NewsNorth AfricaAfrica and the sick men of Europe


Posted on Thursday, 17 April 2014 15:33

Africa and the sick men of Europe

Patrick Smith

There is this knotty problem in European-African relations, and one side is really losing the plot.


You see, there is this autocratic regime that is invading a neighbouring state, and the so-called continental organisation that is meant to uphold the values of non-aggression and national self-determination is weak and divided.

Maybe it is waiting for a big power, like the United States or China, to help it sort it out.

How about recognition in the new trade agreements of Africa's efforts to produce locally?

And then tribal politics is stronger than ever: in May, it is having elections where ethnic separatists and even ethnic cleansers are expected to do well.

And that is before we get to the disastrous economies.

Almost all the countries are staggering along with low growth rates, high deficits and crony capitalism while their finance ministers seem to have taken up residence outside the International Monetary Fund in Washington clasping an empty bowl.

Well that is a shame about Europe, but what about Africa?

Okay, Europe's flatlining economies are an easy target these days. However, straitened economies in Europe should not lead to a failure of imagination when trying to develop a dialogue with Africa.

But that is the risk ahead of the grand Africa-Europe summit in Brussels on 2-3 April at which many of the European delegates will have in their minds a view of Africa honed in the structurally adjusted and Live-Aided 1980s.

To counter this, the more creative and better-informed diplomats in Brussels should convey the message to their colleagues of a rapidly changing Africa with a widening range of trading and diplomatic options.

For example, Andris Piebalgs, the EU development commissioner who we interview in these pages, told us openly that too many of his col- leagues see Africa "as a continent where you provide support, but where you don't expect anything to come back."

The problem is, says Piebalgs, that European companies look to invest in China, Russia and the US.

They do not imagine they can make the same level of returns in Africa. "We want them to see Africa differently, as dynamic in terms of growth [...] that's what this summit is about," he says.

It may be that as a Latvian, Piebalgs has an instinctive sympathy for small countries that get pushed around by big bullying ones.

But the European Commission should give him something more to bring to the table with Africa: how about a recognition in the new multilateral trade agreements of Africa's efforts to build processing and manufacturing industries locally – that is, the right to protect them with tariffs?

And, on the other side of the equation, to cut down the agricultural subsidy schemes that lock Africa's exports out of Europe's markets?

On the positive front, Africa has the potential for gigawatts of solar power that experts say could be tapped within a decade or two.

Why cannot Europe's engineers join forces with Africa's to speed up this development to produce cheap and green power for both continents? ●

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith

Patrick Smith is Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report. He has edited the political and economic insider newsletter Africa Confidential since 1992 and was associate producer on a documentary about the 2004 coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea commissioned by Britain's Channel 4 television.


Subscriptions Digital EditionSubscriptions PrintEdition










Music & Film



Keep up to date with the latest from our network :


Connect with us