FEPS Fresh Thinking

Being at the World Social Forum in Dakar last week and listening to people, speeches as well participating at debates I sincerely got the impression that the relationship between Africa and Europe also needs change. Like the North African states, Europe has for too long defended “traditional” cooperation. From the time of independence – 50 years ago – until today economically and socially not so much has changed for the better. Half of the World’s poorest countries are in Africa. Civil wars and conflicts are still on the agenda and unemployment is disastrous, especially among the youth.

Is there hope and potential for change?

Europe could play a major role in the redefinition of a historical relationship. Some of the European leaders seem to understand the enormous challenge. Already in an article in 2008 I developed arguments why Africa matters to Europe and why Europe should be at the forefront to re-boost its relations with the continent:

  1. Africa’s post-colonial history has been a history of integration into the European economy and its markets. If Africa matters to Europe, it matters to the globalised world.
  2. Environmentally, Africa matters to the world and Europe because it has the greatest capacity for maintaining equilibrium in the biosphere and avoiding further depletion of the ozone layer.
  3. Africa has an abundance of natural resources. The continent ranks as the world’s No 1 in its reserves of bauxite, chromites, cobalt, diamonds and gold. It is rich in palladium, phosphates, platinum group metals, titanium minerals, vanadium and zircon. African production accounts for 80% of the world’s platinum group metals, 55% of chromites, 49% of palladium, 45% of vanadium and up to 55% of gold and diamonds.
  4. Africa offers easy market access to Europe and can in some cases extend extraordinary investment opportunities with high rates of return. Africa’s historical links and its geography provide European investors with a comparative advantage over North America and Asia, including China.

But all of that is only valuable if Africa offers to Europe a democratic and open political climate without corruption and with the respect of law. Discussions with the main opposition leaders of the BENNO Coalition in Senegal showed how money is drastically wasted by the current Senegalese government. Who from Europe is willing to invest in an economy where enormous side-payments are the norm? Who is willing to cooperate effectively with a government where nearly every month the ministerial chairs are changed and who is willing to finance restructuring of a still post-colonial economy based on agro-commodities and tourism.

And of course all of that is only valuable if Europe offers to Africa an alternative and a new relationship not based on the financial contribution to African governments.

Europe should not only be a pretender of a new partnership as often manifested in speeches!

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