The Joint Africa-European Union Strategy (JAES) promised all the fundamentals of a partnership. JAES proposed a “partnership of equals” where European and African nations where to cooperate on matters of common interest. It promised to strengthen political dialogue and had the potential to surmount the traditional donor-recipient relationship. The relationship though has been far from even or equal. Africa has been a subordinate ‘partner’ to Europe in a relationship which is indicative of the larger political economy and their historical relationship. If the agreement is based on equality, Europe should offer a genuine partnership and Africa should demand one.
Africa’s relationship with Europe is deeply rooted in the history of both continents. Their ability to form an equal relationship has been marred by European enslavement of Africans, imperial expansion and colonialism. When African nations gained independence in the 1960s, there was a hope that an equal partnership would form. Instead, a neo-colonial donor-recipient relationship dichotomy developed. This was exacerbated by the 1980s neo-liberal agenda that increased unequal and uneven development. When the first European Union (EU)-Africa Summit was held in 2000, once again, there was promise for a genuine partnership. Years later, it is clear that both continents still have not completely escaped the burden of their historical relationship.
An Unequal Partnership
Its conception was unequal from inception – the African Union (AU) has been left out of the agreement’s name. Although both the AU and EU are both charged with overseeing JAES, the EUs name appears without its counterpart. Furthermore, “Africa-EU” implies the EU is partnering with monolithic “Africa” as opposed to an organized body. It implies that the strategy is for Africa by the EU – reminiscent of the names of many aid campaigns. If this was to be a relationship of two international organizations in a relationship of equal respect, it should have appropriately been a Joint AU-EU partnership. However, it is important to note that the EU is the AUs primary donor – this means the relationship is bound to be uneven.
The EUs financial support which empowers the AU in peace and security, has also led to an increasing reluctance of Europeans to send troops to Africa. Yet, polices by some European member states or businesses are often a direct or indirect cause of conflicts. If Europe is not willing to take equal responsibility for matters such as oil spills or conflict in the Niger-Delta involving European conglomerates, then they are driven by corporate – not African interests. Furthermore, the EUs interest in security seems to favor strategic alliances that turn North Africa into a migration and conflict buffer zone rather than simply a common interest in continent wide security.
Immigration and migration policies are becoming restrictive across Europe. The treatment that African migrants sometimes face in Europe’s embassies and border control agencies is not conducive to fostering trade or amicable relationships. Recent laws targeting Ghana’s visitors to the United Kingdom that treat visitors with a ‘control first’ policy have been particularly contentious. They regard visitors with suspicion first and undermine a fundamental policy of diplomatic reciprocity. Europe should be prepared to address some of the migration and immigration challenges that have arisen in a more just manner if they are serious about engaging with Africans who travel or live there.
Africa is changing. African economies are growing faster than any other continent. Since 2000, one-third of them have reported GDP growth rates over 6%. According to the African Development Bank, more than half of them are middle income; there is a burgeoning middle-class; and foreign investment has increased fivefold. Albeit Economic growth being largely constrained by inadequate infrastructure development, new global players are ready to invest in the type of infrastructure projects that Africans have been seeking.
The increasing influence of the BRICS has coincided with Europe’s declining influence. The BRICS are more willing to offer Africans an equitable deal – and Africans are noticing the difference. Their attitudes towards traditional agreements are changing. African nations are becoming more vocal about advocating trade over aid. They are more conscious of the double standard in international trade agreements and are openly denouncing them. i.e. the on-going negotiations over the Economic Partnership Agreements which have yet to be resolved. Europe can no longer rely on antiquated development and trade models. Nor can its political discourse with Africa continue to be patronizing or ambiguous. They need to engage with Africa in a way that is mutually beneficial in practice not just in rhetoric.
Although JAES promises a ‘partnership of equals’ , any partnership that is going to truly support Africa’s interests as a partner needs to address inequities in the global political economy and social world. This means addressing unequal and unfair trade policies, labor practices, wages and migration polices and the nature of such continental level partnerships. Europe cannot claim an equal partnership otherwise – and unless Africa demands one with a unified voice and purpose, it cannot be an equal partner.