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Can Africa and Europe strengthen ties to address global challenges?

Written By: George Mukundi
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Can Africa and Europe strengthen ties?

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The migration crisis in Europe has brought to the fore divergence of opinion and strategies on how to address global challenges of our time. Europe’s reaction with consternation at the ‘invasion’ of its shores by outsiders is hardly surprising to curious observers of geopolitics. What could one expect with the heightened rise of rightwing political rhetoric and sentiment that is gaining traction across Europe and spreading to North America? BREXIT is a useful data point on the limitations of regional integration that has citizens as observers rather than its drivers.

Are the emerging fears from the migration crisis unfounded or rooted in deep seated structural but unaddressed issues? Can regional organizations such as the African Union contribute to stemming the tide that seems bent on sacrificing gains made on adherence to international law standards at the altar of political expediency?

On 29 September 2016, experts drawn from Africa and the Netherlands pondered over these questions among others at the Hague under the auspices of the Royal Kingdom of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Platform and ECPDM.

The deliberations among others called for a paradigm shift in state-society relations and a revisit of existing partnerships and collaboration between global actors in dealing with contemporary challenges of this and future generations. Acknowledging that no country or region is an island when it comes to global issues such as climate change, terrorism, piracy, corruption, trafficking, drug smuggling, conflict and insecurity, migration and shrinking resources, the experts urged for a move beyond the rhetoric if Africa, Europe and indeed the rest of the world is to succeed in finding durable solutions to these challenges. Three important issues emerged during deliberations as critical points of departure towards a more holistic strategy for strengthening ties between Europe and Africa in addressing contemporary global challenges.

First is an imperative to accord primacy to addressing structural root causes and triggers of these challenges rather that their symptoms. For instance while conflicts in several parts of Africa manifest in open hostilities, displacement and destruction of property and loss of life, fundamental reasons for the conflicts flaring up in the first instance are hardly dealt with. The structural issues include but are not limited to lack of service delivery, socio economic injustice, democratic governance deficit, impunity, corruption, lack of accountability and inequitable distribution of resources. While it is the primary responsibility of individual states to address these challenges, regional organizations such as the African Union and international partners including Europeans have a role to play as guarantors and beneficiaries of global peace and security. The failure to prevent conflicts globally and instead focus on addressing their symptoms as exemplified by the knee-jerk reactions to the migration crisis will continue to haunt and affect the current and future generations.

Second is the importance of strengthening equal partnerships and collaboration beyond financial aid. For more than half a century donor aid in billions of dollars and Euros has been poured into Africa but the impact and results of that aid is negligible or at best cannot be accounted for. Is it a case of missed targets, priorities or poor return on investments? The experts at the consultation reaffirmed a growing concession that while development aid has certainly helped highlight some important issues in the global south, it has mostly fomented a dependence syndrome rather than enhanced ownership by beneficiaries and crafting of sustainable solutions. With shrinking global financial resources including in Europe, the experts urged for honest partnerships and collaboration that place emphasis on primacy of citizens and socio political solutions and not merely technical and financial solutions that have hardly worked. For instance, by more constructive engagement of political actors, citizens inclusion and participation including those whom Europe may disagree with will yield more sustainable results than merely pouring billions of dead aid as Dambisa Moyo puts it that has little or no traction with citizens.

Finally there was an acknowledgement that notwithstanding significant challenges, regional organizations such as the African Union and Regional Economic Communities are prime positioned to be game changers in securing global peace and development. While bilateral agreements and engagements between different countries have significant potential to improve global peace and security, the role played by regional organizations cannot be gain said. These organizations have far more political leverage and credibility among Member States that no amount of money can buy. As illustrated by various African common positions on diverse issues including on migration in Valletta, Humanitarian effectiveness in Istanbul and Post 2015 Development Agenda, African solidarity in addressing common global challenges through the African Union is commendable. Accordingly, while some European countries might be tempted to explore bilateral deals outside the collective when the African common positions might be uncompromising, the success of such deals is unlikely to hold in the long term as is emerging with the post Valetta bilateral deals. Short-circuiting agreed collective compromises for convenience and behind the scenes bilateral deal is untenable in modern geo-political configurations. It is therefore imperative to rebuild trust and move beyond the rhetoric to respectful and sincere partnerships and collaboration as envisaged in the Sustainable Development Goals 17. That is the only sure way and guarantee for Africa and Europe to strengthen ties to address global challenges

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