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European Union

A wake-up call for less arrogance

by Cathrine Schweikardt

In brief

The Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) was not intended to become an EU-driven strategy – it aimed instead to address issues such as economy, security and climate change in co­operation with Africa. Three years after the strategy was adopted in Lisbon, it is time to take stock. So far, there is little evidence of a partnership at eye-level.

“What is missing from the JAES is excitement by the actors, ownership and most of all results,” says Christa Randzio-Plath of VENRO, the umbrella organisation of German development NGOs. A wake-up call is needed, in her view. Christoph Strässer, a Social-Democrat member of the Bundestag agrees: “In order to revive the partnership we need a broad-based European consensus.” For that to happen, he adds, the JAES had to become an item on the agendas of parliaments across the EU – but the Bundestag has not dealt with the matter so far.

Thomas Albert, who heads the East Africa division in the German Development Ministry (BMZ) considers the JAES a step in the right direction: “For the first time, Europe's interest in Africa is extending beyond charity.” Such an approach was overdue, he argues, since Europe basically is reacting to stronger engagement of emerging-market nations like China, India, Brazil or Chile in Africa. According to Albert, the Chinese treat Africans as equal partners. Their approach is: “We want something from you, what would you like in return?” Albert emphasises that, today, African leaders are in a position to assess conditions and opportunities and then choose between several cooperation partners.

“Europe must now react rather than act, and learn to deal with Africa’s autonomous stand,” says Cheikh Dieye from Senegal. He works for the Economic Community of West African Sates in the context of its negotiations with the EU on an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). At a conference on JAES that was recently organised by VENRO, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung in Berlin, Dieye emphasised that partnership must be about dialogue, insisting that Europe must learn to accept an African ‘no’, when discussing, for instance, free trade and open markets.

“Europe is linking development policy to economic interests,” Dieye says. Non-compliance clauses, in his view, were acceptable in documents like the Cotonou Agreement but not in the EPAs, which go beyond trade. Dieye points out that no one in Africa would dare to complain about corruption in Greece. He says that demo­cracy and human rights do not fulfil basic human needs, whereas economic growth provides the basis for such fulfilment.

In Dieye’s view, China and the EU are each pursuing their own interests in Africa. But China does not criticise African standards from afar, but rather lets action follow words, opening new doors. Professor Zeng Qiang of the Chinese Institute of Contemporary International Relations points out that in 2006, for example, China built 30 hospitals and 30 malaria centres, equipping them and training the staff.

BMZ officer Albert is unimpressed, however. He likens that strategy to German development aid of 40 years ago, arguing that this kind of programme tends to be eroded fast without lasting effect unless there is structural change in a country.

Senegalese trade expert Dieye criticises China too, saying the Asian giant does do joint ventures with African companies and hardly hires Africans. Indeed, the ratio of Chinese to local manpower is one to seven for Chinese pro­jects in Africa, he says. In the eyes of Stefan Brocza, secretary general of the European Council, such figures are proof of the different approaches China and Europe take to cooperating with Africa. A real partner must be allowed to address inconvenient truths such as democracy and human rights, he says: Europeans, according to Brocza, insist on including issues like environment or security in international cooperation: “Non-compliance clauses belong to the rules of the game everyone accepted.”

BMZ official Albert calls for “less arrogance”, if the aim is to get all JAES actors on board. He admits that Europe and China often disagree, but points out that they negotiate on equal footing nonetheless. He says that should be possible with Africa as well. Albert’s summary of the JAES conference in Berlin in mid-November was: “It would be a mistake to believe we’ve really achieved something already.”

Cathrine Schweikardt