The introducing paragraph of an article by Reuters regarding the summit of Leaders from Africa and Europe that took place this week in Brussels exposed the deepest flaw in the Africa-EU partnership and justified the argument that the two parties need to take a fresh look at each-other for a more meaningful alliance.
According to Reuters; the EU-Africa summit is designed to promote peace and investment on the “world’s poorest continent.” This description of Africa as the world’s poorest continent is not only wacky but also vague.
The description also emphasises the long-standing notion that western reporters are largely ‘illiterate’ regarding the African story. One would ask: In what sense is Africa the world’s poorest continent?
Describing Africa as poorest could be interpreted to mean that by partnering with the continent, Europe thinks it’s being kind to Africa as a way of ‘liberating’ it from poverty and disease. In other words, Africa-EU partnership is between a poor party and a wealthy one hence lacks the core ingredient of mutual respect and need for each other—a factor needed for the success of any form of partnerships whether social or economic.
Indeed, this apparent lack of respect and courtesy for African leaders was on full display when Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, at 90 and frail, was denied the company of his wife; an act I doubt Zimbabwe could ever do to a visiting European leader.
Apparently, Mugabe and his wife are subject to travel bans under EU sanctions following the government’s crackdown on political opponents and only occasionally waived to allow him to attend meetings.
It appears that Europe is still suffering from colonial hang-over, still wishing to treat their African counterparts as servants of the yesteryears before they gained independence. Sadly, African leaders have not helped matters and are to an extent to blame for this disregard with which they’re bequeathed by their European counterparts.
For instance; rather than discuss trade and more tangible investment projects in the areas of energy, roads and industrialisation, the summit was dominated by discussion on the conflict in Central African Republic and other unsettled African states.
Europe’s narrative on Africa is still dominated by conflict, disease and poverty, a narrative that African leaders have not done well to change and therefore share blame for the continent being browbeaten; placing Europe in the frame of a ‘saviour’ and Africa as the ‘victim’.
In the build-up to this week’s leaders’ summit, between November 2013 and March 2014, the EU organised six seminars that were addressed by 35 high-level African and European speakers and attended by over 600 persons from AU , EU, diplomats civil society organisations, youth, trade union and business sector.
One such seminar particularly discussed the all important subject regarding the future of Africa-EU Partnership where participants pondered on the major bottlenecks that are likely to thwart the success of the partnership between the two continents.
During the seminar, participants agreed that Europe needs Africa’s booming markets to boost its low growth rates but it was also noted that Europe can contribute to Africa’s aspirations for regional and continental integration where the former has registered success.
With a hungry market base and having some of the fastest growing economies in the world, vast natural resources and human labour, it’s clear why the description of Africa as the poorest continent is erroneous.
African participants who attended that seminar also unequivocally called on the EU to reprioritise Africa in the EU’s investment, trade and foreign policy agenda and stop regarding itself as an aid provider but rather as Africa’s closest trade partner.
It was also pointed out that it is not only important to determine what areas the partnership need to focus on but also how the partners should work together in order to get better results.
To achieve that; participants advised that Africa and Europe must take a fresh look at each other while taking note of the negative mutual perceptions that both continents have of each other and work towards dropping those old stereotypes.
Participants also observed that while Africa offers solutions to many of Europe’s problems and vice-versa, it should stop perceiving Europe as a neo-colonial power on the continent but that Europe too, must stop regarding and treating Africa as a continent ravaged by conflicts hence a mere source of problems.
These were brave observations made by African participants but the challenge now is walking the talk; Ukraine’s crisis has exposed the tendency of Western big economies regarding their smaller counterparts as mere trophies from economic and geo-political competitions.