When the members of the African Union pledge to “continue to speak with one voice and to act collectively to promote our common interests and positions on the international stage”, they recognize that this is not an easy task. .
Convened for the European Union-African Union summit in Brussels this month, African and European leaders will discuss how the partnership between their two unions can be both deepened and broadened. But when it comes to business cooperation, the devil is in the details. The AU must take into account the lessons (both successes and failures) of the EU’s own integration project. Only then can it build a solid foundation for a partnership of equals with Europe.
The EU is a globally recognized model of partnership and regional integration. Born from the ashes of war, suffering and destruction, it has used economic integration to create the conditions for lasting peace and security. It is now one of the three largest trading powers in the world, alongside China and the United States.
Africa is taking promising steps along the same path. Impressive progress has been made in expanding its Regional Economic Communities (RECs) – groupings of countries designed to facilitate economic integration – and in January 2021, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) came into effect. vigor. The hope now is that the AfCFTA will help lift millions of Africans out of extreme poverty by spurring growth, creating jobs and increasing incomes – while pushing us towards even deeper integration.
The AU and the EU, together and individually, must focus their efforts on the appropriate means to achieve this objective. For its part, the AU will need to build stronger institutions capable of nurturing economic growth and ensuring that its gains are widely shared. As the recent coups in West Africa show, many African countries still have a long way to go to establish good governance and thus provide for the needs of their populations.
This is where the EU’s own past experiences (good and bad) could come in handy, especially when it comes to managing tensions between bilateral and multilateral initiatives. For example, the principle of subsidiarity – according to which the EU only takes charge of an issue when supranational governance is clearly more effective than national, regional or local governance – has served the EU well.
How could we in Africa use this principle to strengthen relations between RECs? A promising model, embodied by the pan-European company that created Airbus, is that of projects that exploit common economic interests. African projects in this mold could mitigate vulnerabilities in the continent’s industrial capabilities – shortcomings the pandemic has exposed.
African countries can also better utilize the competitive advantages of individual RECs to shape strategic manufacturing programs for products that can be fully sourced and assembled on the continent. For example, an African electric vehicle program might rely on aluminum from Guinea, technical parts from Rwanda, and assembly processes in Kenya or Morocco.
As for the EU, it must empower continental bodies such as the AU and the African Development Bank to support sustainable integration programs. China’s recent allocation of $10 billion to African financial institutions could be a catalyst to strengthen these institutions and uncover more local financing solutions. Again, we can look to the EU’s own experience to improve how we allocate funds for regional integration, agriculture and infrastructure development.
However, we must bear in mind the EU’s own fragmented trade policy towards Africa. If African countries trade with the EU on a bilateral basis, this could undermine trade integration within Africa itself. It also weakens Africa’s ability to negotiate as a united bloc – “speak with one voice”.
The EU-AU summit is an opportunity to discuss issues vital to Africa’s economic future.
Malado Kaba, was Guinea’s first female Minister of Economy and Finance