2 Sep 2013

What next for Africa-EU relations?

by Ida Horner.

What will the next 50 years look like? How will the EU respond to new players in Africa?


The European Union’s relationship with Africa can be traced back to the 1958 Treaty of Rome. On France’s instance an agreement was reached amongst the six European Economic Commission (EEC) nations to provide aid via a funding instrument known as the European Development Fund (EDF) as well as access to European markets for a selection of goods. This provision was for mostly Francophile countries in Sub Saharan Africa.

The process of decolonisation that started in 1960s meant that these provisions had to be renegotiated with the effect of formalising the relationship into several conventions leading to what has been termed as the EurAfrica ideology. The EurAfrica ideology sees Europe and Africa, as complimenting each other in the sense that Africa needs access to Europe’s markets and technical know-how whilst Europe needs Africa’s raw materials and a market of its finished goods.

Although the EU-Africa relationship has evolved over the years and moved on from this exchange of raw materials for manufactured goods, disagreements remain as to whether it is a relationship of equals or not. Whilst in some quotas it is argued that the relationship is still neocolonial in its nature as noted by Pan Africanist leaders like Kwame Nkrumah who argued that, although these African countries were politically independent, their economies and as such crucial policies were run and controlled by the former colonial masters, others argue that it is not entirely exploitative even though it is weighted in favour of Europeans due to resources (aid and market access) of the EU and yet another view is that the relationship can be described in clientelism terms meaning that both parties benefit from it and in fact that Africa takes advantage of its more powerful partner.

One of the outcomes of this relationship for the EU is, its development policy which has evolved from this special relationship with Africa, and that initial association with mostly Francophone African countries.

The Africa-EU relationship has been impacted by events that are to do with the internal workings of the EU itself such as: EU enlargement, EU Institutional Architecture, Common Security and Foreign Policy, the Common Agriculture Policy of the EU (CADDP), as well as events within the international community in which the EU operates such as the end of the Cold War, policies of the International institutions such as the World Trade Organisation, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the United Nations General Assembly.

The question that faces the EU today and indeed Africa is what the next 50 years will look like.

Crucially donors of development aid such as India, China, Brazil, Turkey have come onto the scene and the focus of their aid and indeed aid disbursement methodology is markedly different to that of the EU.

The EU and indeed other western donors have concerns with respect to China’s presence in Africa in particular. These concerns are to do with what is perceived as China’s poor human rights record and good governance. This latter point especially concerns western donors. African countries are said to have a preference for aid from China because it does not come with conditionality, a key aspect of aid from western donors. The impact of China’s interest in Africa is still unfolding, it is however prudent to ask questions as to how this will impact the EU’s development policy in Africa and as such its relationship with Africa

Would the EU for instance abandon some of its normative values in order to compete for development programmes in Africa and by implication protect its interests on that continent?

Can the EU wield its soft power convincingly and or confidently in light of the new kids (BRICS) on the block?

A further question concerns increased economic growth in African countries and its implication for EU development policy. This growth is partly attributed to increased domestic resource mobilization.

What will happen if increasingly African countries have no need for EU aid?

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Reposted from Africa on the Blog.
Photo by Seth Tisue.

Ida Horner is the managing Editor of  Africa on the Blog and by day she is a Community Development Consultant. She is the Founder of Ethnic Supplies a social enterprise working to alleviate poverty amongst East African women involved in textile and handicraft production as well as the Chair person of a community Development charity Let them help themselves out of poverty.

Get in touch @idahorner

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