Africa and Europe must strengthen relations


L-R: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, European Council President Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron and WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus give a press conference at the start of the second day of a European Union African Union summit at The European Council Building in Brussels on February 18, 2022. 

Photo credit: Olivier Hoslet | AFP

Europe’s partnership with Africa should ensure sustainable development on both continents. Four years ago, the European Commission and African countries agreed to intensify cooperation through partnerships in five key areas: green transition, digital transformation, sustainable growth and jobs, peace and governance and migration and mobility. It is time to take stock and ensure the partnership is mutually beneficial.

With the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the continent is building the world’s largest single market of 1.3 billion people. Crucially, Africa has resources in abundance, including a large demographic of youth full of energy, creativity and talent.

According to the United Nations, the European Union is Africa’s largest trading partner, accounting for 33 per cent of exports compared to 17 per cent (China). There is a lot of potential that is still to be unleashed in the partnership.

The EU must acknowledge that Africa is no longer content to export only raw materials as it has been in the past. African states are determined to pursue commodity-led industrialisation and a value addition driven economy. For example, Ghana has taken policy measures to add value to its natural resources. The country is processing more of its cocoa, refining more of its gold and is determined to exploit the entire value chain of its lithium deposits. The EU-Africa relationship must move beyond donor-recipient relationship, and ensure change of mindset.

In 2008, Africa was not embracing the partnership agreement because of fears that bigger EU companies could flood the markets with cheaper products, destroying nascent local industries. This is still a concern that needs to be addressed. Over the years, Europe has been seen as only interested in extracting resources from the continent. This has to change. Europe must go beyond exploration and extraction, and instead share skills so that African countries can develop products with high values that will help Africa’s companies access new markets and export partners.

The EU should expand trade and investments in health, raw materials, agriculture, climate resilience and education. It should share technology and knowledge, and for sustainability, invest in people through training.

Raphael Obonyo, Nairobi