Coronavirus has shown us that a crisis over there can quickly become a crisis over here. While the darkness of this crisis begins to lift in Europe and the EU considers how to ‘build back better’, for many African nations it will not simply be a question of charting their recovery back to normal.
Instead, for them it is a matter of desperately clinging to the fragments of stability that already ebbed and flowed before Coronavirus.
Recently, discussions around the future of EU-Africa relations have centred on the new EU-Africa Strategy. A new approach was much needed, but I fear that it is already out of date considering the worrying events of the past 12 months.
“Africa is going to quickly become one of our most serious geopolitical challenges if we don’t rethink our current approach and act swiftly”
Yes, we need to work on EU-Africa cooperation on climate change, the digital agenda, and trading tariffs; but right now the priority must be to put out the fire of instability, terrorism, and human rights abuses that are engulfing the Sahel and Central Africa.
For many EU leaders, there is a concern that the EU should not be seen to be the ‘saviour’ of Africa. The uncomfortable legacy of colonialism makes some politicians hesitant to intervene or act.
Yet, when we see such a rapid erosion of democracy across huge chunks of Africa, we have a moral imperative to do something, not only for African citizens but also European citizens.
Religious extremism, democratic decline, growing economic inequality, a migration crisis and the ever-growing tentacles of Chinese interests abroad will create a perfect storm. Africa is going to quickly become one of our most serious geopolitical challenges if we don’t rethink our current approach and act swiftly.
More money and revised existing programmes are often the tried and tested response from the EU, and yes, they can create a lot of positive change. But those funds need to be matched by a clear strategic vision.
The EU COVID recovery package commits to a Team Europe global response package of almost €36bn. But money without real leadership will simply deliver more of the same. And that’s a big price tag in order to deliver the status quo. France’s defence minister perhaps described it best, “if you leave the room empty, it will be filled immediately by other powers.”
The clock is ticking, and an expression of intent from the EU that goes beyond policy papers and the carefully constructed words of lowest common denominator diplomacy, is vital.
The European External Action Service and the European Commission may not have an army, but it has an arsenal of experience, and tools in the area of human rights; training capacity; the rule of law; free and open trade; humanitarian assistance as well as relationships with the big global military players.
Protecting democracy and human rights doesn’t always have to happen in a theatre of war. It can come from speaking with a united voice, a clear strategic vision, and a belief in your own power to be a force for change.
I will continue advocating for the EU to realize this and to finally stride confidently onto the world stage. I know that many who live under the yoke of oppression are hoping for the same.