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Rethinking cooperation with Africa – International Development Blog

Photo of a chruch in Addis Abbeba

What could international cooperation look like that promotes economically, socially and environmentally sustainable development in the interests of the global common good? A few weeks ago, Andreas Freytag and Stefan Liebing argued here that modern cooperation with Africa had to be based on private-sector investment, market principles in project selection, and competition between partner countries for international investment. Paternalism in development policy should be replaced with principles of competition and the social market economy.

Private-sector investment and a better link between the private sector and development policy are indeed absolutely necessary for creating jobs and long-term prosperity. However, against the backdrop of the health and socio-economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the consequences of climate change, resource degradation, and the effects of demographic change in Europe and Africa, introducing more market principles into development policy will not be sufficient to create sustainable cooperation. Interlinkages and interdependencies in our immediate and broader neighbourhood affect us all, one way or the other. Consequently, cooperation with Africa must be refined into a transformative partnership. Depending on the regional and country contexts in question, this partnership should be designed differently. This requires a shift in perspective, or “attitude” to quote former Federal President Horst Köhler, and innovative cooperation structures.

Why a shift in perspective? For decades, cooperation with Africa has been characterised by the unilateral perception that the problems are in Africa and Europe helps to solve them through knowledge, technology and finance. This one-dimensional view is simply inaccurate. There is too much overlap between global issues that Europe, Africa and others can only tackle together. Conventional development models with a one-sided focus on economic growth are outdated. Instead, the priority is to create sustainable employment and achieve social cohesion and ecological compatibility. The European Union aims at the ambitious goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050. The African Union has adopted ambitious development goals with its Agenda 2063 and is discussing issues such as how to expand access to energy and what role renewable energies could play in this. European and African partners need to work together to organise the process of identifying ways to shape key areas of transformation. Transregional value chains must be restructured jointly.

This interconnectedness of the transformative pathways of Europe and Africa can be illustrated by two specific examples. First, if Europe is to achieve the energy transition, then some of its renewables will most likely need to be imported in future. Green hydrogen from African countries could play a key role here in the long term. Second, the situation is similar in the European electromobility sector, with its dependence on cobalt, the vast majority of which is imported in raw form from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Demand for cobalt imports continues to rise with the roll-out of electromobility. These dependencies need to be leveraged strategically in order to increase the added value of cooperation for both partners. Cobalt mining practices, for instance, should not only guarantee compliance with human-rights and social standards, but also increase the proportion of local value creation. The case of green hydrogen, our first example, local value creation implies that European and African partners should drive technological development together, first investing in energy access in Africa before exporting to Europe. This could benefit economic players and societies on both continents. However, this is predicated upon more in-depth dialogue in education, research and technology as the basis for joint development of solutions.

A transformative partnership must work with African partners to develop ambitious visions of the future, geared to reform needs in key areas of activity in Africa and Europe alike. To this end, reform projects have to be devised in close dialogue between the private sector, policy-makers, researchers and civil society on both continents. By way of example, the European Commission has set up a number of task forces since 2018 on sustainable investment in energy, agriculture, transport and digitalisation. This approach should be strategically expanded and systematised in conjunction with economic development measures in order to achieve a transformative partnership.

Shared interests and mutual dependencies are the strategic foundation for transformative, partnership-focused cooperation with Africa. It is not about a one-sided focus, whether on “African” or “European” challenges. As illustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the consequences of climate change and peacebuilding work in the Sahel region: market-based competition stands alongside, not above, state intervention and reflexive governance.


This blog contribution is based on an article ““More market” is not enough for cooperation with Africa” in German language, published by the authors in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

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