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'Learning community' for European-African partnership

'Learning community' for European-African partnership

Recipes for change at Brussels summit 

by Ludger Kühnhardt

Wed 26 Mar 2014

Africa is in the news as a force for positive change as many economic uncertainties haunt industrialised and developing countries. Many now believe Africa offers hope and has a bright future.

The outlook for transformation will be on show next week at the fourth EU-Africa Summit in Brussels, convening under the well-meaning slogan ‘Investing in people, prosperity and peace.’ Beyond ritual self-congratulation and platitudes, there are genuine reasons for confidence. A key condition for success is that Africa and Europe take genuine steps to build a 'learning community' that allows both sides to learn lessons from each other – and use these to implement action plans to change economies and lives.

Two dozen African countries now register annual average growth of around 6%. The number of violent conflicts, internal or external, is at its lowest in modern times. The roll-call of democratically-elected leaders is at a high. A new Africa is now in view, with an emerging middle class and a stronger sense of ownership and responsibility. There is also a vibrant mobile phone culture right down to village level and a youthful population aspiring to a better life in their own countries.

The key to sustaining change is easy to formulate and yet difficult to realise: formal jobs and better infrastructure. To help achieve these goals, a ‘learning community' is needed. This means learning from the presence of China, India, Brazil, the US and Turkey in Africa; learning lessons from Africa’s own shortcomings in past decades; and learning how to redefine ‘development’.

Two important aspects are how to make better use of the know-how of the African diaspora and how to gather resources of African citizens outside Africa for investment in the continent. We should bear in mind that one of the important agents of change in China over the past 30 years has been the many overseas Chinese who invested their money in the People’s Republic and accelerated Chinese modernisation.

Since the first EU-Africa Summit in Cairo in 2000, the relationship is supposed to have moved on from that of donor-recipients towards that of a partnership of equals, but we are a long way from achieving that objective.

Africa today is sometimes described as a new Asia in the making. But progress, where it has happened, has been mainly due to the activities of the private sector and civil society rather than political strategies. African modernisation, sometimes labelled as African capitalism, is under way in a growing number of countries. But more often than not political rhetoric and interference slow it down.

The role of politics should be to provide an appropriate framework for private investment, including regulatory mechanisms for transnational banking and all kinds of business. A political set-up is needed to identify responsibilities about who is doing what (or not) in the context of African development. Benchmarks are needed for implementing and monitoring existing strategies, for example, for infrastructure projects as well as those for education, science and research.

Building a learning community is the key. We need to move on from the intellectual mindset of the Cold War. All societies, north, south, east and west, are now in constant transformation. Europe's aim can no longer be to tell Africans what they should do, but to help give them the means to carry out actions that they must decide and implement themselves.

Prof. Ludger Kühnhardt is Director of the Centre for European Integration Studies (ZEI) in Bonn and a member of the OMFIF Advisory Board.

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