On September 12, 2018, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said discussions are underway to change Europe’s relationship with Africa to a more equal partnership.
The proposed change would offer free trade to the entire African continent and an investment alliance with Europe. Most significantly, the change would shift EU-Africa relationship away from aid towards investment and trade.
The EU is projecting that the new partnership would, among other things, create 10 million jobs in Africa over the next five years.
This is a radical change. African analysts have long argued for precisely this change to a relationship which, in general, remains mired in a worldview which treats Africa as only slightly better than when the continent was under European colonial rule.
The periodic EU-Africa consultations are an endless lecture on what Europe would like Africa to become.
What is driving Europe to consider such a radical shift? The answer to this question should inform Africa’s stand in the negotiations for the new EU-Africa partnership.
Enlightened Self Interest
First, against many odds including strife, instability and challenged governance that has accompanied its search for order and development, Africa is now an attractive destination for investments.
Indeed, European countries such as France and Great Britain are negotiating bilateral trade and investment partnerships with selected African countries driven by a simple reality: the returns on investment are higher in Africa than elsewhere. EU does not want to miss this opportunity.
Second, the UK is leaving the EU club to negotiate better commercial, investment and political partnerships on its own rather than as a member of the EU. But supposing EU makes the same offer to Africa as the UK is making, and adds a bigger market than the UK? Might Africa not reconsider an agreement with UK or any other European country? EU’s offer to Africa will outmaneuver the UK.
Third, the US President has rattled the EU by demanding that NATO members pay more for collective security. And that requires more resources. Europe is turning to Africa to find new resources to pay for its security.
The fourth driving force is the tragedy of young Africans risking everything to cross the Mediterranean and enter Europe in search of a better life. The toll is appalling: it is estimated that between 2015 and 2017, some 8,000 Africans perished attempting to make this dangerous crossing.
Those who survive enter Europe where they are seen as social, economic and political problems for the host countries. Today, there are thousands of Africans who crossed into Europe only to wind up in camps facing repatriation to their countries of origin.
Supposing Europe was to create opportunities in Africa for young Africans, would that not eliminate the problem? This is not a new idea but under the proposed more equal partnership, Europe will invest in Africa to save Europe from the flow of African migrants.
The final driving force for the proposed EU-Africa partnership is probably the most obvious one.
From the days of slavery, through the colonial era, or in the ongoing drive for African development, Europe has seen the continent as its preserve. To some extent this is correct. Thirty-six percent of Africa’s trade is with the European Union.
But in a short span of 30 years, the China-Africa partnership has grown dramatically.
Measured by a composite index of trade, lending, and investments, China is now unquestionably Africa’s premiere partner of choice. The threat posed by this growing China-Africa partnership is a major driving force behind EU’s proposed new terms of engagement with Africa.
Taken together, the five forces behind EU’s offer for a new more equal partnership with Africa are enlightened self-interest not benevolence towards Africa.
The Golden Standard of Partnerships
Significantly, the EU Commission President said the more equal EU-Africa partnership would be based on trade and investment rather than aid, in short, mutual needs. It will reverse the prevailing false notion that the existing EU-Africa partnership is designed to facilitate the development of Africa.
The golden standard that the EU has to meet is the one set by the Africa-China partnership. By this standard, trade and investments activities will be assessed on their merits, whether EU offers aid or does not. Moreover, EU’s traditional attachments as aid – promotion of civil society, democracy, human rights, and other social engineering schemes – will be undertaken only when Africans specifically request them, rather than as a quid pro quo for trade and investment. Africa and Europe cannot be more equal so long as Europe mounts social engineering projects in Africa.
Europe must take a page from China. On this point, African negotiators cannot afford to waver.