As with many summits: after the summit is as before the summit. Summits as the one between Africa and the EU, can rarely bring solutions or may change international relationships. But summits are the climax of a series of preparations and preparatory meetings. This was also the case with the recent  summit in Abidjan. But reading the conclusions and listening to several speakers we only can hope that a new chapter of EU – African relations has been opened with a more equal relationship. But many conflicts and unresolved issues remain as obstacle to a radical shift in African development and concerning the Africa – EU relations. Nevertheless there is some hope of change.

Different European attitudes

The principle question has not been answered satisfactory: what the EU and Africa want from each other and what they can deliver realistically. How they plan their relationship is of course not easy to define. Europe is not a monolithic block. The relationships of the different member countries to African countries are very diverse – from upholding old colonial relations to very thin links to some countries with a development perspective. But at least there is one common interest, even if it is a „negative“ one: not to have a strong migration flow from Africa. And of course the EU countries fear and don’t want an import of insecurity, drugs etc. Some at least have an interest for more investment, seeing it as a means to stabilize the African continent and because they regard Africa with all its resources as a continent of the future.

But unfortunately there are some Europeans who fear development in Africa may even strengthen the tendency to emigrate as an income and education beyond the minimum will enhance the capacity to look for jobs in Europe. Therefore these people are even skeptical about development cooperation.

All in all, you cannot find many politicians in EU member countries with a clear strategy and willingness to implement a long term strategy of cooperation between the two neighboring continents. The High Representative of the EU and the EU Commission are rather the exemption to that not very inspiring attitude in Europe. Of course also their plans and proposals are influenced by the fear of massive migration and insecurity. But anyway, the EU should not promote a policy of open doors for migrants indiscriminately. That is neither wise and helpful for Europe nor for Africa.

Anyway the High Representative of the EU and Vice President of the Commission Federica Mogherini addressed clearly the youth of Africa in her concluding speech at the summit: „For us at the European  Union, we see the young people of Africa and the entrepreneurs creating new online services, or women starting small businesses, and small farmers trying to mix tradition and innovation. We see the energy of Africa.“ And she underlined the necessity to create jobs and therefore she promoted the European External Investment Plan which should accompany and support private investment where necessary. The High Representative of the EU  and the EU Commission as a whole are certainly aware of the big task for Africa and the EU and try to define common goals and policies. But it needs a lot of support from member states.

Emmanuel Macron: no interventions but strong engagement for democracy

A loud national – presidential – voice came from French President Emmanuel Macron. Especially in a talk given to students in Burkino Faso. He made it clear that the face of Africa is not so much its leaders but the rising number of young people. He spoke to the students on a common basis of not having lived in times of colonialism. This should create a fresh look into the future without the burden of shame and guilt. Also for Macron education is the „absolute priority of the new partnership“ between Africa and Europe. And he underlines  the necessity of education for girls to give them a chance of choosing their future. This choice for girls and women has to be seen with the demographic challenge of African population growth.

Without being ready to intervene into internal affairs he pleaded for democratic and changeable governments. No doubt, President Macron is also expressing the French tradition of military interventions- in coordination with regional leaders. The G5 activities in the Sahel Zone to fight terrorism is very important to him. Indeed such a common EU – African approach may be useful and necessary. But much more has to be done to combat terrorism. One has to elaborate a comprehensive strategy with many political, economic and social dimensions.

What is also important – and Emmanuel Macron underlined it – is the strengthening of the African Union. Also the EU cannot overcome easily the stubborn insistence and misuse of national sovereignty. But in the European Union there exist at least open discussions  and legal measures against governments in case of gross deviations from fundamental rights and democratic principles. In Africa on the other hand  there a many so-called domestic conflicts and many autocratic regimes which try to stay in power even with illegal or at least illegitime measures. Although domestic in legal terms these conflicts and disputes have consequences for neighboring countries and even for Europe in case citizens of these countries try to flee and to reach European soil. A stronger African Union could and should put democratic governance in the centre of their efforts to improve the situation for the young.

Without being uncritically towards the new French President at least he has some visions and ideas how to develop EU – Africa relations. It would be good he would find many partners inside the EU. Merkel at least is also knowing about the importance of these relations even for the political situation inside the EU.

African diversity in attitudes

Also in Africa we find rarely clear strategies for the cooperation with Europe. Of course Africa is even more diverse than Europe and in addition rich on conflicts. Some conflicts as that between the Arab North and Sub Saharan Africa got new fire with the bad treatment of many refugees and migrants in Libya. Since months many NGOs and reporters described the horrible treatment of migrants by some militia. And the conflict of Western Sahara is still not solved.

But at least as Morocco joined the African Union it is now representative for all Africa. But neither the staff and the available funds nor the competences make it comparable to the EU. What is obvious is that the capacity to solve the internal conflicts is much too weak. Otherwise Mugabe would have been pressured out of office for some time and not only recently. And the terrible situation in Kongo and Central Africa show also the limits of conflict resolution. And the whole Horn of Africa is still in a very fragile and insecure situation.


Diversity in African capitalism

Certainly there exists also some bad influence of European countries in the past and the present. Colonialism and its devastating effects are a fact, which can not be disputed by serious people. But that doesn’t excuse mistakes and failures of leaders after independence and at present. And as with slave trade and colonialism it is now with some negative influences of Western – or other – companies who do not show respect for the needs of the countries they are working in. Mostly there are some local beneficiaries who are used by international companies to reach their goals and who themselves use these companies to enrich themselves. This kind of evil relationships have to be destroyed by all people with a sincere interest in the development of the African continent.

And as welcome as it may be, the representatives and entrepreneur of the new African capitalism (africapitalisme) should also think about their people and country of origin in need. And that could be done practically by social investment in education and health out of the huge profits of some companies.Some new millionaires and companies do it. Coca Cola for example is quite proud of their social investments – from fighting water scarcity and infant mortality to economic empowerment of young women.

But there are also cases of „capturing the state“ by big investors as seems the case with the Gupta brothers from India who are active in South Africa. „The singular aim of state capture is to facilitate the plunder of state resources for the benefit of politically connected individuals and their corporate vehicles“ defined recently Lawson Naidoo a constitutional expert from South Africa the situation in his country.

On the other side, there is a growing number of young entrepreneurs – men and women – who could give the African economies a new and forward looking face. But Africa needs more of them and let’s hope Europe can help to train them – with positive effects for trade between the two continents. These young executives would enormously contribute to a better understanding between Africa and the EU and – what is more important – could help to create jobs for the rising number of young job seekers. Neither in Europe nor in Africa we do know the future balance of new jobs created and jobs destroyed by new technologies like automatization and artificial intelligence. But we must try hard to create as many jobs as possible.


Looking for an African way of development

Reading African literature, sociological and political analysis and listening to the younger generation one perceives the longing and desire for an „African way“ of development. This pattern should be based on original African virtues and values. They are generally seen as more social than individualistic and based on the well being of the majority people versus being lead by the profit for the few. Again looking to the African history it is not as positive as often characterized, but you still can see this community orientation. But sometimes it is also perverted when people who climbed up the political or administrative ladder are giving benefits – including jobs – primarily to their family members. So community and family orientation is all too often transformed into nepotism.

Indeed nepotism and corruption are phenomena which are often heavily criticized by the younger generation in Africa as it diminishes their chance to get a job on the basis of education, training and other merits. This is of course especially true for the better qualified urban youth. Consequently the lack of opportunity in their home countries is often an argument for them to leave and look for opportunities in Europe. But it would be wrong to think that this is always the preferred solution. Many want to stay at home and use their capacities in their country of origin or at least in some neighboring country. Leaving the African continent is not their first choice.


Coming back to a typical African pattern of development it would indeed be wonderful if Africa could find some special way to combine traditional values with the current economic needs and requirements of a globalized economy. One thing seems certain: many countries rely too much on the extractive industries and on exports including financial services and this is dangerous. As a recent comment in African Business remarked: „Structural reform and economic diversification for sustainable growth in Africa has not lived up to expectations. Some of the continent’s largest economies continue to rely on extracting commodities such as oil, gas and minerals, leaving their countries vulnerable to external and internal shocks.“

This one-sidedness neglects very often the immediate needs of its citizens concerning food security and that means supporting local agriculture and SMEs. Especially agriculture which certainly is endangered because of climate change is often neglected as a vital factor of people’s wellbeing. A new and engaged agricultural policy could also contribute to a more balanced geographical development. Urbanisation will go on but it should be less chaotic and rapid and more connected with adequate housing and basic services from health to education.


A more balanced development policy would also contribute to the security situation in many countries. It is not by chance that fundamentalist and terrorist groups are especially active in areas with lack of or neglected education as in the north of Nigeria. Education is of great importance for African development including the population growth. Especially for girls education is a way to break through the cycle of early marriage and childbirth and low entry into the labour market. Enhancing education is necessary for general development and for individual emancipation. In this respect the EU should help much more with building up educational systems of high quality and even excellence but also with grants dedicated to students who want to gain additional knowledge inside the EU and use it after their European stay in their countries of origin or other African countries. A special well funded Erasmus program for Africa should be designed and established.


Priority for education and training

Already before the official summit a series of preparatory meetings took place in Abidjan for example the 4th Africa-Europe Youth summit. It is interesting, that one of the priorities mentioned in its Abidjan Declaration is the „support to and the advancement of education, skills development, mobility and access to markets, youth participation and young people’s access to rights“ in order „for young people to reach their fullest potential“. And the declaration calls for measures to harmonize African Higher Education and a common EU-Africa „framework for the recognition and validation of competences“ also gained through informal educational and for life long learning and skills development. But also a „conducive business environment“ is requested which „boosts investment and makes it easier for young people to establish and operate enterprises within and across both continents“.

It is interesting, that in a comment  in the Financial Times on the new situation in Zimbabwe it was underlined, that there is a good chance for a new start after Mugabe resigning because of the good education in that country. Investors – so the comment – „are attracted by excellent land, decent (if rundown) infrastructure and, above all, by a phenomenally well-educated population……Lots of best-educated Zimbabweans have gone abroad, running businesses in South Africa or further afield. Given assurances that their capital, and physical wellbeing, are safe, they may return.“ Let’s hope things will develop that way.


Concerning Nigeria on the other hand Lade Araba titled a comment on Nigeria: „Fixing education system is key to solving Nigeria’s problems.“ (African Business, November 2017). 1,8 million students applied 2017 for admission in institutions of higher education for 850.000 places available. 10,5 million are not enrolled in school at all and that number is growing. So the conclusion of the author is: „Short of fixing the educational system for everyone, Nigeria’s aspiration to industrialize will remain unrealized.“


The migration issue

The practical requests and proposals of the Abidjan summit would – if implemented with some vigor – change the landscape in Africa dramatically. And it would have big consequences for the migration issue. Both this Abidjan Declaration of the youth and the Declaration of the Africa – EU Civil Society Forum, held in Tunis in July 2017, do not deal directly with the migration question. What is overvalued in the political European debate – especially but not only on the right side – is underestimated in these documents of meetings between Africans and Europeans. When 164.000 migrants – mostly Africans – arrived this year Europe via the Mediterranean, when many of them have been badly treated on their way especially in Libya, and when about 3000 were dying in the sea, we cannot neglect that issue.

At the Kampala Conference, held at the beginning of September 2017, which I could co-organize as curator for Act.Now and the IIP, we tried to find a balance. Illegal and unorganized migration to Europe with a lot of risks is an issue for Europe and Africa alike. Especially as very often migration is a forced one or triggered by bad political, economic and social situations in some African countries. And the lack of legal migration from Africa offered by the EU is also responsible for the very risky illegal migration. We must arrive at a situation where migration from Africa to Europe is not a must or a risky first choice but is a value added for both sides in strengthening the economic and human ties between the two continents. And it should not be a oneway street either. What we need is a pathway of regular and legal migration, even if it is limited according to the economic situation in Europe.

Migration is also a subject of history books and literature. The relationship between European and African countries has a long often painful history. And the same is true for the US – African relations. But also inside Africa we find horrible and painful political, economic and social relations. Also these relations are subjects of African, Afro-European and Afro-American writers. They are frank with describing inhuman situations in Europe and the US. But they are also honest in attacking autocratic systems, corruption and crime in their African home lands. This literature demonstrates the complexity of the African societies, of Western anxieties and prejudices but also of Africa – Western relations. There is no easy way out but a new alignment on the basis of mutual respect between Europe and Africa is necessary.

But it must be a comprehensive alignment. All to often the rejection of migrants and security issues are in the center of EU – Africa relations. There is no doubt that these issues are important. But the call for a policy of stricter border controls and military cooperation alone is detrimental to an efficient policy. The more these measures are enforced on African leaders or are produced by themselves in cooperation with the EU or some member countries in an authoritarian way, the more radical and extremist forces will get popular support. Political, economic and social policies must be the core of EU – Africa relations. And in this respect money can and should help. But both should also create conducive situations for a fruitful absorption of the financial support in the interest of the African people and especially its youth.


Concerning migration, an analysis of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung – Connect describes four scenarios. The first is to continue in unequal partnership with bad economic development in Africa and an increasing push towards migration to Europe. The second scenario would be an antagonistic relationship with „closed“ borders, which many right wing forces in Europe support. Thirdly, a pragmatic relationship could be envisaged with the externalizations of European borders in combination with economic partnership agreements. This would lead to controlled migration flows. The fourth is a „relationship of peers“ with reforms of African governance which leads to a more balanced relationship and an decreased push for emigration. Certainly a combination of the last two scenarios could and should be developed and implemented. This is also how the results of the EU – Africa summit could be interpreted.

The fact that a new Joint EU – AU – UN Task Force „to save and protect lives along the routes and in particular inside Libya, accelerating the assisted voluntary return to countries of origin and the resettlement of those in need of international protection“ has been decided in Abidjan is a good sign of showing common responsibility. And the President of the Ivory Coast Allesdana Quattara made it clear in an interview to the French radio RFI that the countries of origin – respective the governments – have an enormous responsibility for their own citizens.

The fight against the criminal networks working in different countries, along the routs and in Libya is a common task. But so is the support for those places like Agadez in Niger which loose income and jobs if the trafficking routes are closed and the criminal gangs persecuted. We need to give incentives to refrain from tolerating and profiting from the „migration business“.


Reason for hope?

The African continent has many challenges to master and these are all challenges for Europe as well. Pessimistic and optimistic opinions about if and how African countries will manage these challenges can be found. But it is not about describing the possibilities but we need to actively work on finding ways to meet these challenges together. Of course many reforms must be done by the African themselves. And there is reason for hope. Achille Mbembe and Felwine Sarr wrote in their introduction to the anthology „Écrire l’Afrique – Monde“: „From the African continent and its diaspora in the last years a regain of artistic and intellectual creativity could be noted, a vitality of proposals, a desire of renewal of form and framework of thinking and of catching the reality in their actions“. In addition we can hear also political void even like that of the President of Namibia, Hage G. Geingob who said: „It is Africa’s time, but development begins at home.“


And African Business comes to the conclusion: „Africans are increasingly holding their leaders to account: unless economic growth and development begins actually to trickle down to the masses, inflexible leaders will either fall or be forced to adapt.“ Well it is an optimistic evaluation and the EU can only hope it will came true. But the EU should also help to enhance an economic development in the interest of the whole population. Such a development would be beneficial not only for Africa but for Europe too.


P.S. The EU – Africa relations will stay as an important issue on my personal agenda but especially on that of the International Institute for Peace (IIP). The next respective activity of the IIP together with Act.Now will be a debate on the 12th of December at Central Library at Urban Loritz Platz, Vienna: Agents of Change. Youth leaders from Africa and participants from the meeting in Abidjan will take part.

Additional information: ECOTEC will organize a study tour with the title „Learning Journey ins Silicon Savannah“ to Kenya end of January and beginning of February 2018.