Europe is 75, what relationship to Africa for the next 75 years?

By Gérardine Mahoro, CEO ACT05 (www.act05.com). Public and private african affairs expert, in Africa and between Africa and Europe.


 

Europe celebrates its 75th anniversary, the opportunity to make an inventory and think the way to cross the particular conjuncture which the world is going through, for better change management. Paradigm shifts at a glance in the way of doing business, of cooperating and even from a social and cultural point of view. These changes started on their own several years ago, leaving everyone in a reaction position, until social movements and the pandemic came to put things in place, forcing us all to face them, to face Africa.  

At a time when France is thinking again of a ministry of cooperation, emergency is in the renewal. Not a renewal in terms of people’s age, their skin colors or political affiliation, but a renewal in terms of philosophy and the ability to think and propose new approaches.

European crisis and change management tend towards Africa.

We knew the geopolitical and economic transitions in which China is strengthening, the Covid-19 has come to force us all to see the extent of this power, the impact of which reaches our homes.

We talked about climate, ecology and local consuming importance, but as long as one is not up against a wall, when one has choice, while the economic and health consequences were not imminent, states, institutions and businesses stayed in comfort zone until 2020. This urgency can be compared to the one Europe is facing regarding its relations with Africa, a continent without which it cannot overcome the crisis.

At the dawn of the Second World War, European development required good economic balance relations between the Western powers. Today, Europe’s good health will depend on balance and good economic relations with Africa. It cannot afford to miss nearly 1/3 of the world’s population and the second largest market in the world.

The Covid-19 has accelerated changes that African continent has been experiencing for last few years, but Europe still underestimates their impact on its own evolution. However, all signals show that these impacts are going to be negative for Europe unless of approach shift.

The mindset for these two continents relationship must be that which was, in the aftermath of the Second World War. This will and conviction that it is possible to raise each other’s economies without mutual enslavement. This desire to re-establish communication channels and to communicate differently, re-establish trust, review traditional trade after the great shortages and lessons learned.

The first question in the concerns was economic, then political and cultural. An obvious parallel with the current concerns on the two continents, more interdependent than ever. Common interests’ designation will place Africans in a partner’s position, being a major actor for European economic, social and security stability, thanks to its unique resources and demography.

Just as in 45 where nothing could let imagine that one day, yesterday’s enemies would join forces for prosperity, it is urgent that Europe does business with Africans in the way it does with non-Africans stakeholders. In other words, to look at Africa as the opportunity that Europe needs, rather than as former colonies. Without this important change, Europe will increasingly lose its influence while missing out on opportunities on the African continent, as competition is now global at all levels. No more privileged relationships in the near future, as youth have different expectations.

Everyone wants his piece of Africa.

Between the sixteenth and the twentieth centuries, European nations controlled and colonized all continents. With an African particularity since, its colonization took its course until recently (between 1955 and 1962), deeply impregnating each other in a certain way of doing business and politics. Habits and paradigms that the new generation rejects, preferring collaborate with countries and organizations with less historical liabilities, and even better, less negative liabilities. This is where Europe, which is slow to adapt to the new deal, is losing ground.

The Covid crisis has accentuated European countries difficulties: increasing unemployment rate, population significant aging, identity crisis, business relocation needs, need for arable land and loss of momentum on the international political scene.

Beyond the traditional arms and raw materials markets, the opportunities are obvious with fresh look at the numbers:

  • 3 billion people in 55 countries. 3 times the EU and is rapidly approaching China
  • 60% world’s arable land
  • 59% of the population is under 25, with 20 years old average
  • 435 million internet users in 2017 (20% annual growth)
  • 45% average growth per year, making Africa the continent with the most attractive market in the world
  • 90% of phones in Africa are mobiles
  • 29 years average age of Internet users, with an over-representation of 15-24-year-old,
  • Constitution of a continental single market which will be the 2nd largest in the world by 2050.

The reasons why a little cold war is going on, and that everyone wants their piece of Africa. In this regard, 2019 was the year which illustrates that fact quite well. Russia, France, China, England, Germany, the United States, all organized an African Summit.

European countries can’t afford Africans youth’s disenchantment.

Although Europe is aware of it, still underestimates its bad image’s impact on Africans youth and the phenomenon of more and more diasporas returning to their country of origin. Especially since those who return to Africa are generally the most educated and ambitious, thus further accentuating the brain drain experienced by some European countries. For a continent that needs manpower and innovation, missing out on the new Africa will be damaging.

In addition, the paradigm shift and the image that young Africans have of Europe will lead to a drop-in immigration and profitable collaborations for Europe. This could result in more European identity issues due to the crisis approaching recession, and less economic stimulus. History teaches us that economic crises go hand in hand with identity crises, and we are experiencing a very significant one.

Contrary to popular belief, migration contributes to the fall in the unemployment rate since, half of the 189,000 migrants that are for family reasons and one quarter for study reasons, are particularly present in the domestic services market, which facilitates national’s employment. OECD reveals macroeconomic study on the effects of migration flows on the economy over the past 30 years in Europe. It also reveals that immigration contributes to GDP increase, and has a positive effect on public finances as, even with public spending increase, tax and contribution revenues increase even more.

On average over the period 1985-2015, countries which registered the most migrants were Germany, France, United Kingdom, Sweden and Netherlands. It is therefore not for nothing that Germany is counting on its immigration policy to stimulate its economy and overcome its great population aging. France also observed positive effects on its macroeconomic situation. When it comes to immigration, there is politics, then there is economics, it is important to make distinction between the two.

European countries have no interest in young Africans walking away.

Without international students, GAFA would not be as powerful and the United States would not be the land of innovation and creativity. Americans have understood this since they have had a robust strategy in attracting foreign brains which has been well developed for years.

Businesses and universities understand even more the importance of immigration to the economy since, even with half a mandate, Trump’s push back policy and the United States negative image since 2016 have cost $ 11.8 billion to US economy, and more than 65,000 jobs just from the drop in foreign students. Foreign students currently enrolled in American colleges and universities (just over a million) contributed nearly $ 41 billion to the American economy and created 458,290 jobs in the 2018 – 2019 academic year, according to a NAFSA report. Knowing that 11.6% of the foreign students in the world are African.

It is obvious that the new leading countries are the ones that will best seize the opportunity that Africa is today. The 75th anniversary of Europe in 2020 falls into a situation which could not be timelier for a change management to its advantage. Hence the importance of innovation at all levels, working with young consulting firms, and involving more young people in decision-making bodies. Only in this way will new approaches be found and materialized in terms of business and politics.

The great strategists of our modern history, Churchill and John F. Kennedy, saw in a well-managed crisis an opportunity to improve their situation and growth. However, a crisis can only become an opportunity through innovation, creativity and adaptation. The only question European countries need to ask is « where are the opportunities ». Whatever the answers, new approaches are mandatory.

As there is no doubt that Africa will impose itself in the answer, the faster Europeans will remove the blinders, the better. These blinders are mainly worn by biggest European countries (France, Belgium), blinded by history, preventing them from seeing the extent of the new deal. The place is then given to the new powers (India, China, Russia, Japan) and European countries with less liabilities to Africa (northern Europe), England post Brexit, then Turkey and Morocco.

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