Another opportunity to transform the long-standing EU-AU partnership into life serving relationship for both stakeholders hangs on a balance. It remains to be seen whether the EU is prepared to walk the talk or pursue her usual antics of African exploitation. Summits provide the political spaces to define, redefine and clarify strategies that nurture partnership for mutual benefit. By its nature, partnerships are engaged for mutual benefits, and the onus is on each partner to define what constitutes her interests in the partnership. Strategies that mutually contribute to addressing the needs of all in the partnership are developed. However, it is no longer a bilateral partnership when a partner takes it upon himself to set the agenda without the input of the other.
The recent European Union Commission (EC)’s document, JOINT COMMUNICATION TO THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND THE COUNCIL: Towards a comprehensive Strategy with Africa, points to the negatively skewed partnership between the EU and the AU. It may be good to interrogate how much of the inputs of the Civil Society or that of the African Union were received in the articulation of the said communication that presents the agenda for the summit. Obviously, none! Yet, the African heads of governments are expected to accept the agenda and participate in the summit. What stands out in the EU’s approach to the summit is her unchanging mindset about Africa. The content of the communication and the agenda therein articulates what the EU thinks is Africa’s potentials and needs and offers her strategies to help Africa realize her potential. The EU subtly projects her needs in her vision of Africa and sets up her agenda to legitimatize her sourcing of the raw materials from Africa. It has always been the antecedent of the EU to take away more from Africa than it can ever dream of giving to Africa. But in addition to it, diminish the self-esteem of the peoples, their sense of worth, integrity and wholeness.
The guiding principles of the EU-AU partnership are well defined by the joint Africa-EU strategy (JAES) in the Lisbon Treaty. However, it remains to be appreciated that these principles are always conveyed on two important but faulty pillars of the EU-AU summits. First, The EU suggests in its communication that an amorphous quasi-political arrangement called the AU is the EU equivalent. Nothing could be further from the truth! If the partnership between the EU and Africa is founded on this fundamental error, it means that all the outcomes of the summits and programs have been contaminated by this fundamental but enduring error. Secondly, there is the hegemony of the private sector that has turned its market power into a political force through their agenda setting. AEFJN considers the agenda of the AU-EU Summit as the agenda of the EU private sector and a reflection of their corporate interests.
A common narrative the corporations frequently employed to manipulate Africa leaders is the carrot of job creation for African young population. Obviously, pointing to African young population is both a gift as well as keg of gun powder that every responsible government would want to avert. Yet we know that the investments required to create dignified jobs for African rural young people are different from those aimed at creating favorable investment for the large corporations. AEFJN contends that the development of local entrepreneurs and value chains to Africa’s abundant resources is the veritable vehicle to job creation for the African teaming and young population.
AEFJN is particularly concerned that the issues that are of great importance to most Africans do not feature in the agenda. If the EU aims at a summit that will contribute to meeting the needs of the African people, the subject of regional food system resilience that follows agroecological production, climate resilience, local entrepreneurship development, and value chain development of Africa’s natural resources are essentials items for the agenda. In the same vein, the list should intergenerational justice in the use natural mineral deposits; and the preservation of Africa’s biodiversity and forests as essential items and not ancillary items for the simple reason that Africa’s economy is basically rural. Peace and migration questions can find a meaningful conversation only in the context of the key drivers.
Sadly, even though it is a known fact that the lives of Africans will be significantly affected by agreements that would be reached between AU and EU at the summit considering the huge participation of the private sector, yet the EU is averse to supporting the UN efforts to regulate corporate regulation of TNCs. Instead of playing the ostrich, the EU must act decisively now in the direction of setting the ecosystems and communities of Africa on the paths of post-COVID-19 recovery, to build a safer and more equitable future for the people of Africa and the planet. Together with Africa, the EU should consider seriously the urgency of resetting the global relationship with nature and secure a resilient carbon-neutral economy pathway on the African continent.