Thursday

28th Jan 2021

Opinion

EU development policy needs a fresh start

  • Development aid as a broader foreign policy instrument must come with higher demands and expectations on the recipient countries policies on human rights, climate change and migration (Photo: Adam Patterson/Oxfam)

European development aid and EU-Africa relations need a fresh start. The Union's approach to Africa, our neighbouring continent, has been lukewarm and hesitant, shaped by a development policy built on an obsolete donor-recipient mentality. A shift of thought is now needed.

Over the next years, the EU will dedicate over €30bn to sub-Saharan Africa. To make the most of this commitment, European policies must recognise and build on the trends that are rapidly re-shaping the continent.

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  • The African Union HQ in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa (Photo: EUobserver)

Most notably, the African economy is on the rise.

According to the African Economic Outlook 2020, the real GDP growth is estimated at 3.4 percent in 2019, and 4.1 percent in 2021.

Six economies in Africa are among the fastest-growing in the world. However, the growth is far from inclusive. While extreme poverty levels are at a record low, the high population growth means that the number of people living in poverty will continue to increase. In 2030, global poverty will be almost exclusively centred in Africa.

Moreover, Africa is facing an unparalleled demographic development.

The African population is projected to grow from 1.2bn to 2.5bn by 2050, which is more than China and India combined. Nigeria alone will be the world's third-most inhabited country.

Without investments into the African economy, inequalities and scarcity of resources will spur conflict. Moreover, migration will accelerate, both within Africa and across the Mediterranean, resulting in pressure on transit regions and political instability.

China and Russia

Africa has also become the scene for rejuvenated geopolitics, with China and Russia already having established presence.

For many African countries, China is the most important trading partner. According to the American Enterprise Institute, Chinese investments in sub-Saharan Africa over the past ten years have amounted to $269bn [€247bn].

Similar in ambition, Russia is attempting to re-establish old Soviet-Africa relations, be it by other methods than economic strength.

Russian trade volumes are going up, as well as arms exports and military cooperation agreements. During the period 2014-2018, Russian arms amounted to 49 percent of total imports to North Africa and 28 percent of the imports to sub-Saharan Africa.

The determined presence of China and Russia in Africa comes at a time when the US is withdrawing from the world stage, leaving a void for the EU to fill.

These trends demonstrate how Africa is a different continent today, than it was when European development policies were cemented. In order to maintain the relevance for European aid, this must translate into an increased focus on strategic sectors and aid effectiveness, as well as a clear vision of the end game, beyond development aid.

Four steps

I believe that four key priorities should be visible across the field of action.

First, job creation. European development aid must contribute on a large scale to quality jobs and investments in skills and education, in particular for young people. 30 million young people are expected to enter the African labour market every year as of 2030. More than a 100 million jobs will have to be added to the economy within the next decade. If not, social disruption and forced displacement will be unavoidable.

Second, gender equality is key to tapping into the full potential of the African economy. Promoting female entrepreneurship, access to finance and financial services that enables equal control of family earnings, not only advances gender equality and human rights – it is smart economics.

Third, a focus on small-scale actions. Fighting poverty is best approached by dividing it into smaller issues.

Accordingly, EU development aid should target the practical barriers to quality education, democratic participation, etcetera, as opposed to large-scale projects, which also risk fuelling corruption. This requires a constant evaluation of the effectiveness of measures, beyond simple references to the volume of the aid.

Finally, ambitious conditionality criteria are needed, in particular as regards budget support.

It should be used as a means to achieve strategic political objectives, in line with the more for more principle.

Development aid as a broader foreign policy instrument must come with higher demands and expectations on the recipient countries policies on human rights, climate change and migration, among many other things.

It has to be carefully balanced, but incorporating development policy into the broader foreign policy agenda is a natural step to take.

In conclusion, a new start for European development aid and EU-Africa relations must be more than just a continuation of the present, with a twist.

It must effectively contribute to the strategic interests of both parties, fuel economic growth and investments and by doing so make the most of the promising – and challenging – transformation of the African continent.

Author bio

Tomas Tobé is a Swedish MEP with the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) group and chair of the European Parliament development committee.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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