Africa-Europe ties need a reset – but not just because of migration

Frankly Speaking

Picture of Shada Islam
Shada Islam

Managing Director at New Horizons Project

Europe and Africa are engaged in a brave attempt to reset relations. The partnership is out of touch with new realities in both regions and in desperate need of modernisation.

Efforts to update ties should not be dominated by Europe’s “migrant crisis”, however. Nor should the focus only be on new “Marshall Plans” and aid packages for the continent.

Instead, Europe and Africa must thrash out a new way of working together as partners with one common aim: investing in jobs, sustainable growth and inclusive development.

Easier said than done? Not really. Africa is changing fast, challenging out-dated European perceptions of the continent.
With its youthful population, access to technology, improvements in infrastructure, health and education, the continent has embarked on a new, more dynamic, era.

Europe needs to pay attention. Change and transformation are being driven from within Africa, not by outsiders. Still, with the right policies and an emphasis on good governance, Europeans can help speed up the transition.

Africa is changing fast, challenging out-dated European perceptions of the continent

Here are some key developments which demand more careful European attention.

Agenda 2063, adopted by the African Union in 2013, foresees “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena”. The AU vision and meetings such as the recent one in Brussels between the European Commission and the AU Commission are important in cementing the Europe-Africa partnership.

But EU policymakers must listen equally carefully to the voice of African civil society representatives, including business leaders, parliamentarians, local authorities, young people and women.

Africa is in the throes of an amazing and transformative technological revolution, as its youthful population drives massive digital innovation, creating more employment and growth and leapfrogging computers in favour of internet connections through mobile phones. As it changes the way people live and work, digitalisation is expected to bring an additional $300 billion to Africa by 2026 and also ensure government accountability, transparency and good governance.

Africa leads the world in the number of women starting businesses and in many countries the national economy is dependent on the success of women entrepreneurs. However, women entrepreneurs in Africa face barriers – including unequal access to finance ‒ that threaten to stifle innovation and slow the growth needed to propel their businesses and local economies.

The agreement on setting up an African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) last March in Kigali may seem like so much wishful thinking given the lack of progress so far in dismantling intra-African barriers to trade but the plan is a potential game-changer and deserves more attention and support.
The EU can provide help and expertise as African countries seek to reduce duties and tariffs, ease the movement of people, goods, and services and harmonise trade policies with the hopes of expediting regional integration, boosting intra-African trade, and, ultimately, increasing Africa’s share of global trade.

Modernising Europe-Africa relations requires that Europeans think more creatively about making the partnership more relevant to the needs of Africans

It’s time European policymakers start walking the talk on ending discrimination and capitalising on the African diaspora’s talent and expertise in boosting Africa’s development. Europeans of Africa descent are only just getting serious attention, however. As highlighted by the recent EU Week for People of African Descent held at the European Parliament, the struggle for equality and inclusion is by no means over.

Much has changed in both regions since the first Europe-Africa summit was held in Cairo in 2000. Europe has lost its once predominant role as the continent’s number one partner, with its influence increasingly challenged by China, Japan, India, Turkey, Brazil and Korea.

Competing strategies and projects may make good headlines but aren’t really in Africa’s interest. As such, Europe must work with the new actors as they invest in Africa’s natural resources and build large infrastructure and connectivity projects across the continent.

Modernising Europe-Africa relations requires that Europeans think more creatively about making the partnership more relevant to the needs of Africans.

That means listening to African governments but also to those who represent the interests of the dynamic young people, entrepreneurial women, visionary business leaders and local authorities that are really driving Africa’s growth and development.

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