EU-Africa relations must confront inequalities

Together the EU and Africa must strengthen African citizens' capacities in engaging in the governance of resources to common benefit, and in participating in decision-making processes. To be mutually beneficial and sustainable in the long term, EU-Africa partnership require initiatives and policies that catalyse citizens' ability to contribute towards strengthening a state that can confront the lack of inclusive growth, deepening inequality, and resource exploitation.

Former European Commissioner for Development, Louis Michel, recently proposed a 10-point plan for a closer EU-Africa partnership. In the Spring Issue 2013 of the magazine Europe's World, ACORD's Executive Director Ousainou Ngum is commenting on this, noting that Michel's proposal does not adequately address Africa's structural difficulties:

Lack of inclusive growth amidst deepening inequalities

An EU-Africa partnership needs to confront the lack of growth that's inclusive, deepening inequalities and resource exploitation. Louis Michel boldly proclaims Africa as the "continent of the future", recognising its potential in today's globalising world. His policy recommendations implicitly recognise the damaging aspects of global economic integration, even though his overriding prescription is that Africa will benefit from globalisation through an "economy driven by market forces."

But as many have pointed out, including Kofi Annan's high-level Africa Progress Panel, economic growth hasn't yet had a significant impact on poverty. After a decade of buoyant growth, almost half of all Africans still live on less than $1.25 a day, while another 30% live on between $1.25 and $2.50 a day. Even in some of the fastest growing countries, disparities in wealth are becoming deep-rooted.

Economists at the African Development Bank recently pointed out that "Africa's growth tends to be concentrated on a limited range of commodities and the extractive industries. These sectors are not generating the employment opportunities that would allow the majority of the population to share in the benefits." Resource-dependent growth threatens long-term and equitable prosperity. Africa's decade of growth has been accompanied by a rapid increase in the foreign ownership and exploitation of its natural resources in both traditional sectors like minerals and oil, but also agricultural land, fisheries and forests.

Foreign investment in natural resources has been facilitated, yet resource competition is already beginning to incite local and national-scale conflict. The ecological impact of industrial agriculture, increased deforestation and intensive fishing has meant severe reductions in fresh water supplies and soil fertility, and more drought.

Africa's governments must also protect the marginalised against exploitation

Louis Michel's prescriptions are largely based on increasing investment and trade. But the policies on offer often do not address Africa's structural problems. Greater traceability of illegal mining profits doesn't address the negative impacts of even legal investments on local communities. A corporate social responsibility code of ethics is laudable, but if it isn't accompanied by the legal recognition of small producers' land tenure then it won't guarantee equitable outcomes. Michel's vision of states that harness the power of markets is right, but Africa's government must also protect the rights of the most marginalised.

As to economic partnership agreements (EPAs) with the EU, we at ACORD have mobilised an Africa-wide campaign to raise awareness of EPAs and to strongly caution against their adverse effects on Africa's development. To nurture inclusive growth, Africa must also nurture small businesses and protect government revenues. EPAs would see a massive reduction in import tariffs and a huge influx of cheap agricultural products, reducing the ability of the state to support small businesses, and also threatening the livelihoods of millions of farmers. That's why after 10 years of arduous negotiations on the EPAs, they have still not been signed, putting a strain on EU-Africa relations. Instead, the EU and its EPAs should focus on new trade agreements that give space for Africa's development priorities.

  • african union
  • european union
  • partnership
  • trade justice
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