Letter from Finland
Dear EU leaders,
Africa is changing fast. Is Europe keeping up? Will we manage to forge equal, effective partnerships with Africa that respond to actual needs rather than clinging to an outdated narrative of donors and beneficiaries?
While Africa is taking huge steps forward in economic and social development, European solidarity has started to vanish from our toolbox. Parties with populist and right wing ideologies have not only gained ground in elections, but also managed to turn government policies towards more pessimistic premises rather than positive outlooks as far as African relations are concerned. Uncontrolled migration, threats to security and risks to private investment rather than development cooperation and partnership dominate discussions about the Global South. Borders have been closed, “root causes” is now the slogan guiding policies, and drastic cuts and reallocations of development aid have been introduced even in the traditionally generous Nordic region, namely in Denmark and Finland.
Can we agree that African economic and human development and social transformation have surpassed all records? Just look at the speed the African Continental Free Trade Area was approved and ratified – in less than 12 months. The digital revolution and globalisation have fundamentally changed the preconditions for development on the continent. Many African countries are calling for the end of aid, seeking trade rather than aid. This, however, is not the whole picture.
The African Development Bank and Economic Commission of Africa predict further high economic conjunctures to persist in the majority of African countries. Yet the impressive numbers are not translating into better lives for Africans, and current analyses focus more on the growing inequality, rapid population growth and unemployment. The power structures of the global economy have not changed to the Global South’s advantage, and therefore Africa will not win, regardless of how fast it runs.
Some African leaders and intellectuals claim that despite growing ownership of its own decisions, Africa lets itself be treated as a raw material deposit. Its wealth escapes the continent’s own needy and starving. They say that Africa is prevented from defending its own interests and taking advantage of its improved political position in the changing global geopolitics. This fuels old hostilities towards Europe and raises antagonism towards China, Africa’s most important new partner. Critics claim that neither the reforming African Union nor its member countries can abolish colonial traumas or rid the continent of corrupt leaders and practices now well past their sell-by date. I agree with this analysis, but not with the current solution of pulling out and leaving Africa alone on the other side of the Mediterranean. My call to you, European decision-maker, is to engage more rather than less.
Meanwhile, the climate threat is changing Africa’s landscape and its development prospects. Sober messages from the UN climate panel, the IPCC, have inserted a bitter note of reality into the illusion of the “global consumer heaven”. Africa will not become a new China – some will exclaim “thank heavens!” – because rapidly advancing automatisation and a growing global footprint spoil its future prospects as a rising global factory. Africa, even with its rapidly growing population, bears marginal guilt for climate change (it produces just 4% of global emissions). But it does bear maximal consequences of the disastrous effects of our changing climate.
Climate equity and intergenerational solidarity entail that people in the Global South – young and old, women and men – also have the right to live dignified lives in a functioning society free of violence and oppression. That is where we, European citizens, particularly from the Nordic region, can play a part, offering building blocks for a good life, functional societies, and good public services in health and education as well as a prosperous and sustainable global community.
The Nordic countries in a far corner of Europe top most global rankings of wealth, welfare and happiness, and for good reason. We therefore punch above our weight in the global arena. Using soft power, the Nordic countries and its decision-makers urge Europe to return to its proactive role in global development politics, along the lines of its previous solidarity for African emancipation.
Europe, and the world for that matter, needs innovative and equal partnerships with Africa so the continent can achieve its own full potential. Equally, actions that promote Africa’s position in the global arena where relevant global decisions are made are paramount for our common sustainable future.
The new European global politics can take large leaps in preventing and mitigating climate change, while also promoting equal division of public resources and goods, advancing a circular and sharing economy, and promoting renewable energy.
Besides, there is one area where my country, Finland, really shines: provision and quality of education. It is given that the Finnish education system, rooted in equal opportunities and a particular historical evolution, cannot be copied or exported. However, Europe can advance new (digital) learning solutions and applications, provide resources for research and development, and help set up and develop good e-governance. With Nordic soft power and European resources, these investments might well turn out to be best policies to address population growth on the African continent. In the continent’s “survival economy”, ground-breaking innovations are created by pools of young people in sweatshop-like conditions. Imagine Africa’s potential if education and financing were offered? Dear European decision-maker, would you like to know more? We at the Nordic Africa Institute are at your service (www.nai.uu.se).
About the author
Iina Soiri is the Director of the Nordic Africa Institute