In recent years, Africa has been recording steady economic growth. Thirty African States are middle-income or high-income countries. The continent’s economic expansion has the potential to accelerate and drive broader social and human development with new opportunities arising from the digital transformation, the demographic dividend, low-cost renewable energy, the green transition and a low-carbon, blue and circular economy.
At the same time, many challenges remain. Thirty-six of the world’s most fragile countries are in Africa and often weakened by conflicts. The continent hosts 390 million people living below the poverty line. Growth has not always been inclusive, notably due to governance challenges. Africa, as the rest of the world, is also affected by the consequences of climate change, environmental degradation and pollution, and the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Africa’s potential attracts increased interest from many actors. This is a welcome development, as it widens Africa’s options and creates room for synergies. On 9th March 2020, the President of the European Commission and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy presented a draft for a new EU-Africa strategy. The document proposes to strengthen the cooperation between the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU) through partnerships in five key areas: green transition; digital transformation; sustainable growth and jobs; peace and governance; migration and mobility. The proposal is part of an ongoing dialogue and will be the basis of discussion in the run-up to the next AU-EU Summit in Brussels in October 2020, which will be the occasion to define joint strategic priorities for the years to come.
The German EU Council Presidency from July to December 2020 is a window of opportunity for civil society organizations (CSOs) to advocate for responsible political decision-making. I happened to be meaningfully engaged in a virtual consultation process through the Digital Africa Forum 2020 organised by VENRO. It mobilised African and European civil society to deliberate and develop practical recommendations to the German EU Presidency.
How can we ensure the AU-EU partnership is beneficial to an ordinary citizen?
This engagement and participation was a reflective process on what the AU-EU partnership actually translates to at national and bilateral cooperation level. I kept thinking about what it would mean for an ordinary citizen. That small scale artisan worker that makes and sells steel doors and window frames for a living, who has trouble getting registration for his business and when he does, is taxed heavily because of the high public sector deficits and inflation rates. How can we ensure the partnership is beneficial to this person by addressing his needs?
Much as one would like to commend the regional blocs for policy documents outlining the foundations for their partnership after the end of the Cotonou Agreement, there are gaps and challenges that need to be addressed especially from the perspective of the ordinary poor citizen. The same is true for Kenya’s Vision 2030, which is the country’s development blueprint covering the period 2008 to 2030. Its main aim is to transform the country into a middle-income country by 2030. The blueprint vision is based on three key pillars: economic, social and political.
The economic pillar aims to improve prosperity of all. Kenya’s population is largely youthful. Many are completing school education and joining a labour market with no jobs. In the case of Kenya, cooperation must thus focus on economic relations that create jobs for young people, especially keeping in mind that the informal sector currently employs over 70% of the country’s workforce. In this sense, African-European cooperation should support agriculture because of its ability to create employment. Tourism, manufacturing for regional markets, inclusive wholesale and retail trade, financial and business support services are other sectors with a lot potential to provide jobs.
Unfortunately, Vision 2030 places the highest premium on stable macroeconomic environment. In the coming years, this is under threat by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic like high inflation, high interest rates, and increasing public sector deficits. A bilateral cooperation needs to consider strengthening policies such as the Macro Economic Stability Framework at national level in order to caution the ordinary poor citizen and investors from these negative consequences.
The political pillar, on the other hand, aims to realise a democratic political system founded on issue-based politics that respects the rule of law and protects the rights and freedoms of every individual. The government officially recognises that in an open democratic society like Kenya, the people themselves, parliament, civil society and a vigilant press are the ultimate defence against abuse of office.
Any bilateral relation must strengthen space of civil society
Kenya has a vibrant CSO arena with over 6,000 registered non-governmental organizations. CSOs play an important role in numerous sectors including education, gender equality, health, agriculture, manufacturing, housing, trade etc. Nevertheless, the role of civil society in national development and expanding democratic space continues to be challenged. Controls, intimidation and threats for deregistration from government continue. For example, CSOs operations are reduced by restricting their ability to provide education and information to citizens or by bringing in legislation to control registration and rules on generating 80% of resources locally and only 20% externally. Any bilateral relation must therefore acknowledge and strengthen space of civil society to increase its role in national accountability.
In conclusion, two key issues come to play: the need to ensure inclusivity in the EU-Africa Strategy development process by creating spaces for participation. Our CSOs call for meaningful engagement of African citizens in the consultation processes. Their recommendations will build on and enrich the partnership and deepen the AU-EU relations. Secondly, civil society will play a pivotal role in holding governments accountable to the commitments made at the global and regional level and thus their involvement throughout the process needs to be a focus for the German EU presidency. AU and EU must provide support and finance meetings to make inclusive participation of civil society happen.
Helen Owino is a Program Officer for Advocacy at the Centre for the Study of Adolescence (Kenya). She participated in the Digital Africa Forum 2020 and represented African participants during VENRO’s kick-off workshop on 29 June 2020.
This article is the first part of our blog series on the German EU Presidency. In preparation for this, VENRO organised the Digital Africa Forum with around 70 participating civil society organisations from Africa and Europe. The participants of the forum came from almost 30 countries and different social sectors. Three of them describe their perspective on African-European relations here.