Analysis & Opinions - Business Daily

How Europe is Losing Africa

| December 13, 2007

In a hopeful tone about the recent summit of European and African leaders, Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates declared: "We are here to write an entirely new page in the history of relations between Europe and Africa." He said the summit made Lisbon "once again the perfect bridge" between the two continents.

Despite Lisbon's genuine interest to serve "once again as a bridge"between the two continents, the summit came decades too late. Most of Europe has not woken up to the fact there is a new Africa that is unlikely to cross a bridge built with remnants from a previous era. New design criteria are needed to reconstruct relations between Africa and Europe.

In the last two decades, Europe has been pre-occupied with its integration and enlargement. It is understandable that Europe has urgent concerns arising from the collapse of Communism.

But instead of acknowledging the neglect and seeking a fresh start, some European countries have sought to blame Africa for the impacts of their diplomatic failures.

Haphazard summits aimed at responding to China's challenge are a poor substitute for thoughtful relations with Africa. Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade is right is saying that Europe is close to losing the battle for influence in Africa. It may not be too late though.

One way to reverse the trends is to put a moratorium on summit diplomacy and "bully forums" and start to craft new economic relations with Africa. China has taken this approach and other countries like Brazil, India and Japan are starting to explore new ways to engage Africa.

African countries are redefining their diplomatic relations with the rest of the world around the need to stimulate economic growth. They are focusing on critical issues such as free international trade, infrastructure development and technical training.

African countries are anxious to expand their presence in the global trading systems. But they have had little support on this by their European allies. Colonial vestiges such as tariff escalation and European protectionist measures such as subsidies continue to shut Africa out of its markets.

Preferential trade deals imposed on Africa are hardly the best way to improve ties. The most likely outcome of this arm-twisting will be stronger desire on the part of Africa to deepen relations with countries such like China.

The European Union has failed to use its leadership in global forums to help improve the continent’s infrastructure. The failure is not due to lack of funds. Its European Investment Bank is the world’s largest multilateral lending institution. It disburses about US$75 billion a year.

Finally, Africa is starting to pay particular attention to technical training and access to such opportunities will start significantly shape relations between the continent and the rest of the world. The UK is providing considerable leadership in this field and there are hopeful signs that Japan will join the league of countries that want to see Africa strengthen its technical competence.

Two decades of neglect have resulted in renewed self-confidence on the part of Africa leaders. There is a new Africa that is learning to relate to the rest of the world differently. For example, the focus on economic diplomacy is already reshaping the way the continent chooses its friends.

Portugal should be commended for helping to build a bridge between Africa and Europe. But its efforts will fail if it relies on outdated design concepts. Such a bridge will not lead Africa to new economic destinations. It is time for Portugal to lead Europe back to the drawing board.

Prof  Juma teaches at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Juma, Calestous.“How Europe is Losing Africa.” Business Daily, December 13, 2007.