Europe’s relations with Africa are going through a period of radical change, reflecting the continents’ contrasting demographic trends and the need to improve Africa’s environment for trade and business.
“We need a reset in the relationship between Europe and Africa,” said Mo Ibrahim, a telecommunications entrepreneur and Chairman and Founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. “They are two continents separated by minds.”
The Friends of Europe Africa Summit on 4 June addressed a wide range of topics. It followed an EU-Africa Summit held in Abidjan in November 2017, which focused on building more resilient states and societies and creating more and better jobs. Europeans want to engage African governments on migration, governance, development and security challenges. Meanwhile, Agenda 2063, adopted by the African Union in 2013, set out the vision of “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the international arena”.
However, the voice of African civil society representatives – including business leaders, parliamentarians, local authorities, young people and women – is often drowned out by European interlocuters and African officials. “A lot of time we have plans drawn up at a high level, but if you bring the plans to Africa, if local communities at ground level are not engaged that’s how those plans fail,” said Williametta Piso Saydee-Tarr, Liberian Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection. “So, it is very Important that the local communities are engaged and taken along the journey.”
Africa is going through a period of strong economic growth and is producing a growing number of entrepreneurs. To be successful, they need greater opportunities to expand, as well as the means to trade more easily both within Africa and with the rest of the world. At the same time, young Africans need to be equipped with the skills needed by companies.
“Many are not trained for the kind of jobs needed,” said Ibrahim. “There are dysfunctional education systems in many African countries, which are not training people for jobs. I appreciate art. But Africa needs to build roads and dams and to supply water. We need technicians and agronomists.”
Africa is producing a growing number of creative talents, in particular in the clothing and digital industries. Digitalisation is expected to bring an additional $300 billion to Africa by 2026. But it is not always easy to convert ideas into businesses. “No country has ever developed without investing in their own people,” said Pauline Mujawamariya Koelbl, Managing Director of the African Innovation Foundation and Programme Director of the Innovation Prize for Africa and Innovation. “We have seen that innovation does not happen in a vacuum. We need to accompany innovations along the value chain.”
Financing is an important condition for launching a business – but to access it, businesses must first make themselves visible to potential investors. “It’s a combination of being at the right trade shows and having people who get to know you,” said Sindiso Khumalo, Designer and Founder of Sindiso Khumalo Fashion, which works towards promoting sustainable and ethical African creations. “You do not have to go to the government to get funding. Venture capital funding is one of the ways. But no one will pay attention to you unless they can see you.”
A major challenge for economic growth is good governance, without which foreign investors will be reluctant to set up in Africa. “We need to work with the private sector much more seriously and ask what the main reasons are that they are not investing in this market,” said Christoph Beier, Vice Chair of the Management Board, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). “We have not been successful in creating sustainable growth also because of governance issues: economic governance in most countries is really bad. So what will we do? Carry on like before in the hope of better conditions in 30 years? We can’t do that because we have time pressure.”
The impact of poor governance goes beyond business, said Esther Nakajjigo, Uganda’s Ambassador for Women and Girls. “Millions of Africans are forced to leave their homes because of armed conflicts,” she said. “Millions of euros have been invested in Africa but we have not got the Africa we want to see. It is time to deal with Africa’s sickness once and for all, otherwise the ones with energy will hold a gun. So I call on you to address the issue of bad governance and to stop dining with African leaders who are filthy rich.”
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