On Thursday, March 11, Socires/foodFIRST in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) organized a webinar to discuss EU-Africa relations with the President of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo. Close relations between the European Union and the states of Africa are of utmost importance for both sides and were hardly coincidentally one of the priorities of the German Council Presidency 2020. Even though an intended EU-AU-Summit needed to be postponed due to the COVID-19-pandemic, Angela Merkel and many of her EU counterparts stated that cooperation is crucial in several fields, reaching from migration to climate change to sustainable economic growth and prosperity. Also, on the 1st of January, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) came into effect and will create strategic opportunities for African and European actors to meet on equal terms. To achieve a partnership on an eye-to-eye-level and tackle the challenges that remain equally important on both sides of the Mediterranean, the perspective of the African states or the African Union as a whole must be included in dialogues to achieve a sustainable strategic partnership. This conference was the first of many to discuss how an equal partnership driven by shared interests between the EU and Africa can be fostered and how the AfCFTA can catalyse a relationship based on true reciprocity.
The webinar started with opening remarks from KAS President Prof. Dr. Norbert Lammert who laid out the context of the importance of such a session. Ms Shada Islam from New Horizons Project moderated the afternoon.
The President began by acknowledging the longstanding EU-AU relations and listing the current state of the bi-continental relationship. First, the well-intentioned European policy of providing aid to help lift Africans out of poverty has not achieved its purpose. For truly sustainable development, transform African economies and generate employment, Africa needs to develop the capability of locally producing what it consumes, and trade finished products competitively with Europe. However, the fundamental responsibilities of achieving this are Africa’s to build economies that are globally competitive and engage with other countries through trade, investments and political alliance. The time has come for Europe to abandon the mentality of helping the poor Africans and move towards establishing a sustainable strategic cooperation for long-term mutual benefits. To effectively market and achieve the prospects of the African continent, attract the requisite investment into the continent, and build partnerships focused on Africa’s growth and transformation, a reciprocal EU-AU partnership is imperative to achieve the following: (i) focus support on growth-enhancing interventions in infrastructure and skills development, (ii) simplify processes in respect to systems for infrastructure projects, (iii) establish a joint AU-EU fiscal committee to develop procedures for processing infrastructure projects in Africa integrating private partnerships, (iv) design a new global financial system that allows African countries to access capital to grow covid-ravished economies, and (iv) create a model for addressing climate change in Africa and Europe to ensure the rapid growth of both continents. In conclusion, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) presents another opportunity to consolidate EU-AU relations. The AfCFTA will link all the 54 markets and connect 1.2 billion people, making it the world’s largest free trade area outside of the World Trade Organisation. Here lies an opportunity for European and African countries to trade based on mutuality of interest focused on generating shared prosperity.
Mr Gahler began by acknowledging the legitimacy of the claims and suggestions made by the President and proceeds to expatiate on the roles of the EU in achieving a reciprocal partnership with the AU. Indeed, the AfCFTA presents a chance to restructure existing EU-AU relations. The first way this can be manifested is by sharing the practical experience that the EU has gleaned over the decades since establishing its continental trade agreement. The second is to modify current development interventions to create partnerships for investments and job creation. Current themes of EU-AU relations – (a) green deal and access to energy, (b) digital change, (c) sustainable growth and employment, (d) peace, security, good governance and resilience, and (e) migration and mobility – should be made operatable and compactable with the African new order. Furthermore, before the AfCFTA is fully deployed, existing regional frameworks such as ECOWAS (Economic Commission of West African States) must be built upon and strengthen. Finally, the European Parliament is dedicated to offering more than just mere lips service about the development of African and to more towards a more trade- and investment-oriented trajectory.
Ms van der Heijder first highlighted the unique relationship the two continents have. Africa and Europe are bound together by history, economy, climate-induced environmental changes, migration and geography, thereby, facilitating a necessary relationship. Contemporary socio-enviro-economic dynamics creates room for the EU-AU relations to evolve and four issues present opportunities – they include:
Prof. Dr. Wieck called for the need to follow the recommendations of the EU-AU Taskforce for Rural Africa (TFRA) to utilise the agri-food sector and rural economic transformation as a catalyst for economic growth, trade, poverty reduction, food security, and women and youth empowerment. Across Africa and Europe, there are commonalities in the opportunities and challenges of the food sector, such as exposure to climate change, animal and plants pests and diseases, productivity requirements, and sustainability of current food systems. The EU agriculture sector is strongly dependent on agriculture subsidies, whereas African governments mostly lack the funds to subsidise farmers at similar levels. As subsidies are continuously reformed to reduce the trade-distorting effects on the European side, African states must acknowledge and follow exemplary (e.g., Ghana’s Planting for Food and Jobs Programme) smart mix of subsidies and policies to achieve, with modest funds, impressive results. Therefore, the agriculture sector and related policies may be a good area to share experience and expertise, cooperate at a technical level, jointly negotiate policies in the content of equal partnership, and join forces at multilateral levels to implement and defend a rules-based international trading system. The TFRA exemplifies such partnerships and proffers ways on how equal partnership in the argic-food sector can be implemented by the emphasised role of African leadership and experienced expertise and finance that the EU could offer developed at the people-to-people, business-to-business, and government-to-government levels. Policy dialogues that ensure policy consistency on both sides is an important part of such partnerships. The EU-African Agri-business Forum and the annual German African agri-business Forum consolidate the prospect of such partnerships. However, such initiatives must be strategically tied together at the political level, for example by establishing joint EU-African universities and research centres.
Ms Okafor spoke passionately about the current challenges the African youth are facing at the moment. She noted how the EU-AU relationship, for centuries, is defined by its paternalistic foundation. African youths bear the brunt of the social, economic and environmental consequences of the many decisions made without youth involvement. Africa is experiencing a youth bulge and urbanisation is occurring faster than industrialisation is. Hence, governments face the challenges of providing the youth with jobs and opportunities that safeguard their future. These issues, coupled with the current and projected effects of the changing climate, exacerbate the uncertainties. Ms Okafor also stressed Africa’s hope that lies in its young population. As digital natives, African youths hold a strategic, indispensable position to capitalise on technology to uncover innovative pro-African solutions to challenges confronting the continent.
As the youths seek answers to the current uncertainties confronting Africa’s youth, the following questions were put forward to the President and the panellists:
Participants had the opportunity to join the conversation via the chat function. Due to time limitations, questions were sub-grouped by the moderator, Ms Islam into:
The President first addressed the questions asked by the youth representative, he alluded to the current pro-democracy government systems of many African countries which allows for maximum and advanced citizen participation and encouraged the youth to get involved in politics. Concerning the benefits of the AfCFTA, the benefits cannot materialise if internal trade within Africa is the same as current trade relations with Europe. African states must identify niche areas of activity to gather expertise in the value-adding process. Here lies the opportunity for digitalisation and the youth. The EU involvement is limited to prioritise the prospects of young people because it has to be done from an African perspective. Concerning China, the reason behind China’s growing influence in Africa is because the Chinese have identified the major deficit confronting the continent which is the absence of quality infrastructure that impedes continental connectivity, and through their policies and trade are investing in infrastructure. Africa will welcome an equally vigorous European response in this end.
In support of the President’s call for youth participation in politics and the development of the continent, Mr Gahler emphasises the need for the youth to request better education from its leaders. Education is important, especially to enhance the employment ability of the young populace. The EU must collaborate with African governments in this regard. Also, African youths need to insist upon is good and corrupt-free governance because this has stunted development and standard of living. Ms van der Heijder added that the Global Youth Summit is a testament to Europe’s dedication to the involvement of youth to achieve reciprocal partnership. The Corona crisis has allowed for border democratisation of public dialogue and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established a Youth Advisory Committee comprising African youth to highlight the struggles and explore possible solutions. In addition to the issue of improved education earlier raised, there is a need to guarantee that current education meets the skillset requirement of the future job market. Youth activism around climate change is essential to safeguard the future. Furthermore, dedicated policies are needed to ensure that the poor and marginalised benefit from the economic prosperity the AfCFTA can generate. On the African continent, Prof. Dr. Wieck noted that there exists a huge market for African food products and this is an opportunity for young Africans to create start-up hubs dedicated to developing goods and services specifically tailored to the African market. The changing geopolitical influence in Africa allows for healthy competition which consequently encourages innovation and propels equal EU-AU cooperation.
Ms Islam concluded the session with a call for a follow-up, as there is still much left to discuss, especially towards the possible summits to be held in the fall, such as the UN Food Systems Summit, the EU-AU Summit and the COP 26.