23 Sep 2013

A people-centered Africa-EU partnership: the role of civil society

“The crucial element of the people-centered agenda seems to have been missing in the last few years of the implementation plan,” explained Dr Joseph Chilengi, the African co-Chairperson of the Africa-EU Civil Society Joint Steering Committee.

“Civil society,” he adds; “ranks among key stakeholders of this valuable, people-centered partnership.”

Dr Chilengi admits that the next Africa-EU Summit needs “an increased space for civil society participation within the partnership” in an interview on the Africa-EU partnership website.

“The discussion does not have to remain at the level of the states but be left in the hands of the citizens. At the end of the day, they are the ones driving the development at the lower level.”

In terms of the partnership, he says: “We would like to suggest not collapsing the JAES Mechanism… The Joint Task Force Meeting and the Joint Experts Group should be combined in one single entity endowed with a broader mandate to tackle emerging issues. Eventually, this new formation would become the technical arm of the political dialogue.”

Though he admits the “current eight thematic partnerships could have been too ambitious”, he remains positive for the future.

“The partnership added-value is that development is delivered within the global chain in a more coherent manner. There is peer kind of pressure from both parties to encourage one another to experience better results by replicating what has led them successfully to their current level. Africa and Europe are now having less challenges reaching a common position on most issues, be they about regional or international cooperation;” says Dr Chilengi.

The relations between Africa and the EU have moved beyond ‘donor-recipient’, and now “the partnership has set those relations on new footing, essentially based on equality and equity. The civil society voice has become prominent in terms of driving the agenda. We have now reached the point where common positions are reached much faster;” he says.

He says that when dealing directly with the European and African Commissions, it was difficult to “find our ways within the maze of bureaucracy” – causing delays in getting expected results, but now the “mentality, the attitude, the perception have very much improved” due to the JAES Support Mechanism.

Dr Chilengi discusses the next Civil Society Forum, and says: “During the first Forum, there were a lot of misunderstandings between our European counterparts and us. But today, I must admit we have blended very well and have a better understanding of the whole process.”

The full interview was posted on the Africa-EU Partnership website.

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