30 Jan 2014


By Marta Martinelli 

Can EU and Africa strengthen their cooperation?
The 2007 Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) is one of the main frameworks for Africa-European Union (EU) relations. It was intended to end the unbalanced donor-recipient relationship typical of past relations between Africa and the EU, and to be a truly diverse and people-focused initiative, where civil society had a key place alongside institutions and member governments.

The upcoming Africa-EU Summit in April 2014 envisages its reform. Indeed, six years on a key issue concerns the ability of the partnership to deliver concrete results for the lives of European and African citizens and prove its added value in relation to other frameworks for EU-Africa engagement. All partners harbor doubts that the partnership in its current form can promote significant change in Africa-EU relations.

Structural impediments to a more effective JAES include cumbersome decision-making procedures and excessively broad areas of focus; unbalanced funding (with African states and financial institutions more reluctant to provide resources); little connection with other international processes such as the Cotonou Agreement and the Post-2015 Development Agenda; and no dedicated funds for civil society participation. Politically, the project has lost momentum. Thorny questions such as negotiations over the Economic Partnership Agreements between Africa and the EU, and the role of the International Criminal Court undermine the relationship between the two continents.

Societal challenges also remain. Events in Africa and Europe (the North African uprisings, the rise of populism, and economic uncertainty in Europe) divert public attention from international projects towards internal matters. Participation and consultation of civil society are organized in different ways in Africa and in Europe, and suffer from a lack of dedicated resources, making alignment of civil society methods and objectives difficult to achieve.

A civil society intercontinental forum with 32 African and 36 European civil society organizations (CSOs) gathered in Brussels in October 2013 to assess JAES progress and discuss current reform proposals from African and EU institutional representatives. From the beginning, CSOs have played a key role in identifying strategic priorities, and implementing and monitoring the initiatives adopted in the two JAES action plans (2007-2010 and 2010-2013).

This currently happens through participation in JAES structures such as the informal Expert Groups (iJEGs), which gather sectoral expertise and institutional representatives, and the Joint Task Force (JTF), where the EU and AU Commissions convene and where civil society participates when invited. Eight thematic partnerships (on peace and security, democratic governance and human rights, migration and mobility, Millennium Development Goals, climate change and environment, science and information technology, trade and regional integration, and energy) ensure that civil society can contribute observations on proposals and participate in their implementation.

Civil society representatives at the forum recognized that the JAES has improved dialogue between the EU and Africa, but remain concerned by the scarcity  of concrete achievements. CSOs also noted the low level of engagement by member states on both sides.

Current EU and African proposals to reform the JAES insist on the necessity to avoid duplications with other international partnerships and processes, such as the UN’s work on human rights or the development frameworks. African partners suggest the streamlining of structures within the JAES. European proposals focus on avoiding the creation of new bodies and building on the functioning structures such as the EU Council working groups. This would ensure that the JAES is associated with existing structures and earns early buy-in from member states including during implementation.

Both proposals tend to exclude CSOs from substantial deliberations. Increased formality of iJEGs and JTFs would result in a drastic reduction of the role of civil society, most likely limited to reporting from separate CSO deliberations. If this was the case, a fundamental pillar of the partnership’s democratic governance would be eliminated in favour of a purely institution-to-institution approach. The 'people centered' character of JAES would be lost and civil society would be in a much weaker position to contribute to and monitor the partnership.

The thematic priorities for the next action plan are also unclear. The EU insists on peace, democracy, and human rights; sustainable growth; and tackling global issues. African partners suggest a broader focus on peace and security; democracy, good governance, human rights and cultural cooperation; continental integration through, inter alia, accelerated infrastructure, development projects, investment and promotion of intra-Africa trade; sustainable and inclusive development; and human capital development.

Civil society has identified the following areas of common concern that should guide the JAES initiatives and identify where it has added value:
  • migration;
  • food security;
  • social and economic inequalities;
  • peace and security governance;
  • political participation, human rights, and transparency; and
  • trade, regional integration, and investments.

A closer look at other processes like the Africa Peer Review Mechanism, which has compiled its own best practices, would also help to identify areas where thematic priorities can align or complement existing frameworks.

Civil society has shown consistent support for the JAES project as a framework for EU-Africa relations and for building shared outlooks. However, CSOs claim that it is important to ensure that the financial burden of supporting the JAES is equally shared by European and African partners.

It is also important to address politically sensitive issues such as Economic Partnership Agreements and international justice. In this regard civil society could develop concrete initiatives by increasing advocacy, engaging in intercontinental monitoring mechanisms, and develop policy proposals that suggest ways out of the current blockages.

NGOs agree that it is important to simplify procedures and identify key thematic areas of joint work where progress can benefit both European and African societies. However, they believe such choices should be based on a thorough evaluation of the past two action plans and the added value of the JAES as opposed to other international frameworks. Currently, no realistic assessment has been communicated by the institutions to indicate where the JAES can make a difference in EU-Africa relations.  

Structurally, CSOs have suggested setting up civil society working groups whose representatives would also sit in decision making fora. The creation of a permanent secretariat would facilitate civil society work and function as a documentation center where information on initiatives undertaken under JAES can be preserved and accessed transparently. Finally, civil society supports the promotion of gender equality on both continents and suggests that an intercontinental women’s forum could be created and supported through the Pan-African financing mechanism.

The third action plan will take the JAES into its second decade of existence. Thematic priorities and structural reforms (including of financing mechanisms) are key to ensuring that it can deliver concrete results. If it loses sight of its role as a people-centered strategy, it will become an irrelevant project for the populations of both continents. Civil society is an integral part of the strategy and must be supported in this role. 

Marta Martinelli is Senior Policy Officer at the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa

Photos courtesy of OSISA and Government of South Africa 


This weeks infographics are a pair of beautiful maps showing the colourful pallet of African and European indigenous languages. In Africa there are 2000 - 3000 indigenous languages while in Europe there are 225. In international cooperation dialogue is important and we should appreciate and reflect upon the rich tapestry of histories and cultures across both continents.  

This map is courtesy of Think Africa Press

This map is courtesy of Eurominority

27 Jan 2014

African Union Commission and ECDPM to co-host meeting on making Africa-EU relations future-proof

This event on 14 February in Addis Ababa is an optimal time for all interested stakeholders to take part and look back at the successes and failures of the attempts to launch a strategic partnership and to revisit some strategic questions on the nature of the partnership. The session will be conducted in French and English and will be facilitated by eminent speakers/discussants. It will discuss important topics such as improving political dialogue to address contentious issues (the case of the International Criminal Court). With an information fair and the outcomes published in the ‘’Bulletin of the Fridays of the Commission’’, this meeting aims to inform a wide audience on the different activities around Africa-EU relations.

Visit the site for more details: Making Africa-EU relations future-proof.

23 Jan 2014

INFOGRAPHIC Africa-EU relations: Should development aid help contain migration?

This infographic from Euractiv examines EU aid and migration.

"After the Lampedusa tragedy, several EU leaders have called for development aid to be targeted toward countries, mostly in Africa, which are a major source of illegal immigration. See related article.

The European Commission admits that there is a link between giving aid and containing migratory flows, whilst insisting that the two tracks are completely separate."

Check it out by going to the link here: Should development aid help contain migration?

10 Jan 2014

Towards Africa-EU Brussels Summit: dialogue and capacity for delivery

by Mehari Taddele Maru and Emebet G. Abate.

Scheduled for April 2014, the 4th Africa-EU Summit will be held in Brussels. The Summit comes at a unique period due to four important developments: the crises in South Sudan, Central African Republic, and Mali, and the ensuing upheavals in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, the new leadership at the African Union Commission (AUC), and the proliferation of African partnerships with various old and newly emerging powers. With a different philosophy influencing the new leadership at the AUC, and divergent views on the causes, consequences and responses to the crises following the North African uprisings, the upcoming Summit needs to focus on overhauling the partnership and its underpinning assumptions.

A partnership characterised by fatigue and frustration

For varied reasons, those regularly engaged in the Africa-EU partnership tend to exhibit a degree of fatigue and frustration. If not addressed during the Brussels Summit and 4th partnership period, the ongoing fatigue and frustration may grow to mutually assured distrust about the partnership. The AU has already indicated its position on the need to overhaul its partnerships with a view to embracing the minimalist and inclusive approach. More importantly it urges all partnerships to be anchored in priority based on “concrete projects with earmarked funding” modeled after the Africa-India, Africa-Korea and Africa-China or FOCAC partnerships

The focus should be on “implementation, implementation, and implementation

Compared to some other partnerships, the Africa-EU partnership has been characterised by a lack of delivery of concrete actions commensurate with the pledges and promises of the previous Summits and technical meetings. A case in point is the current disappointingly low performance in all partnership areas. This is partly due to the lengthy procedures in terms of disbursement of funding by the EU, but more so in that actual financial disbursement does not usually match up with pledges.

Largely, the lack of delivery emanates from the weak absorption capacity of the AU. The AUC, designed to be the engine of the AU, reflecting 78% of the budget and 92% of the total human resources of the AU, is currently functioning with only 54% of its approved staff complement. It has 1,458 staff members, of which 495 are professional. With 319 professional positions vacant, it employs more than 800 short-term consultants. Its programme performance and budget execution rate, as assessed by the AU Assembly for 2012 remains at a dismal 60%. This conceals a much worse performance rate in the execution of its programme budget, which stands at a depressingly low 39%. Some departments critical to ensuring human security in the long term are “struggling between execution rates of 15% and 25% budget execution.”

Weaknesses on either side are likely to affect the overall performance of the partnership. Since one of the most serious binding constraints of the partnership has been the slow and low delivery of most of the projects, the effectiveness of the next partnership period will depend on the capability of the AU to absorb the existing funds and implement the relevant projects. Hence, given its human resource capacity limitations, and its sluggish internal decision-making procedures, the AU’s delivery capabilities in terms of this partnership will have to be developed as a partnership priority. 

Delivery as a measurement for an effective partnership

Effective delivery depends on the will and capacity of the partners. Both sides need to ensure continuous dialogue to reinforce political will and identify and reinforce overlapping consensus. On the EU side, it has to make resources available. The EU should provide much-needed funding without any conditional strings attached, and needs to understand Africa’s priorities. This however does not mean that there should not be mutual accountability by either side toward one another. As such there should be a clear allocation of responsibilities, review of progress and proposals for addressing weaknesses. Such processes, though, need to be conducted on the basis of mutual respect and equality, not as a donor-recipient subordinate relationship, one questioning and the other responding. Both partners need to question and provide answers. Above all, however, dialogue should aim at offering impetus for implementation, and reviewing progress and ensuring mutual accountability. 

Mega trends in Africa and the EU’s unique pedigree

By aggressively working on fewer, yet more essential shared priorities with anticipated high returns on efforts and resources, the Africa-EU partnership could be turned into a natural and mutually vital partnership. However, the partnership needs to avoid areas that are already sufficiently covered by other partnerships in order to reduce the potential waste of resources by duplication of efforts. The partnership also needs to strive to enhance its returns for its efforts by investment in areas of comparative advantage.

In this regard, three mega trends in Africa shed light on the Africa-EU partnership’s preferred area of focus. First, with increasing worldwide competition for resources, trade, investment and markets, and with an ill-equipped regulatory and enforcement mechanism, Africa still manages multiple and diverse partnerships. Currently, Africa has more than a dozen partnerships, including the Africa-EU, Africa-China (FOCAC), Africa-Japan (TICAD), Africa-India, Africa-Turkey, Africa-USA (AGOA), Africa-South America, Africa-France and the Africa-Caribbean partnerships. There are also the Afro-Arab and Korea-Africa Forum partnerships in addition to potentially new relationships such as the Africa-Iran and Africa-Australasia partnerships. Other multilateral institutions such as the UN also collaborate very closely with Africa. As indicated in recent decisions of the AU, Africa is willing, but also progressively able, to grasp those opportunities with prospects for high returns and the ability to deliver results.

Second, and highly related to the first trend, is that in a bid to reclaim performance legitimacy, that African states have been denied by the ‘Washington Consensus’, African governments have focused heavily on the need to deliver basic services such as infrastructure, health, education and other public utilities. These increasing inclinations towards the ‘developmental state’ model comes with funding and soft loans devoid of governance related conditions. This trend is being enthusiastically supported within the AU Commission, including the new leadership. The main sources are non-traditional donors such as India, China and Korea. The deflationary implications of these trends for democracy, human rights and good governance are grave, as African developmental states seek performance legitimacy through delivery at the cost of popular legitimacy through democracy.

The AU needs to rapidly shift its focus toward the prevention of conflicts instead of unsuccessfully reacting to violent civil wars beyond its means. Increasingly, African problems will be local with regional and global impact, but their solution will mainly remain local in terms of grievances related to governance and political issues. Well-placed to promote democracy and human rights, the EU could assist the AU in a smooth transition towards preventive works through improved governance and economic development. Hence, in contrast to China, the unique pedigree of the EU and mega trends in Africa dictate that governance should take pride of place in this 4th Africa-EU partnership.


Dr Mehari Taddele Maru is International Consultant on African Union affairs, and Research Fellow at the NATO Defence College. Follow him @meharitaddele

Emebet Getachew is Consultant and expert on Gender, Peace and Security. She can be reached at emebet.ga@gmail.com