The European and African states must work out a new model of cooperation in the 21st century, but also create an entirely new standard of narrative, in terms of the description of mutual socio-political and economic relations. It results from the large geostrategic dependency which will be only deeper because of the present fast development of Africa. Hence it is today becoming essential to create new scenarios for the future so that our European policy towards Africa will be more flexible and went beyond the horizon of 2–4 years. Because we cannot constantly be based on models which are derivative on the ad hoc reactions on single events or threats (for instance crisis response operations in failing states, etc.) or even worse, on the way of thinking which come from the end of the 20th century.
Of course, a need to have a new approach in mutual relations between Europe and Africa is very visible in countries like for instance Portugal. But now we must focus on expanding this way of thinking wider across the whole of Europe. The key to this is to involve almost all societies in the debate, not only to focus on the group of political experts. We need to refer to the wider dialogue of different communities from both sides. So, there is a concept to creating as many places of dialogue as possible. Through, initiating the discussion between the business, NGOs or members of the art and culture societies. A very important example of this modern and effective new point of view is a two-day conference in Portugal in Cascais – The EurAfrican Forum. The event has been organized again by the Conselho da Diáspora Portuguesa (Eng. Council of the Portugal Diaspora). But it is also necessary to underline that this year Polish think tank The Institute of Security and Strategy Foundation (FIBIS) was an official partner of the conference and two experts from the FIBIS were speakers there.
Why Polish experts need to be close to European-African debate?
The presence of Polish analysts is and should be a wider signal that Poland or even better Central and Eastern European states should not forget about the possibilities, but also the threats which might have their connection with the proverbial South (sensu largo Africa). Ipso facto we are not limiting ourselves in our way of strategic thinking only to building an effective approach to the immediate surroundings. Focusing not only on the diagnose at most the factors determining security within our immediate neighbors like Russia, Ukraine or Belarus. Because some of the macro trends are coming to the whole of Europe and thereby Polish directly from Africa. Thus, several important elements for the assessment of the deliberations themselves in the Portuguese Cascais can be identified and an attempt to draw initial conclusions can be made below.
Key findings from participation in EurAfrican Forum 2019, based on the perspective of official debates and unofficial talks:
- the needful requirement of a new, as far as the possible multi-aspect form of the debate on the present and future relations between Africa and Europe;
- the new positioning of African countries and the entire continent in terms of its development potential in the European approach;
- abandoning the description tools, well-established in the 1990s (mostly during the period of wide instability in African states), for a new partnership and cooperation based on reciprocity;
- the need to analytical diagnoses close links in the area of security challenges and the interaction between Africa and Europe in the security studies;
- the essential requirement to create a strategic reflection on the Polish side, in the context of a new positioning of Europe and Africa relations, along with the adjustment of the state and non-state apparatus.
First step – to understand new Africa in the 21st century
Relations with African countries are now a highly complex matter. Thus, it is definitely necessary to escape from the stereotypes and all simplifications in it. First of all, due to the heterogeneous character of the continent itself and its individual regions, and even the states themselves, with their internal divisions. Therefore, the first challenge on the part of European subjects is, despite appearances, understanding or even attempting to understand African specifics. So, the first essential step is to meet and try to understand our partners from Africa.
In this case, the EurAfrican Forum in Portugal is a great example of such a new approach attempts. First of all, the representatives of African countries were represented there. So, we did not have, a still seen in Europe, the typical conversation about Africa without its representatives. There was visible, as well as, the high level of diversity of sectors represented in the discussions. It was not a purely political meeting, although the presence of political leaders could be noticed (presidents, ministers, etc.). On the other hand, similarly, it was not a purely scientific analysis of the state of Euro-African relations. All these perspectives and forms of debate, of course, appeared on EurAfrican Forum, but above all, organizers focused on connecting a think tank branch, NGOs, business and culture-art segment.
Hence, it can be seen that the organizers have intentionally put attention on unofficial and lobbying sphere. Because indeed this is the best way to creating effective networks of understanding future goals. This manifestation of thinking should also guide further debates on mutual relations not only between Europe and African partners. Because, just as states can build their relations on the diplomatic level, their true implementation depends on personal connections between business representatives from both continents, a joint activity of NGOs or think tanks.
Second step – Africa as a vital partner
The second of the conclusions drawn from the observation and participation in the EurAfrican Forum is the answer to the question why, from the perspective of Europe, all attempts to debate on relations with African countries are so important today. And here we cannot escape from noticing the increasing holistic potential and strategical role of Africa in the modern world. Of course, as a continent saturated with numerous internal problems, but also with huge opportunities for economic and social development, etc.
We need to be aware that Africa is already in the sphere of interest of all key international players. Therefore, recently Europe is not looking for a new opening in relations with African states, but rather is fighting for own place, somewhere between the fierce competition for the proverbial ‘hearts and minds’ of African societies. Today, mainly conducted with the special participation of the United States and China. Not to mention minor players, in the form of Russia, Turkey, UAE, etc. Therefore, it cannot surprise that Portugal is so loudly in favour of building the best African-African relations right now. Because we have less and less time for effective action.
And this is not only dictated by historical resentment, from the colonial background, as if we wanted to look from the perspective of the countries involved to a greater extent in the region of Central and Eastern Europe. But we are dealing rather with a very strong political and economic account, based on analyses and forecasts. Which openly pointing to the need to proverbial being in Africa. However, we are talking about presence, not symbolic, and therefore only political, but based on economic and social pillars. Furthermore, we cannot avoid the fact that the African market, from year to year, will become a more growing place to invest (for almost every sector of business).
At the same time, the growing young population of African countries is building its aspirations in economic, socio-cultural terms. Therefore, European countries can join in these transformations or be de facto expelled by other external entities (the US, China, etc.). And as it has been pointed out, it is not without a reason that two key global actors place themselves in Africa for years. What’s more, it is not just a political and economic bill based only on the raw material thread, as it was in the past from Chinese and American points of view. Africa is already one of the important markets in the field of tourist services, and one cannot ignore the fact that there is a need for the latest technologies. All the more it is important in this respect to overcoming all stereotypical approaches.
Let us note that apart from professional fields of debate, often very elitist, Africa’s image is still being built in Europe through the prism of such events as armed conflicts, diseases, migration problems, poverty, and mostly from the perspective of the humanitarian aid. This is not conducive to thinking based on the needs of the business, educational cooperation, opportunities for mutual tourism and cultural exchange, gaining new spaces of dialogue between societies.
Therefore, during the EurAfrican Forum many panel discussions, but also unofficial talks, concerned doubts as to how the modern European-African relations really should be conducted. It can be stated that a consensus was obtained in this respect. First of all, stressing that once and for all it is necessary to depart from defining them in terms of only the proverbial ‘donor and recipient’ of humanitarian aid. Both parties should treat their relations by opportunities to achieve the mutual benefits of developing political, economic, social and cultural cooperation. But with always underlining each other treatment as partners.
In this regard, Europe, to emphasize the whole of Europe, and not only countries that already have considerable experience in the presence in Africa has much to gain. Being somewhat in the opposition to the present expansiveness of China in Africa, but at the same time departing from the policy of imposing its own solutions on its African partners. In the face of those African partners, we can gain only when we will be based on dialogue and understanding their needs. What’s more, the wider synergy between political and diplomatic, business, intelligence, and social, educational and cultural needs should be achieved.
Third step – the mutual security dilemmas
In addition to the aforementioned issues of business, culture, science, etc., the need for partnership and reciprocity in Euro-African relations should also be observed in the case of security dilemmas. It should be noted that in the case of this type of debate, it was a Polish think tank FIBIS that co-organized within the framework of the forum one of the panels (the breakout sessions) with the participation of the Foundation’s experts (Mr. Grzegorz Małecki as a chairman and Jacek Raubo as a speaker).
However, returning to the merits, one must notice the entire catalogue of security challenges, to whom impossible to approach only from the European perspective without inclusion African side. Firstly, because it would not be effective nowadays during the globalization. And secondly could even strengthen to amplify some of the negative trends on both sides. In part, such considerations have already been included in the commentary available on the FIBIS website, entitled ‘Strategic dilemmas of contemporary Europe-Africa relations’. [https://fibis.pl/wspolczesne-relacje-europy-z-afryka-czyli-strategiczne-dylematy-przed-debata-o-migration-security-and-talent-w-portugalii-komentarz/]
However, once again it is worth pointing out that Europe is unable, even with the largest expenditure on the security of its external borders, to lead to specific ‘splendid isolation’ from Africa. Unfortunately, time after time, especially in Europe, the idea of such isolation or one-way thinking is a dangerous example of short-term judgement. Which does not take into account long-term effects for many security issues. On the other hand, however, at the same time, African countries need cooperation with European partners, because thanks to them they can obtain the necessary know-how and competencies in the scope of ensuring their own internal and regional security.
In this context, we can consider the example of terrorist threats (Al-Qaeda, Daesh, etc.). Right there we can observe very well, this mentioned before, the example of mutual dependence between European and African security. On the one hand, for Europe, some destabilized states in Africa has become a real challenge. Mostly because there are transformed into the so-called safe haven for the development of terrorist organizations, acquisition of weapons and explosives not only for a terrorist but also for organized crime groups. But on the other hand, it is a visible fact that it is from Europe that a group of highly radicalized citizens of European countries went to major conflicts zones (not only to Syria but also to some North African states or even to Somalia). It is necessary to underline they are often more radical in their actions from local terrorists. So we are dealing with the mutual dependence inside the regional struggles with terrorism.
We cannot forget about the very sophisticated issues connected with the transfer of private capital from Europe for terrorist activity mainly in the MENA region (the Middle East and North Africa) but not only. Because financial funds are necessary to conduct terrorist activity in Africa and unfortunately in some part can be derived from some European radical groups and diasporas. Of course, the phenomenon of combating terrorism is the most extreme example, but similar phenomena we can notice in the case of the functioning of organized crime on the African and European side. This applies to smuggle people, drugs, weapons, in many cases even in both directions (famous ‘captagon’ drug smuggling case to conflict zones in MENA region via Europe). Without cooperation, without effective reciprocity in relations between European and African entities, it is not possible to restrict or stop such forms of crime.
What’s more, it should be borne in mind that already, in part, both continents are involved in a network of dependencies in the cyber domain (also in the field of the cybersecurity). It is not a new observation that because of the fast growing of cyberspace, the dimension of conventional boundaries disappears even further. So, effective and responsive actions to challenges depend on the mutual cooperation, based positioning both sides as equal partners.
This requires, first of all, the building of strong state structures on the African side. Therefore, also the need to redefine the European sectoral approach to crisis management operations in the regions of African local conflicts. Just to point that the priority is the departure from the attitude of the security giver and its recipient, for the sake of mutual reinforcement, also in the area of internal and international security. Remembering that security (broadly understood) is at the same time a path to other opportunities in other segments of cooperation (for instance without security there will be no strong business relations). This is evident even after the forms of activity of China and the United States in Africa. Chinese and American military activity in Africa, directed at increasing safety, are correlated with expansion among the other sectors (industrial, natural resources, etc.).
Fourth step – Polish perspective and actions
The last issue that can be highlighted in the context of participation in the EurAfrican Forum 2019 talks is to state what kind of opportunities are available for Poland. As well as what we can in Poland practically learn by observing the activities of the Portuguese. At this point, reference should be made to the above-mentioned development of Africa. Which is creating huge opportunities for individual companies, institutions dealing with education, tourism, forwarding, etc. from different countries. However, to succeed, in this difficult dimension of relations with African entities (the presence of strong external competition and among our European partners) Poland as a whole need more than just individual and single actions by businessmen, NGO’s, etc.
In the beginning, there must be a need for a new form of systemic diagnosis, which the Polish side can achieve on the African continent. By highlighting our strengths, but also defining the major problems. Above all, we need to choose the areas of a strengthened presence because Poland has no ability to act anywhere, hence the mentioned need for pragmatic reflection on individual African countries or regions. Currently, Poland undoubtedly concentrates on its de facto closest neighborhood and there is the allocation of key political and diplomatic sources. But also, we see the interest of the Polish media only in Europe or the US. Another shortcoming is based on the lack of a strong and effective analytical background which will give new dimensions to the political and business debate over African opportunities.
Even with today’s problems, we cannot afford, in a sense, remain passive on signals sent by our partners from the EU, but also China and the United States. Unfortunately, we should symbolically reverse such geopolitical decisions as to the former closing of diplomatic posts in Africa. Our Polish business, our scientific and educational centers, etc. cannot operate in Africa without strong state support and analytical support (here both state and private) and bypassing modern ‘soft powers’ tools. For instance, in the form of activities of the NGO’s sector. In the beginning. All of this, however, requires reflection divided into prime factors and covered by a strategy longer than even one electoral cycle in Poland. But changing our way of thinking about Africa might bring profits also in the longer term.
From Poland’s perspective, it is first important to observe the use of the concept of the Portuguese diaspora as an efficient soft power tool. In this, first and foremost, in relations with business partners from Africa. Where political relations are surrounded with a whole network of behind-the-scenes connections and relations on the analytical, cultural and, above all, personal level.
As well as presenting this diaspora idea as a useful solution also for the African partners themselves. While offering them the know-how to its construction, and at the same time with regard to establishing close relationships in a long-term dialogue with their experts, decision makers, business people, but also ordinary citizens of African countries.
In our Polish case, one should remember about a group of young African people educated in the communist PRL and also after the democratic transformation in modern Poland who have returned to their countries. Their further fate, and possibilities of influencing local decision-making processes should be strongly mapped and analyzed in the area of creating a good climate for political and diplomatic, cultural and, above all, business activities. But in addition to the already educated in Poland range of people who have decided to return to their African countries, a long-term strategy should assume the tool use of education opportunities in Poland now and in the future.
In general, education at various levels can be a great asset in Polish-African relations, but it should be noted that others in Europe perceive the same. Actions should, therefore, be taken now and without unnecessary delay in bureaucratic matters. To illustrate this, you can refer to the example that emerged during the EurAfrican Forum 2019 debates.
An entrepreneur from Mali, investing in the region in the hotel chain does not have problems with human resources but notices a huge problem with their education. This is typically a hotel segment, where it would be possible to establish cooperation with European educators in this industry. And almost immediately after signaling such deficiencies, a representative of the Portuguese authorities indicated specific solutions within the cooperation.
In this kind of business needs, Poland’s side should listen and quickly take the necessary actions like our partners from the Western and Southern part of Europe. But to be able to do this, a synergy of the potential of the state and the private sector should be achieved. It will depend on it whether Poland will benefit from transformations in Africa, whether it will remain passive and allow other countries to block its possibilities of action.