What Happens in Africa Matters in Europe

In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Ranieri Sabatucci, the EU ambassador to the African Union.
Africa news, EU news, EU-Africa partnership, EU investment in Africa, European Union Africa programs, democracy in Africa, Africa human rights, Arab Spring, women’s rights in Africa, Dr Denis Mukwege news

Spectators at the Tour du Rwanda race in Muhanga, Rwanda on 2/26/2019 © Alexey Stiop / Shutterstock

July 17, 2019 21:14 EDT

The African continent is home to 54 countries, more than 1.2 billion people and around 2,000 languages. Its challenges and success stories are as diverse as the breadth of its landmass. In terms of GDP growth, Africa is the world’s second fastest-developing region. A 2018 report by the Overseas Development Institute projected the continent’s real GDP growth at 3.9% annually until 2022.

In 2010, Rwanda was named by the World Bank as the top reformer for business, and Mauritius ranked as the most prosperous African country in the 2018 Legatum Prosperity Index, ahead of economic giants like Nigeria and South Africa. Botswana, an emerging economy that has gained a reputation for transparency, holds Africa’s top spot in the Transparency International Corruptions Perception Index.

However, parts of the continent are still grappling with issues like child labor, poverty, lack of education, food insecurity, low rates of economic growth, corruption and violence, particularly against women. Currently, 19 out of the 20 countries in the world with the worst food and nutrition security are in Africa. More than two out of five African adults cannot read or write.

Africa faces numerous security challenges that require a coordinated global effort to resolve. A swathe of militant groups are active in the Maghreb, the Sahel and Nigeria, where the Boko Haram insurgency has killed more than 50,000 people and displaced 2.3 million from their homes in neighboring Chad and Cameroon since 2009. Somalia, plagued by decades of conflict, is still fighting al-Shabab militants, but the African Union (AU) plans to end its peacekeeping missions in the country and hand over security to Somali forces by 2021.

In recent years, violence and unrest across Africa have caused an exodus to Europe and the United States. As reported by the European Commission, more than 134,000 African refugees and migrants arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean Sea in 2018. At the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, the number stood at just over a million.

The European Union invests heavily in various sectors across Africa to promote democracy and human rights initiatives and economic integration models; create more jobs; provide educational opportunities; and tackle violence, corruption and undemocratic practices. It was announced last year that the EU, in its next budget period, would invest $46.5 billion in Africa. The target for the EU is to secure $54 billion in sustainable investment by 2020.

In this edition of The Interview, Fair Observer talks to Ranieri Sabatucci, the EU ambassador to the African Union, about the extensive cooperation between Europe and Africa, democratization and sustainable development across the continent.

The text has been edited for clarity and length.

Kourosh Ziabari: What are the major areas of investment by the European Union in Africa? In what ways do these investments contribute to sustainable development and  job creation on the continent?

Ranieri Sabatucci: On September 12, 2018, the European Commission adopted a “Communication on a new Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs: Taking our partnership for investment and jobs to the next level.” This alliance reflects our efforts to deliver on the commitments made at the 5th African Union-European Union summit in Abidjan, held at the end of 2017, where leaders called for investments in job creation.

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The alliance is about unlocking private investment and exploring the huge opportunities that can produce benefits for African and European economies alike. It is an economic partnership that puts the respective strengths of Europe and Africa to work. To do so, the EU will focus its investments in those areas with potential for job creation and value addition in Africa where the EU has a significant added value, namely transport connectivity, digital, energy and agro-industry.

In parallel, the EU will invest in education and skills to ensure that job offers match market demand; contribute to improving the business environment and investment climate across the continent; and strengthen economic integration and trade within Africa and between Africa and Europe, building on the political momentum of the African Continental Free Trade Area. The long-term perspective might well be to create a comprehensive continent-to-continent free trade agreement between the EU and Africa, from Scandinavia to the Cape. The EU is using its weight to promote a global level playing field in bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations where this has become ever more important. EU trade deals create economic opportunities, and that means jobs.

The European Union is also implementing an ambitious three-pillar European External Investment Plan [EIP] to encourage investment in our partner countries in Africa and the EU neighborhood region, to strengthen our partnerships and contribute to achieving the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals]. The EIP aims to bridge the gap between sustainable development needs and the availability of viable business opportunities for public and private investors. It is our largest ever investment program for Africa and the neighborhood.

With EU contributions of €4.1 billion [$4.6 billion], the External Investment Plan is on its path to leverage up to €44 billion of investment by 2020, including for the most fragile countries. Our priorities are focused on sectors such as access to finance for micro, small and medium enterprises [SMEs], energy and connectivity, smart cities, digital, environment and agriculture. We aim to generate environmentally and socially sustainable projects, create decent jobs, functioning markets and balanced growth, and open up opportunities for women and youth. In the scope of the EIP, we have a specific Africa Investment Platform, the main purpose of which is to support sustainable growth in Africa.

Jobs and Growth Compacts are also currently under discussion with many African countries in order to steer the joint efforts around value chains with the highest potential for job creation, seizing the opportunities for manufacturing and processing, unlocking the huge potential of green economy, supporting transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient economies, exploiting the potential of the data economy, and tackling the areas requiring reform in order to improve the business enabling environment.

Ziabari: How are the EU and the African Union collaborating to tackle climate change and global warming? How did they contribute to the 2015 Paris Agreement, and how are they going to work toward a low-carbon, climate-resilient future?

Sabatucci: We are jointly providing assistance to African Union member states in the implementation of the Paris Agreement. This implies support to ratification of National Determined Contributions [NDC] by member state countries’ parliaments and their alignment to national sectoral plans and strategies. The key activities to be implemented are clustered around coordination, monitoring and evaluation communication and advocacy and mobilization of political will. The key actors are the African Union Commission and the Regional Economic Communities [RECs].

In particular, the EU supports the AU Commission and the RECs in the coordination, implementation, monitoring and reporting process related to national and regional climate strategies. This is done through technical capacity building and through a joint working group and program steering committee meetings.

We also provide support to the development of a continental reporting framework for the implementation of the climate change strategies and NDCs in Africa. In this context, field missions to RECs and AU member states enable us to assess the program implementation and ensure the reporting.

What happens in Africa matters in Europe and vice versa. In a more complex, more contested and more connected world as we see it today, this is more valid than ever.

Furthermore, we are engaged together with the AU in advocacy and communication activities, mainly through promotion and communication materials, campaigns and events in order to showcase Africa’s achievements, opportunities and challenges in the implementation of the Paris Agreement. One example is the co-organization of Africa Day.

Finally, we provide technical and scientific support and backup to the African Group of Negotiators on current and emerging issues during climate negotiations. We help convening high-level fora and policy dialogues, conferences such as the Climate Change and Development in Africa Conference and other events in Africa to enhance dialogue, share experience and exchange knowledge. We also support and facilitate the representation of African institutions and experts in global and regional climate and development related fora.

Ziabari: Let’s move on to a different topic. A large number of migrants to the European Union come from the African countries. Does the EU consider the African migrants a threat or an opportunity?

Sabatucci: Properly managed regular migration brings benefits to migrants and both the countries of origin and destination. In specific areas of its economy, Europe is believed to benefit from regular migration, and so do countries of origin through remittances, including non-monetary remittances. Migration routes have become increasingly dangerous, creating vulnerability to smugglers and traffickers and leading to loss of lives and human rights abuses. Preventing human suffering stands high on our joint AU and EU agenda and our work in the context of the EU-AU-UN Libya Task Force is starting to deliver results.

Beyond bilateral agreements, there is a need for a holistic approach to addressing the root causes of irregular migration and creating more pathways for regular migration. Migration is an essential consideration in economic and political governance in Africa as well as in Europe. Thus, plans to strengthen economic ties between the continents, to boost investment and to create employment opportunities in Africa would contribute to alleviating migratory pressure.

In the same vein, progress in terms of respect for the rule of law and political participation would improve the prospects for many potential migrants of staying in their home countries. While to a lower extent than for economic purposes, people do also move because of conflicts and lack of security in Africa, and a stronger partnership with African countries on conflict prevention and stabilization — silencing the guns — is a prerequisite for creating the stability that would enable economic development.

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The European Union has a comprehensive migration agenda and is working closely and effectively with different African bodies carrying out several initiatives with the aim of making migration a choice rather than a necessity.

A few examples of our joint work include the European External Investment Plan launched in Abidjan in November 2017 to promote inclusive growth, job creation and sustainable development with the aim of tackling some of the root causes of migration; a greater role for diasporas as contributors to development; increased opportunities for Africans to study in the European Union; the praiseworthy work of the African Institute of Remittances on lowering remittance costs supported by the EU; the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa has funded over 100 programs for a total of close to 2 billion to date.

These projects range from improving capacity for better managing migrant and refugee flows to more long-term support addressing resilience, stability and job creation, with particular attention to young people.

Migration is a phenomenon that can only be addressed jointly, between Europe and Africa, recognizing our joint interest in doing so. The spirit is one of a partnership of equals. The recent Africa-Europe Alliance Meeting held in Vienna emphasized the ambition to offer 750,000 apprenticeships and 105,000 Erasmus+ spots for students until 2027, and to create 10 million new jobs in the next five years.

Ziabari: As I understand, EU efforts to make migration sustainable revolve around two main themes: integration of migrants in the EU and facilitation of the return of those who won’t be seeking asylum. Can you tell us more about these efforts and how international partners, including the UN and the UN Migration Agency (IOM), are contributing?

Sabatucci: It is not just a matter of integration of the migrants and facilitation of the return. With both continents recognizing the need to address the drivers of displacement, prevent hazardous journeys and reduce deaths in transit, as well as to find solutions to the more long-term and structural challenges, we need to comprehensively address the drivers of irregular migration while seizing the benefits of well-managed mobility. Development has a central role to play in the sense that development should work for migration, and migration should work for development.

The EU is certainly strongly committed to continuing its engagement on migration, with the final objective of ensuring that all migration is undertaken in a regular and safe manner, and that it becomes a choice, not a last resort out of desperation. We need to support partner countries and create opportunities for regular and orderly migration.

That said, we have currently, in particular in Libya, increased numbers of irregular migrants willing to return to their countries of origin. The EU, with the AU and the UN, established in the fall of 2017 the Libya Joint Task Force, which has, since the end of 2017, helped more than 39,000 voluntary returns and is supporting reintegration of 55,000 migrants through the EU-IOM joint initiative supporting return, protection and reintegration of migrants in sub-Saharan Africa.

The complex, multidimensional process of reintegration requires a holistic and a need-based approach. The AU, EU and UN through the IOM and UNHCR are actively collaborating toward this aim. Enabling migrants, who may find themselves in vulnerable situations in their countries of origin and in need of reintegration support, to return in a safe, dignified and voluntary way and to restart their lives in their countries of origin are key objectives.

Since every returnee faces a particular reintegration situation due to their personal profile [such as] age, sex and gender, experiences, etc., individualized reintegration support is crucial in addressing otherwise overlooked individual challenges.

Also, there is the need to consider the role that communities play in migrant reintegration. When return is seen as a failure, leading to a more hostile environment, reintegration efforts will be negatively impacted. Resentment among communities may also be generated, if the reintegration assistance received by individual returnees is perceived as an undue reward to returnees as compared to local populations. On the other hand, when communities perceive returnees’ reintegration positively, they can provide a conducive environment for reintegration in terms of safety nets, support of strong social networks, as well as financial resources.

Ziabari: In which African countries is the human rights situation considered a challenge by the EU? What initiatives are being implemented to change the status quo and ensure the full protection of human rights in these countries?

Sabatucci: The protection of human rights presents a range of challenges not only in Africa, but also in Europe and many other countries around the world. There are African countries that have come a long way in safeguarding human rights for their citizens, as there are others where advancement remains to be achieved.

The crisis and civil war in Somalia has been a longstanding issue of concern for the EU and its member states. The EU has been a reliable partner of Somalia during these difficult times, trying to help it overcome its difficulties.

The EU works to support the furthering of human rights on the African continent both at country level and at the pan-African level. We do this through a two-pronged approach: political dialogue and development cooperation. My delegation’s mandate is relations with the African Union, whereas our bilateral delegations support the promotion and protection of human rights in the countries where they are accredited.

It is important to recall that the mandates that the AU and its member states have given to the organs of the African Human Rights System are based on the concept of the universality of human rights and thus on principles which are fully shared by the EU.

We currently have a €10-million project supporting the pan-African Human Rights System that is supporting the various AU human rights organs: the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, based in Banjul, Gambia; the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, located in Arusha, Tanzania; and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, currently in Addis Ababa but set to relocate to Lesotho and the Pan African Parliament in Midrand, South Africa. We also support the human rights-related activities of the African Union Commission based in Addis Ababa.

Our main objective is to contribute to the ratification, implementation and domestication of the AU relevant instruments on human rights through the efforts of the organs mentioned above. The program also includes capacity-building activities for those AU organs. We believe that by supporting the African Human Rights System, we are contributing to a better protection and promotion of human rights in Africa.

Ziabari: What are the most intractable challenges faced by women in Africa? How is the European Union helping them resist and overcome these challenges?

Sabatucci: Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a global pandemic, a crime and an immense obstacle to development. The UN reports that more than 1 in 3 women has experienced physical or sexual violence, and violence manifests itself in several forms. Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18, often with severe implications on their well-being. Meanwhile, an estimated 200 million have been subjected to female genital mutilation, which results in big numbers of lifelong complications.

The European Union has become a world leader on VAWG through its €500-million commitment in the form of the global Spotlight Initiative to Eliminate Violence Against Women and Girls — a partnership with the United Nations. Half of this funding is going to Africa, with a focus on tackling harmful practices. In order to be as impactful as possible, the funds will be channeled into projects in eight countries: Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Some work will also take place at regional, i.e. continental, level.

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Ziabari: In 2018, a Congolese gynecologist, Dr. Denis Mukwege, became the only African to be awarded a Nobel Prize. What do you think of his work and his important endeavors to cure women who have been the victims of sexual violence?

Sabatucci: In the words of our High Representative Federica Mogherini, “as the European Union we admire the immense courage and tireless work” of Dr. Mukwege. Following the award, the EU decided to allocate €4 million to support his work at Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The hospital has treated 50,000 women victims of sexual violence, and has also supported their socioeconomic reintegration. The EU has a long friendship with the Panzi Foundation that reaches well beyond the Nobel Prize.

In total, we have provided close to €19 million so far to this noble cause, and Dr. Mukwege was awarded the prestigious EU Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2014. We want to continue projecting him as the role model that he is, for Africa and for the world.

Ziabari: African Peace Facility (APF) and the Pan-African Program (PanAf) are the two main sources of EU funding for the African Union. Are you satisfied with the progress made in the implementation of projects funded through these schemes?

Sabatucci: Let me begin with the African Peace Facility, which provides financial support to African-led Peace Support Operations, to the operationalization of the African Peace and Security Architecture and to mediation and conflict prevention initiatives. It constitutes the main source of funding to support African efforts in the area of peace and security. A 2017 external evaluation of the APF confirmed that it is a highly relevant instrument in support of peace and security in Africa, which allows the EU to play the role of an enabler, not just a donor.

The evaluation also found evidence showing the long-term impact of programs funded under the instrument, including the increase of African ownership in the domain of peace and security. Going forward, we aim to further strengthen our common vision with the AUC and to ensure complementarity with the actions of non-EU partners.

With a budget of €845 million for the period 2014-20, the objective of the Pan-African Program is to support the strategic partnership between Africa and the EU. Under the first phase of the program (2014-17), actions undertaken contributed primarily to a 42% growth and human development (29%), as well as to global issues (13%), governance (12%), and peace and security (4%). In its second phase, the PanAf is guided by the following priorities agreed at the 5th AU-EU summit, which took place in November 2017 in Abidjan: investing in people — education, science, technology and skills development; strengthening resilience, peace, security and governance; migration and mobility; and mobilizing investments for African structural sustainable transformation.

Overall, the PanAf has allowed us to meaningfully “export” several European success stories, such as the Erasmus exchange program in the form of the Intra-Africa Mobility Scheme, which supports higher education cooperation between countries in Africa, and the use of EU satellite technology — Global Monitoring for Environment and Security for earth observation and the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service — for satellite navigation.

What happens in Africa matters in Europe and vice versa. In a more complex, more contested and more connected world as we see it today, this is more valid than ever.

Ziabari: One of the main priorities of the European Union has always been to promote and advocate for democracy worldwide. Do you think the democratic movements in Egypt and Tunisia that framed the basis of the 2011 Arab Spring have been able to accomplish their mission and bring freedom and democracy to these nations?

Sabatucci: The events of early 2011 in the Arab world were very tumultuous and involved a range of forces and grievances for the people, who took to the streets to protest and bring about change in their countries. There may have been some differences in the ambitions of those who were pushing for change: For some, it was a desire for more freedom and more democratic government, while for others it may have been a more basic desire for better prospects for themselves and their children.

In any event, many have been disappointed with developments since. Eight years later, we are still advocating many of the same issues in the region as we did before the so-called Arab Spring.

Eight years after the revolution, Tunisia continues to take important steps toward the consolidation of democratic values ​​and human rights, and remains an example for the entire region. Starting from its irreversible commitment to democracy, Tunisia is determined to progress in its transition despite a number of major socio-economic and security challenges. Last year alone, important steps forward have included the organization of the first free municipal elections; the creation by the president of a commission on reforms related to individual freedoms and equality and the adoption of significant legislation relating to the elimination of violence against women; the fight against racial discrimination and the setting up of independent bodies on good governance; the fight against corruption; and the protection of human rights.

At the same time, challenges related to the effective implementation of the landmark 2014 constitution remain, including the establishment of a constitutional court and the revision of legislation to fully align with the principles of the constitution.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2011 revolution, the EU pledged to support the Tunisian people’s transition toward greater democracy, freedom and social justice. The EU-Tunisia Privileged Partnership was concluded in 2012. Tunisian civil society, which plays a key role in the transition, will continue to be closely involved in the process, primarily through regular tripartite consultations on the main areas of EU-Tunisia cooperation.

Since 2011, the EU has more than doubled its financial contribution to Tunisia. The combination of grants, macro financial assistance and loans brought total support to Tunisia from 2011 to 2016 to approximately €3.5 billion. The joint communication, “Strengthening EU support for Tunisia,” adopted in September 2016, is the concrete response to Tunisia’s request for more support from the EU to its transition. In 2018, for the second year in a row, the European Commission honored the commitment made in the communication to allocate additional €300 million in grants.

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EU assistance in the field of democracy and human rights covers a wide range of areas, including the reform of the justice sector, support to the Tunisian parliament and to independent institutions, freedom of expression and media, the promotion of gender equality, and support to civil society. The country is the main recipient of the so-called “umbrella” funds granted in recognition of progress made in the field of democracy and human rights.

The EU-Egypt Partnership Priorities 2017-2020 set out the strategic political framework for political engagement and enhanced cooperation between the EU and Egypt. One of their pillars is a shared commitment to democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights. Since the Arab Spring, important challenges remain as the country continues to face important security, social and economic challenges. Action has been undertaken in the fields of the fight against corruption, addressing the rights of women, children and persons with disabilities.

[Egypt’s] 2014 constitution represents a very important and forward-looking text, which includes progressive articles and guarantees the protection and the respect for fundamental human rights. At the latest EU-Egypt Association Council in December 2018, the EU reiterated its concerns regarding the human rights situation in the country and encouraged Egypt to step up its efforts to improve the situation in line with the Constitutional guarantees and its international commitments and obligations.

In line with the August 2013 Foreign Affairs Council conclusions, support to civil society remains a priority in EU bilateral assistance to Egypt. EU assistance focuses on the promotion and protection of human rights, support for civil society and democratic governance. Assistance is provided via ongoing bilateral programs under the European Neighbourhood Instrument with the government, as well as under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights and thematic programs under the Development Cooperation Instrument.

For example, the financing agreement for the Citizens’ Rights” project — €10 million for 2016-19 — provided support to the National Council for Human Rights (€2.5 million from July 2017). This project also aims to increase women’s participation in public life and gender mainstreaming of selected public services.

Ziabari: The Fragile States Index ranks Somalia as the second most volatile country in the world, with an ongoing civil war and a strong presence of both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. What has the European Union done to tackle the crisis?

Sabatucci: The crisis and civil war in Somalia has been a longstanding issue of concern for the EU and its member states. The EU has been a reliable partner of Somalia during these difficult times, trying to help it overcome its difficulties. It has been one of the only donors to consistently support Somalia through a comprehensive range of instruments consisting of active diplomacy and support to the political process, stabilization and security support, development assistance and humanitarian aid focused on re-establishing peace and stability.

It’s impossible to enumerate all the support the EU has given. But it is estimated that the EU and its member states have allocated an overall amount of €3.4 billion for the period 2015 to 2020, making it the largest donor to Somalia. Additionally, we are one of the few partners that have a delegation in Mogadishu, showcasing our support and solidarity to the people of Somalia.

Specifically on the security front, I would like to highlight the significant investments the EU has made for the benefit of the Somali people. On the one hand, we have the AU mission, AMISOM, which the EU has supported heavily since its inception. More than €1.7 billion of support has been given to AMISOM in order to help the Somali people live in a more secure environment.

However, we should not forget the heavy price paid by the troops of the AMISOM contingents. Additionally, the EU has also contributed directly through three security and defense missions: the Military Training Mission, which supports Somali security forces; the EU Naval Force, which fights piracy, and EUCAP, which aims to improve regional maritime security.

To end, I would like to challenge the premise of your question a little. I would dispute that Somalia is the second most fragile country in the world. Many other obvious examples come to mind. Instead, since the previous elections and the reforms undertaken since then by the government, I have an optimistic view of the trajectory Somalia is on. Yes, there are still hurdles to be overcome, but all in all, the Somalia of today is no longer the negative story it may have been in the past. It is time for everyone to rally behind Somalia, and support the government in building a safer and prosperous future for all its people.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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