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The South Africa perspective: Can the EU & Africa reboot their relationship?

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The 6th European Union-African Union (AU-EU) summit began this week with over 60 leaders from Africa and Europe expected to attend in the hope of creating concrete plans and mutually beneficial partnerships.

President of France Emmanuel Macron, who is hosting the summit, recently said that in order to move forward, there needs to be a complete overhaul of the partnership between Africa and Europe.

He spoke of the desire to “establish a genuine system of peace and prosperity to build investments in African economies and build [a] shared future,” with the aim of “reforging an economic and financial New Deal with Africa.” He acknowledged that relations between the continents were “tired’.

But what will it take to fundamentally shift relations? The path ahead is by no means clear, when long-standing challenges in Africa such as food security, armed conflict and migration which are compounded by today’s immediate global concerns of health and climate change.

To discuss how Europe can take on a renewed role to help accelerate Africa’s development, Euronews hosted an online debate with five leading experts in the field.

The debate, hosted by journalist Chris Burns, covered a range of topics centred around the key question of how Europe can create a more equal partnership with Africa.

The panellists included:

  • Luisa Santos, Deputy Director General, Business Europe
  • Domenico Rosa, Head of Unit/Head of the Task Force on Post Cotonou, European Commission
  • Bajabulile Swazi Tshabalala, Senior Vice President, African Development Bank Group
  • Dr Carlos Lopes, African Development Economist and Honorary Professor, Nelson Mandela School of Governance
  • Ronak Gopaldas, Director, Signal Risk
  • Colin Coleman, Former CEO Goldman Sachs, Lecturer at Yale University

Restructuring the relationship: More action needed

After six-decades of a donor-recipient relationship, Africa is ready to shift the narrative and be seen as an emerging powerhouse in its own right. Yet, concern is felt by policymakers that on both European and African sides, a traditional “donor-recipient” mindset persists.

Africa’s economy is still largely dependent on commodity exports which Dr Carlos Lopes, Professor at the Nelson Mandela School of Governance described during the debate as “a colonial model”.

According to Lopes, past intentions and plans have not always materialised (at the summits) and leaders must work to prevent this from happening again.

“This is a good occasion to structure the partnership, and a lot of engagements that have taken place over the last two years were aimed at structuring the partnership. And we hope one of the outcomes of the summit is going to be some instrument that will allow for mutual accountability,” Lopes said.

Youth will drive the economies of the future

Colin Coleman, former CEO at Goldman Sachs believes Europeans need to think about “what is at stake for Europe” in the AU-EU partnership going forward.

Without robust economic development, Africa could become “one of the largest threats to the world peace” as well as an export of terroism and migration which could have a significant impact on European values and politics, Coleman said.

He added Europe should also see Africa as an enormous opportunity because of the growing population of young Africans and the impact they will have on the world’s economy this century. The continent has a combined population 1.2 billion people and it is projected to grow to 4 billion over the next 80 years.

“The youth is the bulging population, and we need to have Europe focus on the fact that it will be the biggest frontier of global growth in the world,” he said.

South Africa, one of the most industrialised countries and a key economy in the region, along with Egypt and Nigeria, are an important part of Africa’s future.

“The engines that need to move, which are South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria without those moving, Africa’s future looks bleak, so it’s important that those countries undertake reform,” Coleman added.

‘A partnership of equals’

The Global Gateway African Investment Package pledges €150 billion in investment over the next 10 years. It is an important topic at the summit and officials are expected to give details on how these resources will be mobilised.

Luisa Santos, Deputy Director General of Business Europe says when it comes to investments “a partnership of equals” that help the continents grow together is in the interests of Africans as well as Europeans.

To facilitate this, more work has been done to remove risks for small businesses, reward transparency and establish local joint ventures to help create a “strong emphasis on the cooperation between the public sector and the private sector,” Santos said.

Ronak Gopaldas of Singal Risk, a risk management company in Africa, echoed this sentiment.

“What Africans want is partnership, not paternalism. We understand that we need to integrate. We want to self-fund our institutions. We want to develop our own capital markets so that we’re less reliant on external sources of financing. We’re not asking for handouts and charity, we’re asking for the ability to develop our own solutions to our problems,” he said.

The panel agreed that much more needs to be done to develop the infrastructure required to link African nations and create a unified market that drives internal trade and attracts multinationals.

“From the African perspective, I think negotiating as a collective bloc is going to be important. I think what we want to see really is is the message coming across to the Europeans that they are the development partners,” Gopaldas said.

  • _The summit is being held in Brussels on 17-18 February. _

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