Africa's increasing assertiveness good for EU relations

The people-to-people style of diplomacy will be at work as Europe and Africa meet in Brussels for a fourth summit.

All I can hope that it will focus on partnerships aiming at enabling citizenry of the two continents to benefit from peace and prosperity as captured in the high-profile meeting's theme.

Controversy is already looming after complaints from some African quarters that the EU issued selective invitations, and because of this South African President Jacob Zuma has chosen to give it a miss altogether.

Next door Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is also boycotting after his wife Grace was denied a visa. Sudan's Omar al-Bashir has also been snubbed as he is wanted at the International Criminal Court while his Eritrean counterpart will also miss out over his human rights record.

I will however not dwell on the selective invitation but will look at EU-Africa relations more broadly.

There is a difficult history to EU-Africa relations which is getting complex with each passing day. In fact, Africa has started looking for alternative financing mechanisms for its projects.

However, the question that some people are asking is whether EU has been fair to Africa as far as fulfilling its commitments are concerned. Both sides seem still keen on highlighting their specific interests without listening to each other.

It is time to take Africa-EU relations to a higher level other than the traditional donor-centric or rather the begging-bowl kind of affair where the other party was perceived to be the very needy brother.

While in Belgium on the eve of the summit, I had a chat with Danish representative to the African Union Stephan Schonemann, who came up with an interesting discussion on EU-Africa relations. He lauded Africa's increasing assertiveness and independence as far as developing its own agenda is concerned. 

According to him, this is a very positive step as it helps the continent take charge of its own issues. All that he thought Africa needs to do is to tackle corruption and develop infrastructure for trade.

Though EU continues to be Africa's biggest trading partner, it is time for both African and European leaders to engage in constructive dialogue on viable action plans and understand each other's point of view. Political will is still the missing link on this cooperation.

Final push

African countries have been rooting for industrialisation to enable it reduced reliance and economically benefit from its vast natural resources which the EU has not been as keen to focus on. This is one thing which poses a challenge in the relationship.

Some analysts in the European Centre for Development and Policy Management (ECDPM) have pointed out that this will be likely be the final push aimed at achieving Millennium Development Goals and will look beyond development cooperation but rather shift focus to global challenges. 

We could look at global issues like trade, investment, social protection, employment, climate change, natural resource management, agricultural policies, anti-graft mechanisms, conflict prevention and peace building, migration, food security, peace and economic development.

On the migration bit of it, stories of African migrants being arrested or harassed in EU regions is not a fairly new subject. But what if these migrants could be looked at in a positive way as people who could do well with some skills training and capacity building as a younger work force compared to Europe's elderly population? It is just a thought but it could turn out that the migrating young Africans could symbolise opportunity in the EU labour market other than a burden as these two continents aim at strengthening their cooperation.

This is why I hope the dialogue during this summit will be that of equals that recognises the interests of both and aims at mutual reinforcement just as Concord - European NGO confederation for Relief Development official Matias Ljowwing pointed out a while ago as we had a chat about the summit over a cup of coffee.

Finally we hope it will have a people-centred approach rather than just the incoherent policies that are ineffective and inadequate to deliver. This is why I hope Africa will continue to be assertive on what is good for the continent.

Twitter: @JanetOtieno Email:

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