw 23,370 refugees and migrants arrive in Italy by sea, compared to 119,369 the year before. These new funds are expected to total between €500mn and €1bn – an amount that can have a significant impact on Italy-Africa relations if invested properly. To put that into perspective: the EU committed €1.4bn to educational programmes in Africa from 2014 to 2020.

A portion of these funds could be redeployed to developing foreign direct investment (FDI) projects in African countries of strategic interest. While the latest statistics show that Italy’s FDI in Africa has decreased – launching just 17 new projects in 2017 – this trend can be reversed. Moreover, this type of investment would balance the Italian government’s desire for stricter immigration control along the borders with an effective commitment to develop local economies in the countries of origin of many migrants and refugees, thus helping to stem the flow of migration.

Europeans must work together to find answers to some key questions around Europe’s evolving relationship with Africa. How should Europe invest in Africa? What regions are most in need of investment? What projects would have the most impact? Solutions will only be found once priority is given to ongoing successful initiatives and once efforts are made to strengthen their impact through a scaling up process.

In this new century, colonial logic must be abandoned in favour of one that respects African interlocutors. These individuals should come from all walks of life, from local and national institutions to civil society organisations and private enterprise.

Building strong foundations for development is a crucial first step to institutional building

Italy should use its newly available funds to activate financial partnerships with development banks, international organisations and the European Union. Priority should be given to a select number of countries in Africa – around 10 – that are the source of most of the migration flows to Europe, or that already boast a more entrenched Italian presence. This could include countries such as Nigeria, South Africa and Somalia, which stand out as the top countries of origin for sub-Saharan migrants living in Europe.

Building strong foundations for development is a crucial first step to institutional building. Projects should focus on education, agriculture, energy and climate change. In order to succeed, they will also need to properly engage young people and women and certainly include job training and placement programmes.

For instance, AVSI has implemented the Skilling Youth for Employment in Agri-business (SKY) project in Uganda. With funding provided by the Dutch embassy, the project created employment opportunities for 6,000 young locals. This was done by investing in practical training, employment support for trained youth and skilling in strategic agribusinesses.

By focusing on these issues, while supporting strong leadership, Europe and Africa can work together to build stable political and economic structures that limit corruption and prevent the exploitation of resources in a way that doesn’t benefit local communities. Planning for, and with Africa, is in everyone’s interest. Every goal we seek to achieve, from the most complex to the least involved, is impossible without the involvement of those who are on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. It is clear that we either stand together or we fall together. The best option should be obvious.

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