21 Oct 2013

New Directions: Reflections on change in Africa-EU Relations

by Nana Bema Kumi. It is time to revisit the principal elements in the Africa-EU Strategic Partnership. Neither side seems satisfied with the current state of the new relationship. There is no denying the fact that recent global economic and political upheavals have taken their toll on development policies.

However, few relationships, if any, have been impacted in a manner as pointed as the one between Africa and Europe. This fact underlies the unique nature of the relationship between the two continents, with or without the Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES). That relationship is multi-dimensional and indeed, a lot has been invested in it since centuries by both sides. It would simply be improper to consider it on the same basis as other relatively recent relationships.

Therefore the realisation that the goals set in the strategic partnership agreement of 2007 are not being actively pursued mainly because they do not receive required support from the two sides, is disturbing. For, targeted goals can only be attained if outlined processes and outcomes are owned and supported by both sides.

Whatever went wrong between the two in recent times seems to be getting worse. The major issues of common concern identified in the JAES have fallen victim to differences in interpretation and priorities identified by the two sides. It is pertinent to note that similar fate has befallen the Economic Partnership Agreements presented by the EU to Africa and other ACP partners. The enormous EU effort made over the years to get the proposed EPAs adopted by African countries and the resistance to the EPAs demonstrated variously by several African countries in spite of considerable pressure from different angles, drum the afore-mentioned differences beyond description. The Africa/EU Strategic Partnership should be spared a similar fate. Hence the need to reflect on how best to address our differences so as to establish a partnership relevant to our times.

The new partnership aims at ‘taking Africa-EU relations to a new strategic level with a strengthened political partnership and enhanced cooperation at all levels with a view to bridge the development divide.’ The goals therefore, are to strengthen existing political ties and help Africa overcome underdevelopment.

In the quest to realise the development goal, Africa should be mindful of the fact that, it has the larger responsibility to bridge that divide. Thus in considering the proposed ‘enhanced cooperation’, the critical issue of concern for Africa should be to determine the desired benefits from the new partnership within the context of globalization and its inherent competitive pressures that challenge realization of stable political and economic aspirations.

With that in mind, Africa should look beyond traditional aid which is being discredited by many as continued dependence and more of a setback tactic than real assistance. Though many African leaders continue to cling on to it, the fact remains that it is an option that compromises long-term development strategies of aid dependent countries.

African countries should look for the kind of cooperation that will eventually equip their citizens with the necessary technical know-how to bolster their efforts at value addition and intensify their search for local solutions to their challenges.

The following points are pertinent in the related debate:
  1. Africa has come of age. The proof partly being the fact that Africa’s own continental organisation, the African Union, has, since January, 2013, been touting the word ‘Renaissance’, calling for a new approach in managing our affairs. 
  2. Policies geared towards concerted efforts at value addition to our national assets should be Africa’s priority. It is the surest means by which African countries can rise to the challenge of providing the socio-economic development needed to lift its peoples from poverty and stem the tide of reckless migration. 
  3. Africa/EU partnership anchored on such vision will elicit win-win ventures that will serve the sustainable interests of both partners. 
It should not be lost on Africa that, whereas the EU speaks for its member-states, the AU does not have the same level of authority to speak for African countries. Since most of JAES negotiations are held mainly between EU and AU officials, it is incumbent on Africa to find a way of addressing that important difference in order to facilitate formation of common positions within the African group and discourage the divide and rule tactics of old. In that regard, efforts should be made to enable each African country identify with the JAES objectives and the orientation of the forthcoming Summit. Above all, Africa must project in its preparations for the forthcoming Summit, the strong desire to strive towards achieving regional economic integration because it is the best way to meaningfully engage other similar groupings in a partnership of equals.

Let Africa’s preparations for the Third Africa-EU Summit serve as a wake-up call to its leaders!


Photo by Leo Reynolds. 

Nana Bema Kumi is the Director of Nyansapo House, Institute of Diplomatic Practice and Development Policies (1-2DP). She is an Ambassador and an accomplished diplomat with thirty-five years exposure to the international arena in political, economic as well as legal spheres.

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