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Europe-Africa: A Strengthened Union?

Three Questions to Dominique Lafont and Frannie Léautier

INTERVIEW - 1 July 2019

In the midst of the Cotonou Agreement renegotiation, one thing is clear: relations between Africa and Europe must be maintained, strengthened and directed towards our common interests, as advocated in Institut Montaigne’s latest report: Europe-Afrique: partenaires particuliers (French version only). What are these common interests? What are the emerging political and employment issues? Dominique Lafont, former Africa Director of the Bolloré Group, and Frannie Léautier, former Vice-President of the World Bank, both members of Institut Montaigne’s taskforce, share their analysis.

What are Europe's and Africa's interests in building a stronger partnership?


This cooperation is valuable for several reasons. First, there is common interest in reacting to climate change, which will impact the two continents that are very close geographically. Secondly, the geographical proximity offers opportunities for commercial and cultural exchanges, ideas and innovations, particularly in the digital realm. Some African innovations in digital technology are worth sharing with Europe: mobile money, telemedicine, and in the agricultural sector. Finally, there is a financial interest in this cooperation: Europe is the largest investor in Africa. 40% of the financial resources flowing into Africa come from Europe. Thus, this cooperation could have a significant impact on both continents.

The partnership is important for political, economic and cultural reasons. 
On the political level, who knows Africa better than Europe? It is perhaps Europe that has the greatest interest in seeing Africa evolve in a peaceful way, which requires better governance, more attention to civil society’s needs and, naturally, more democracy, which is the best guarantee that politics is accountable to the citizen.
On the economic level, Africa is a market with very high growth potential, which presents a natural vector for development not only for large European companies, but also for SMEs and mid-cap companies. In turn, Africa needs sustainable employment and development, and the partnership can be helpful in this regard. This can be done in the context of its industrialization, in the development of infrastructure, digital tools and in the support for the agricultural sector given Europe's expertise in this field.
On the cultural and societal level, the historical links provide fertile ground and can perhaps help Europe spread or develop the very strong cultural vector in Africa. This can shed another light on Africa worldwide, in a globalization context.

The African continent will have to absorb 30 million young people into the labor market every year. What role can Europe play in creating jobs in Africa?


Regarding employment, Europe can play important roles in three areas.
First, by training leaders, because there is a huge lack of middle management in Africa for all kinds of companies.
Secondly, Europe can have a role with regards to investments that create a large number of jobs. This is especially the case for the agricultural sector and its modernization, the digital sector, because innovation attracts young people, and industrialization, because large industries require a variety of skills and levels of training.
Finally, there is a role to play in sharing skills between continents, in hiring young Africans who have the right skills for innovative industry in Europe. This can create jobs in Africa with investments between SMEs, but also between African SMEs and large European companies.

Here again, several areas are involved.
Europe can contribute through development aid to improve education and training in Africa. This can be done by involving European schools and companies through public-private partnerships involving educational, economic and public authorities, which will make African authorities more accountable.

The Europe-Africa partnership can help European companies invest by enhancing the spillover effect of a network of African companies and subcontractors that are developing over the long term.

Secondly, SMEs and mid-cap companies in each continent must be supported in their investment in the neighboring continent. For Europe, redirecting technical assistance and development aid towards removing investment barriers and supporting SMEs and mid-cap companies is one way forward. This can also be done through the provision of tools, including digital tools, to enable them to capture more information and connect to markets more easily.

Finally, large European companies have a role to play in encouraging a ripple effect. The Europe-Africa partnership can help European companies invest by enhancing the spillover effect of a network of African companies and subcontractors that are developing over the long term. Identifying talents is crucial to employment, and a European or African company can only succeed in Africa if it is managed by someone with a real experience of the environment and who will be able to identify the paths to success. The Europe-Africa partnership is particularly meaningful when it comes to highlighting the diaspora, especially among the younger generation.

What policy model for the Europe-Africa partnership?


Several concepts are interesting to have in mind on this subject and can shed light on the narrative issue. Recently, the video of a young queen of the Democratic Republic of the Congo was posted online, in which she links blockchain to an ancient traditional African practice - a story in a closed circle that exchanges information and guarantees the exchanges’ accuracy. The example shows that African practices are rich in modern ideas and that can be a good analogy for policy partnerships in today’s world. The story she tells derives from the concept of "Sankofa", a Ghanaian word meaning going back in time to rediscover what has been forgotten. In addition to this example, many ideas and concepts from African culture can inspire the advancement of science in Europe, and provide a good platform for policy dialogue.
The practice in some young democracies is encouraging, such as in conflict management, for example, as successful practices that can inspire both African and European societies. Conciliation methods for example are very useful. The concepts of "Ubuntu" (in South Africa), which means respect for humanity in all, and "Agaciro" (in Rwanda), which means dignity, self-reliance and self-respect, have helped dealing with the past to go further in the future. These are conciliation concepts that could be shared with the rest of the world, at a time when governance situations are complex, for example in Europe, with Brexit.

Another interesting concept, which is gaining ground in Africa and whose successful practice can be shared with Europe, is that of "leapfrogging". Leapfrogging is possible in countries that have not benefited from investment and critical infrastructure in the past.  This has allowed innovations to take root, such as those related to mobile phones, which have developed without any transition through landlines, thereby, leapfrogging the landline phase of development entirely. The varying paces of development can provide a common advantage for both continents.

The practice in some young democracies is encouraging, such as in conflict management, for example, as successful practices that can inspire both African and European societies.

Furthermore, many Africans appreciated the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the end of slavery that was held in Paris with the President of the Republic and other important stakeholders. France played an important historic role in the liberation of peoples from slavery. The opportunities of the 21st century between our two continents therefore also lie in some of the shared and common cultural values.

The strengthening of the Europe-Africa partnership relies on several axis.
First, a continent-to-continent partnership, i.e. between the EU and the AU. This has not always been the case in the past because we have too often fragmented Africa in our policy approaches. It also requires the support of the European institutions for greater political and economic integration of the African continent, which is also a vector for development.
The second axis consists, through the establishment of a partnership between the two continents, in promoting a more global, inclusive and forward-looking relationship. It also means going beyond the subjects of tension. We must not forget them, we must not consider them as secondary, but we must know how to "overrun" them. This must be done on governance issues, on which we can act through civil society or the private sector, or on matters of respect for democratic rights on which we can play through greater integration of the African continent. In this area, progress will be more visible if it is driven by their peers.
Finally, even if this is a question about the political nature of the relationship, the development of the African continent must be one of its primary motives, the primary objective without which nothing is possible. Africa's development is the main condition for a positive evolution of the partnership between continents, which must be driven by this objective.
The idea of this partnership is therefore to maintain the momentum towards further development, to avoid counterproductive bilateral tensions taking over, such as Great Britain-Zimbabwe or France-Côte d'Ivoire. Indeed, some tensions are exacerbated when ideas are carried by a former colonial power, and manipulation of the past hindering progress remains common.


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