23rd Oct 2016


Building a true partnership between Africa and Europe

  • Africans expect an equal partnership not a one-sided relationship between former colonies and their once occupying powers (Photo: EUobserver)

When EU and African Heads of State met in Brussels at the start of April they were presented with the opportunity to begin to forge a new partnership between two continents that have had a long and sometimes troubled relationship.

The EU-Africa Summit has come at the end of an unusual period of both tension and increased cooperation between Europe and the nations of Africa, with both sides wanting to work together but seemingly struggling at times to understand the concerns and actions of the other.

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How this period of flux settles may well decide the course of our relations for a generation.

The reasons behind this change in the tone of our relations are complex, but some of the causes are easy to identify.

The last decade has seen a transformation across much of Africa: democracy has taken root and now most sub-Saharan countries hold regular democratic elections. Sustained growth of over 6% has doubled average GDP per head and Africa has shifted from being seen as a perpetual recipient of donor aid to becoming a centre for global investment with over $2.7 trillion dollars of FDI pouring into the continent.

This trend suggests a lessening reliance on Europe by African nations yet there is much that we can both gain from partnership.

Even as Africa has for some years now been one of the fastest growing economic regions, with 6 out the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, while others have flatlined, European countries with their multi-trillion euro industrialised economies have much to offer in terms of investment, know-how and knowledge transfer. But increasingly Africans expect an equal partnership not a one-sided relationship between former colonies and their once occupying powers.

Sometimes we in Africa have felt European nations have not always appreciated that being independent means we will make decisions other countries do not agree with.

A case in point is the International Criminal Court.

Funded primarily by European nations this intergovernmental institution has been a cause for considerable concern.

Many Africans are baffled by the continuing charges against a democratically elected sitting Head of State, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, not least when the ICC’s prosecutor has admitted publicly she has no compelling evidence against him.

The African Union has voiced its concerns that the ICC is in danger of becoming a geopolitical tool for its funders rather than a judicial instrument for all its signatories. My own President Yoweri Museveni has indicated that an example of this is the clear request by the African Union to the UN to halt trials; the request was then not supported by the European permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Similarly, for many years a number of African countries have been criticised for adopting forms of government that some in Europe felt were not being democratic enough and failed to adequately reflect the wishes of their populations. However, when democratically elected African governments, such as in Uganda, have reached decisions that have overwhelming public support in our countries, especially on social issues, they have been condemned.

Again, we are left wondering is democratic accountability in Africa only important when the views expressed chime with those held by people outside our continent?

Yet these sources of tension are in contrast to the increased interdependence between Europe and Africa over matters of security.

Where once Africa was overly dependent on European countries as guarantors of stability and peace now European and African nations work together.

For example the last twelve months have seen France in cooperation with a multi-country African force target the Islamist threat in Mali, and intervene in the Central African Republic. Off the coast of Somalia the EUNAVFOR naval operation has reduced piracy in conjunction with African nations' navies.

But even with this increased partnership Africa is now, more than at any other time in the last 50 years, managing its own security affairs.

Uganda has been at the forefront of much of this new self-sufficiency providing the largest contingent of troops to the African Union AMISOM peacekeeping mission to Somalia that has pushed back Islamic militants and allowed the development of democratic government. Similarly in South Sudan Uganda heeded a request from the elected administration to intervene to reduce the potentially devastating actions by rebel forces.

Though disagreements and tensions are bound to arise between EU-African countries in the future the summit provided an opportunity to resolve some of the issues that have been coming to the fore.

It is in all of our interests to try to respect each others' opinions, even when we may not agree with them, and to deepen our mutually beneficial relationship.

Key to such a new understanding is that, as never before, Europe and other western countries need Africa.

Africa can no longer be seen as merely a source of resources and a recipient of aid, but instead must now be treated as an equal partner, so that Europe and Africa can forge ahead together in our increasingly multi-polar and interdependent world.

The author is Foreign Minister of the Republic of Uganda


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