In the wider context of the discussion of EU-Africa relations and ahead of both the European Think Tanks Group conference and the EU-Africa summit it 2014 we asked some people at ECDPM what they thought were challenges for EU-Africa relations.
Dr James Mackie, senior advisor on EU development policy:
I think EU-Africa relations can be frustrating in that they… take time. That’s not just because the political processes are slow and there are a lot of actors involved etc. But the protagonists on both sides are quite demanding of each other. The Europeans tend to push the Africans harder, they want them to move on certain things. The Africans are always wary that the Europeans are just going to come out with an old style colonial or donor mentality issues. Protagonists keep on going over the same old ground. They don’t move on and say, OK we’ve put that behind ourselves, we’ll no longer talk in terms of donor recipient – we won’t just talk about development, we’ll move on to talking about global challenges: how Europe and Africa will work together on global challenges.
It’s fascinating that, because Europe and Africa have incredibly deep relations. You go to any African countries and there are loads of Europeans settled there, you go to any European country and there are loads of Africans settled there. People are moving backwards and forwards the whole time and they’ve been educated on both continents, etc etc back and forth.
So the level of understanding just generally in Europe, about Africa, and vice versa is surprisingly high, certainly if you compare it to the level of understanding in China for example, I would suggest it’s much much higher in Europe. You sort of feel that will all that level of understanding things move much faster, and yet it doesn’t.
Isabelle Ramdoo, Mauritian and expert on African trade with the EU and other partners. She also says its about gaining a deeper understanding of Africa. She warns not to rely on preconceptions when thinking about EU-Africa relations:
One of my biggest frustrations in EU-Africa relations is that the perception that is: both the African side and the European sides hear what one stands for each other. Probably because of history. The question is perception! Don’t interpret Africa, understand Africa. This is something that really captures the fact that the way things are happening on the ground, we very often hear the Afro-optimism vs the Afro-pessimism, to me this is a completely misplaced debate. Change has happened, change is happening, it’s not a question of whether it is too hyped or not, it’s really putting the lens of realism on EU-Africa relations would do a lot of good for thinking out of the box.
Andrew Sherriff, head of the EU external action programme agrees there needs to be more realism:
Policy world of EU-Africa relations often feels quite far removed from the reality of relations, so that’s one thing that frustrates me. There’s this sort of policy dialogue and political dialogue that’s a bit distant from the reality. Another thing is that I think policy makers in both EU and Africa are somewhat trapped in a narrative, however much they try and say that ‘we move beyond the weight of history’ they are kind of trapped by that and play out roles that are almost caricatures of what you would expect.
Faten Aggad-Clerx, head of the Africa Change Dynamics programme:
My main frustration relates a bit to the one of Isabelle, and that is the us vs them debate. Is China better for Africa than Europe? Or is Europe better for Africa than the new so called emerging partners. The truth is that, it is for Africa to decide.
There are certain interests that plays out. On Talking Points I wrote an article saying ‘It’s all about pragmatism, silly’ and that’s really what it’s about. Each one of Africa’s international partners brings something to the continent and we will need to recognise that. What is important is not to get caught up in the debate of ‘we are better than them, or they are better than us’ but rather adjust the relationship in a way that takes that reality into account because it is a reality.
There were some voices on the challenges of EU-Africa relations. We would really like to hear your views on this, and issues such as promoting food security, managing of extractive sectors, reflections on the JAES and also on areas like conflict. Visit our blog for more information
The views expressed here are those of the authors, and may not necessarily represent those of ECDPM.
Head of Programme Strengthening European External Action
Clément Silverman (Alumnus)
Head of Programme Africa’s Change Dynamics
Isabelle Ramdoo (Alumna)
Deputy Head of Programme Economic Transformation and Trade
Head of Learning and Quality Support
Rhys Williams (Alumnus)