Africa has a historic opportunity to change its relationship with Europe

After 40 years of stagnant policies with meagre returns in terms of job creation and economic growth, it is time Africa shifts gears.
The absolute hero of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde and a leading historical Pan-African figure, Amílcar Cabral, was named by his father after the Carthaginian General Hamilcar Barca, the one that in 241 B.C. conquered Sicily before occupying most of Iberia. He was born in what is a today’s Libya and was one of the most-admired leaders of that state that sat in what is today’s Tunisia.

This serves as a just a quick reminder of the deep historical connections that exist between two continents that were to live, throughout history, moments of intrinsic relations that went from trade to slave trade, from collaboration to colonial domination, from independence to exploitation. We now all want partnership.

The same way our relations cannot be reduced to the Lomé or Cotonou Agreements, our deep-rooted rapport with the various regions cannot be reduced to the tight terms of the ACP configuration. Political, cultural, and historical arguments can easily demonstrate the incongruence of lumping together these three groups, except if one refers to the EU institutional preferences, to which all of us have adjusted to. For the “A” in the ACP does not refer to the whole of Africa, the same way the “C” does not include all the Caribbean, or even less the “P” refers to the known Pacific states.

The three regions in the ACP are lumped together because of the development aid typology. The same way some African countries are lumped together with a Bangladesh within the LDC typology or others are lumped with Kazakhstan as part of the land-locked states, and so on.

This anomaly has long been detected by the European Union. It was addressed along the way with a proliferation of institutional arrangements that have surpassed the ACP Cotonou Agreement. As far as Africa is concerned, the various arrangements surpass the ACP framework literally left, right and center.

Just as a reminder, the EU has developed:

– A development cooperation instrument

– A European Neighborhood Policy

– A European instrument for democracy and human rights

– A support mechanism for the foreign and security policy

– A humanitarian ECHO financing mechanism

– An instrument contributing to stability and peace

– An instrument for nuclear safety and cooperation

– An African investment facility

– A European Development Fund

– The various Economic Partnership Agreements

– An EU partnership framework for migration

– The Valetta Action Plan with the Khartoum and Rabat processes

– And a Joint Africa–EU Strategy

To these 13 arrangements, one could add special bilateral framework and agreements.

In this maze, there is one loser: African regional integration. By engaging in them, Africa punches below its weight, certainly not at its weight, much less above its weight.

Allow me to quickly give some indications that substantiate this statement.

On the governance dimension:

The Joint Africa-EU Strategy calls for the highest level of strategic engagement like we saw in Abidjan in November 2017, and like Africa does with the great powers of the world. Yet the binding instruments I just described, transform the strategy into a secondary show. Moreover, the support to Africa-wide initiatives is separated from the rest of the engagements with envelopes for a Pan-African program (basically support to the AU and its subsidiaries) and an African Peace Facility.

On the trade dimension:

The negotiation of EPAs left marks that partly explains the lack of ratifications to transform them into the key trade instruments they were supposed to become. With the AfCFTA, it will be necessary to review the continent-to-continent trade engagements. Moreover, such development will actually highlight African trade importance for Europe.

With the AfCFTA, Africa will rank as the fourth partner of the EU, only after the United States, China, and Switzerland, but above all of Latin America and the Caribbean combined, and much more important than countries like Canada or Australia, not to mention it will be seen as having 3.5 times the importance of European trade with India.

There is something unique about our trade relations that should be seen like an alert, moving forward. From 2003 to 2014, Africa always had a trade surplus with Europe that even got to the amount of $35.7 billion in the record year of 2013. Yet since 2015, the trend was reversed attaining nowadays close to a $30 billion deficit. The message is clear, all the so-called concessions that were given to us in the last years are provoking the opposite effect. They are producing losses.

On the financing dimension:

The total volume of aid received annually by Africa from Europe stands at around $21 billion. Our migrants in Europe remit around $30 billion. Mathematically speaking, it would appear that it is a good deal for us to have migrants stay where they are. But I will come to that in a minute.

Financial flows from Europe to Africa are declining fast. The EU as a whole is still the largest investor on the Continent, but its role is being eroded fast by China, and with Brexit a big chunk of the EU’s investment stock in Africa will be sliced away.

Strictly from the European Investment Fund, what is currently available is $3.3 billion, which is equivalent to one mid-sized infrastructure project like Djibouti’s Doraleh Port. This is what is earmarked for the entire Continent from the EU institutions.

On the peace and stability dimension:

The bulk of the European funding for security is absorbed by seven civilian and military missions they have deployed. Furthermore, the mechanism to patrol borders against migrants shall receive $33 billion in the new EU proposed budget, a ten-fold increase. It will end up costing Europe more to patrol its borders than what is allocated to Africa as development aid or what Africa is suffering from trade losses with Europe.

On the migration dimension:

By far the most important aspect of our relationship with the Europeans is going to be migration. The EU leaders this week talked of a possible break of the EU if a solution is not found to the migration crisis.

Paradoxically, Africa is seen as a threat, yet migrants in Africa are a tiny minority. Asia and Europe are the largest regions of origin of migrant stock worldwide. Europe has generated 68 million, whereas Africa 35 million.

India has the largest number of migrants from one country in the whole world. China has almost twice more new flows of migrants to Europe than Africa. The largest number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean is from Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, not necessarily Africa.

Russian Federation or Ukraine have more migrants in Europe than any African nationality or one of its sub-regions taken as a block.

Where is then the obsession with African migrants coming from? The number of refugees and migrants from Africa is tiny and diminishing, partly because of orthodox measures taken by Europe. Yet there is talk of crisis of proportions similar to Turkey few years ago. However, the latter received from Europe $6 billion to stem its refugee crisis, whereas Africa has gotten around $173 million.

Africa has a historic opportunity to change its relationship with Europe. The possibilities of a win-win solution require bold, strategic vision. The EU accepted this is the way of the future, in the spirit of the Abidjan Summit Declaration. It is the EU that stated first the need for a new page and new instruments. We can see why. For Africa the evidence is overwhelming.

It is possible to reverse our trade deficits with Europe for the benefit of both continents.

It is possible to offer a more humane migration treatment and solution to African migrants and countries of origin, based on human mobility and mutual economic interests rather than investing heavily in a fortress and borders policy.

It is possible to demonstrate that development aid needs alignment with African aspirations of structural transformation. After 40 years of stagnant policies with meagre returns in terms of job creation and economic growth, it is time to shift gears.

It is possible to tackle peace and security challenges within a continent that has some of the best opportunities for investment. Total African debt is equivalent to the debt of Denmark, a country of less than 6 million people.

European aid is never going to replace the transformation needed. To become a prosperous Africa, there is a need for equity capital and investment, not loans in a continent with above-average returns for investment, which happens to be Europe’s neighbor.

There is an Ethiopian proverb that captures the current moment: “if you pick up one end of the stick, you also pick up the other.” It reminds us that life is a double-edged sword. Knowing that is the reality of life should make us both cautious and confident. Sure, we may not always know what lies on the other end of the stick. We must be discerning; but also comforted that others feel the same.

It makes us equal while negotiating.

The author is High Representative of the AUC chairperson on AU-EU partnership.

This opinion is extracted from a speech delivered at the 31st AU Summit in Mauritania on July 1, 2018

Read the blog here

First published by The New Times