A presentation-cum-debate over the future of Africa in conjunction with European policies towards what at times still remains “the dark Continent” notwithstanding its explosive growth (that brings along a host of new problems) gave a select audience – hand-picked by the Delphi Economic Forum – a glimpse over many known unknowns, with some unknown unknowns possibly lurking along the way.
The debate centered around a presentation by Christos Stylianides the (Cypriot) EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, with EU International Cooperation as an wider backdrop. Anna Diamantopoulou, ex-Commissioner and presently animator of the Network for Reform in Greece and Europe, who had hosted a Delphi Forum event along with Nigeria President Olusegun Obasanjo, brought to the discussion number of further issues.
To Stylianides, the recurring catch-phrase “Africa is the new big frontier” should be treated with respect and realism alike. Europe has been re-discovering Africa due to the migratory flows that have been growing there – as has the continents’ population that in the last 40 years has grown from almost 500 mio people to over 1.3 billion, with a perspective of some 4 billion people at a 2100 horizon due to the demographic explosion. 54 different countries, with ethnic diversity within most of them leading to conflict; poverty bringing people to extremes of survival; climate change leading to massive displacement; corruption, at least bad governance, still reigning.
As Anna Diamantopoulou was fast to point out, the future migration waves resulting from such a situation will be of unprecedented size – and Europe is, by force of geography, at the receiving end of such movements (with Greece, along Italy or Spain serving as choke points/points of entry). Sooner or later – as Loukas Tsoukalis added – the issue of containment will come to the fore the hard way.
At the same time, abundant natural resources but also regime changes in some African countries are fueling growth. The proverbial “elephant in the room”, is China, whose non-conditionality-assorted development aid and infrastructure-building across the continent has given it a privileged foothold. Still, as times passes, the strings attached to Chinese aid are becoming apparent – and local elites are more reticent to go along.
The EU , according to Stylianides has been successful at putting afoot a new EU Partnership with Africa policy, plus an Alliance for Sustainable Growth and an Emergency Fund for Africa. Fields like access to Erasmus, training opportunities or ventures in the all-important energy field have received support. Still, a business as-usual approach can in no way correspond to the size of the problems Africa will be facing in the immediate future. A “new Marshall Plan” is the only credible answer, getting away from traditional aid patterns and introducing a real PPP approach (with the last “P”, partnership, having crucial importance).
The DEF /Stylianides event was under Chatham House rules, so one cannot go much further to more advanced/straightforward parts of the debate that followed. But the composition of the audience, with business people joining the academic and political discussion with gusto, gave relevance to the analysis of tangible opportunities in Africa for Greece (and Cyprus) who do not carry along the trail of colonialism and who have a tradition of venturing in risk-prone paths. Timely use of opportunities and adaptability to local conditions and changing situations are of essence. Easier said than done. (Since this is Commission-changing times, one cannot but hope that Cyprus will renew Christos Stylianides’ mandate in Brussels, just as the EU Aid and Crisis Management policies seem to mature – and an overall Africa Policy to take shape).