High-level conference calls on EU to make Africa a priority

Written by Derek Blyth on 27 November 2017 in News

The closing session of Parliament’s high-level conference on EU-Africa relations summed up key issues that need to be addressed in the upcoming EU-AU summit in the Ivory Coast this week, including corruption, education and jobs.

Michael Gahler addressing the closing session of Parliament's high-level conference on EU-Africa relations | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

The closing session of Parliament’s high-level conference on EU-Africa relations summed up key issues that need to be addressed in the upcoming EU-AU summit in the Ivory Coast this week, including corruption, education and jobs.     

Michael Gahler, Chair since 2014 of the Parliament’s delegation for relations with the pan-African Parliament, criticised failure in the past to implement decisions. 

“We will be calling on executives to stick to their commitment to make Africa a priority. We cannot continue with business as usual; many decisions made at the last summit in Brussels have led to nothing. There were lots of good ideas, but nothing came of them.”


Gahler went on to stress the importance of young people in the development of Africa. “We need to shift development cooperation to this important element and ensure that curricula are appropriate to the 21st century.” 

He criticised education systems in both Europe and Africa for failing to train young people for employment. “There is no point in everyone having a degree in political science,” Gahler argued.

“People are looking for jobs and so they need the appropriate skills.”

Speaking on behalf of the EU business community, Eurochambres CEO Arnaldo Abruzzini echoed the need for an educated workforce. “We need to invest in resources, not just raw materials but also human resources, to create a promising future. And we should focus not just on academic training but also vocational training, which requires fewer years of training.” 

Billionaire African businessman Mohamed Ibrahim, Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, linked inadequate education in Africa to the migration crisis and terrorism. “If we fail to train these young people, we have a lot of people trekking across the Sahara, drowning in the Mediterranean or joining terrorist organisations.”

Abruzzini admitted the business community had a responsibility to help Africa achieve a bright future, but insisted that Africans must also play a role. “We need to share responsibility with the final beneficiaries - the African people. There is a lack of responsibility in Africa, which means we do not have the right business environment to allow companies to flourish - not just European businesses but also local companies.”

Abruzzini went on to argue that connectivity is a key to attracting European businesses. “No business is willing to invest if there is not connectivity, which also involves energy, transport and a single market. Europeans have created a single market which brings huge opportunities for the business community. The same could be true of Africa. But at the moment, African countries are disconnected.” 

He said it was not enough to attract big companies. “We need to exploit the small business sector because that protects the social fabric of a country. A large business can come and go. We must create a solid base of small businesses to create social security and social development.”

The speakers agreed that good governance was an essential element in development. “There is a link between development and good governance,” Gahler pointed out. “If resources are frittered away, then people are left behind, and this leads to instability.” 

The German MEP pointed out the EU aid budget could be slashed by reducing illegal flows of money. “Some 50 to 100 billion dollars leaves Africa every year illegally. That’s four or five times the amount that flows to Africa as development assistance. If we can prevent that illegal flow, then we can ensure resources are available for development in Africa.” 

“As Europeans we should support African solutions for African problems,” he went on. “That means we should support the use of diplomatic and military measures implemented by African states. And we should also support African measures to produce peace, such as the African peace facility.”

Ibrahim supported the call for good governance. “We are convinced that Africans are responsible for sorting out African issues. And we are convinced that we cannot do it without better governance. We have to hold our governments accountable.”

However, he went on to accuse Europe of aiding corruption. “Our European friends in government and business must help by preventing corruption. An African politician doesn’t corrupt himself. He is corrupted by European businessmen. How many European business have been taken to court for corruption? I ask this question in all European counties, and no one can tell me. We are asking for rule of law to be applied to European companies.”

Ibrahim was applauded when he called on Europe to tackle its own corruption. “We need transparency. A corrupt African politician will not deposit his money in a local bank. He will open an anonymous company in Europe or the United States.”

“Before lecturing Africans about the rule of law, Europeans must put their own house in order,” he concluded. “We can’t fight for good governance and transparency in Africa if you don’t the same in Europe.”


About the author

Derek Blyth is a Brussels-based freelance journalist

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