HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsCan Europe do without Africa?

Can Europe do without Africa?

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Perhaps before I get into the crux of the discussion this week, let’s start by imagining Africa without Europe today.

Africa whose resources are not exported whether legally or illegally. An Africa that invests for the benefit of its people.

A continent which trades within itself, where oil in Angola doesn’t go to the US, but is distributed to Southern Africa, diamonds are mined and processed and sold in Africa. A continent which solves its neighbour’s political problems without inviting Nato. Is that a possible Africa or is it a pipe dream?

The past decade has seen European countries and their former colonies in the Africa locking horns over potentially far-reaching trade and development negotiations.

Among the major issues under discussion are economic partnership and development agreements. Since slavery and the colonial epoch, European countries have been heavily reliant on Africa and other Caribbean countries for resources both human and natural resources.

Independence didn’t not only bring the hope of political freedom, but the right to control, trade and utilise those resources towards the development of the newly-born countries.

However, very little progress has been recorded on that front because of the several reasons.
The excitement of independence and a black leadership overlooked the urgent need to address the economic configuration in most countries.

Zimbabwe and many Africa countries opted for leaving the economic status as it was prior to independence with the hope that the black population would be absorbed into the economy organically.

The result were events of the year 2000 where agriculture, the mainstay of the economy at the time, was ripped apart by political palpitations disguised under the banner of land reform.

Today we are battling with issues around indigenisation of the economy, market domination by the Western players and reliance on Western institutions for credit lines.

Mozambique adopted a different approach which had its own ripples effects, but its benefits are beginning to show. At independence, Mozambique sent packing the minority, mainly white people who owned the means of production.

This brought the economy to its knees to the extent that Mozambique was once regarded as one of the poorest countries in the world.

But today the Mozambicans, after configuring their economy from scratch, are beginning to enjoy the benefits. The country has one of the fastest-growing non-oil-producing economies in Africa.

There is very little noise about black economic empowerment because they took over that responsibility right from day one. Mozambicans don’t blame anyone when things go wrong today.

The situation in Zimbabwe and most African countries has left a lot of outstanding issues around restructuring of economies. Firstly, these countries adopted economies of Western and colonial parentage which depended more on cheap black African labour and resources.

Secondly, they failed to detach and localise these economies and thirdly, those who attempted to do so left it until it was too late to detach. This is one reason an economy like Zimbabwe has taken and will take time to recover as it was heavily and deeply rooted in Western economies.

So what are the issues on the European Union-Africa table? Just about everything comprising a modern reciprocal trade negotiation — trade in goods (agricultural and industrial); services; intellectual property rights; customs regimes; investment regulations and protections and competition policy.

These issues are, in many cases significant sources of tension, and to some extent cause invasion. A European investor would never wish to see this situation change as that is not good for business while Africans, at least those who still think Europe has good intentions to develop Africa, are naïve enough to expect their European counterparts to reform.

With the US and European economic crises unrelenting, the chances of the Western countries letting go of their hold on African resources are unlikely. In fact we are likely to see more of their appetite for resources spreading aggressively. Libya is a living example.

Some African policymakers, business representatives, and civil society organiations argue that the Economic Partnership Agreements model proposed by western governance is too broad and intrusive for African countries. Some go further in arguing that the trade liberalisation implicit in it would be harmful to African development.

This is not an easy situation to escape as most African countries continue to rely on exports of commodities to developed country markets in order to generate the requisite foreign exchange for importing advanced manufactures.

This categorisation hides significant regional variations. A World Trade Organisation report noted that the contribution of commodities to the aggregate basket of exports from developing countries declined “dramatically” from 1955, when they accounted for more than 90%, to below
30 % at the end of the 1990s.

They note further that this decline accelerated “sharply” from the mid-1980s, roughly coinciding with the onset of extensive unilateral trade liberalisation in African countries as a result of the decline of the contribution of fuels and the rise telecom equipment exports from East Asia. China’s recent growth has undoubtedly strengthened the latter trend.

But even with that in mind, African economies continue to rely on commodity exports for more than two-thirds of their total exports. Furthermore, the report notes that a handful of countries that industrialised drove this overall transformation within their regions.

Overall, developing country success in world trade must be driven by local industrialisation, minimisation of exportation of unprocessed materials which has been the backbone of most Western countries.

In simpler terms, if African countries industrialise their economies will grow significantly creating employment and business opportunities for its people and European economies may tumble further. Perhaps it is a pipe dream as our leaders are more in love with power than development.

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