Why does Africa matter for Europe?

The EU and Africa both need a wide-ranging partnership agreement. Ernst Stetter, the Secretary General of the Foundation for Progressive Studies, explains why.


The EU and Africa both need a wide-ranging partnership agreement. Ernst Stetter, the Secretary General of the Foundation for Progressive Studies, explains why.


At the last Africa Union-European Union Summit, which took place on 29-30 November 2017 in Abidjan, European and African heads of state gathered to discuss a wide range of global and regional challenges, under the umbrella of African youth empowerment. Indeed, in the final declaration published on 7 December, emphasis was put on investing in youth as a prerequisite for building a sustainable future. As France’s President Emmanuel Macron said during his speech at Ouagadougou University two days before the summit, the influence of this generation on the African continent will be decisive for the future of the world given that, by 2050, there will be 450 million young people looking for a job opportunity in the labour market and 1 in 4 working age people will be African.

Tackling the major problems

For Africa to have a sustainable future it will need to tackle the major economic and political problems of the continent: bad governance, political conflicts, a discontented population, food insecurity, massive displacement of populations and migration flows towards Europe.

However, when it comes to the debate about Africa there is as strong sense of ‘déjà vu’ with a lot of repetition of often quoted terms such as sustain- able and mutual development, the partnership between the two continents, the strategic interests.

The most urgent issue is undoubtedly the migration issue and the ongoing tragedy of human losses in the Sahara and in the Mediterranean Sea. It should be clearly said that there is no short-term strategy either for Europe or for Africa to solve the root causes of migration and particularly irregular migration. Short-term increases in investment in Africa for jobs for younger people and Europe’s focus on security approach will not immediately curb migration flows.

With the Africa-EU Joint Strategy (2007-2017) and the Cotonou Agreement coming to an end, respectively in 2017 and 2020, the renewal of this partnership between the two ‘Unions’ is essential and should be a genuine strategic compact that can last for at least another two decades. The future framework of this compact has to incorporate socio-economic and political features. It also has to overcome hollow wordings and to address the deep-rooted reasons for growing mistrust between Africa and Europe as well as the ineffectiveness of EU-Africa cooperation. Ultimately the aim of such a ‘cooperation compact’ would be a common consensus and deeper understanding of the partnership. Both partners need to provide strong and compel- ling arguments to attract the international community and to give incentives for the business community.

Africa’s major assets

Unquestionably Africa matters: The African continent is the second largest and second most populated continent with more than 1.3 billion habitants. With the population growing rapidly, it is estimated that, in 2050, approximately 2.5 billion people will be living in Africa. 2015 marks the 20th year since sub-Saharan Africa started on a path of faster economic growth. During that period, growth has averaged 5.2% per year. There are sustainable growth rates, rising foreign direct investment and foreign exchange reserves, robust export performance and lower debt levels in a lot of African countries. Environmentally, Africa matters because it has the greatest capacity for maintaining equilibrium in the biosphere and avoiding further depletion of the ozone layer. The continent has the largest reserves of bauxite, chromites, cobalt, diamonds and gold in the world. 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. Africa’s historical links and its geography provide European investors with a comparative advantage over North America and Asia, including China. But the numerous factors that have increasingly contributed to the marginalisation of the continent on the global stage should not be forgotten. These factors include political weakness and bad governance structures since independence was declared in the 1960s. Reforming Africa’s political and economic governance is clearly the absolute priority, but it is first and foremost an internal problem for Africa. For more than 30 years, outsiders have tried without much success to support and contribute to more democracy, greater economic growth and good governance. There is growing consciousness amongst the younger generation of the need to make progress on achieving lasting economic stability, sustainable growth and in particular better governance. Moreover, there is also growing awareness that the continent has to overcome its public image, which is usually associated with hunger, poverty, disease and conflict, and which does not capture Africa’s diverse reality.

However, one cannot address the migration issue and the youth problem without address- ing the concerns of the fast growing population, which does not have adequate infrastructure to respond to its rapidly increasing needs. The number of people on the continent reportedly living under $1.25 a day has continued to creep upwards from 358 million in 1996 to 415 million in 2011, the most recent year for which official estimates exist. The impact of the change away from the ‘traditional’ agricultural model, leaving many jobless and in precarious conditions, offering them no forward-looking edu- cation and training and urging them to leave rural areas and move to the cities has led to a huge problem of fast grow- ing cities without sustainable urban planning and a shortage of job opportunities in almost all the African cities. For example, whereas Dakar in Senegal was, in the 1970s, a city of approximately one million inhabitants, it is now an urban area of more than six million people. In the 1970s Senegal had a population of 6 million. This has risen to 12 million today. This means that, whereas only one sixth of the population used to live in the capital region, the pro- portion has risen to half of the population.

The crucial issue is education and training combined with access to higher education and, in particular, professional training on the job.

This is one of the most obvious reasons why poverty, insecurity and the lack of prospects for the future are leading many people to choose dangerous paths, risking their lives in the Sahara and Mediterranean Sea to reach the European continent or following radical speeches leading to Jihadism and terrorism.

Creating opportunities for young people to flourish and remain in Africa is therefore the key ingredient for sustainable growth, stability and peace. But this is easier to agree on than to put in place. The crucial issue is education and training combined with access to higher education and, in particular, professional training on the job. As the major economic producers in most of the African countries, medium and small-scale industries need well trained and skilled people. Without them there is no production and without production there is no need for skilled workers.

Historically, the European Union has had always a positive impact when it comes to development assistance in African countries. As the fourth largest donor in the world (net official development assistance), the EU contributed with more than US$15.7 billion in 2016 and has set the reduction of poverty and human development as a priority target. One of the decisions announced at the Abidjan Summit, the creation of the €44 billion EU External Investment Plan for Africa (in addition to the initiatives already put in place by the Multiannual Framework and the Fund for Africa), opens yet more opportunities to foster private sector investments that can lead to the creation of urgently needed, good and sustainable jobs.

Finally, Africa matters for Europe and Europe matters for Africa and both together should work towards forging a wide-ranging bi-continental partnership.

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