A new Africa-Europe partnership: We can’t rewrite history, but we can co-create the future

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian (3-R) views South African children in the Waves for Change programme in Cape Town on 1 March 2019. [EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA]

As ministers come to Washington for the Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank this week, they must not ignore a quiet trend shaping the experience of two billion people. Europe is ageing while Africa’s youth population booms, writes David McNair.

Dr David McNair is the executive director for global policy at The ONE Campaign.

In 2050 there will be 1.2bn young Africans and 179m young Europeans. It is no longer news that Africa’s demographic changes could lead to a demographic dividend, or that, if young people aren’t afforded opportunities, a destabilising demographic division, could have serious implications for global poverty and security.

Neither is it news that Europe’s challenges of governance and growing inequality require visionary leadership.

But emerging conversations about the common challenges and interdependent futures Africa and Europe face – continents separated at their closest point by just 14 km – must be expanded into popular discourse.

Europe’s ageing problem is an economic, social and political one. Citizens in Europe expect high levels of social support and services, and often assume their children will be more prosperous than they are.

Yet, there are fewer economically productive people to generate the necessary wealth and public revenues to support services. In 2013, 40% of European employers had difficulty finding people with the right skills.

The resulting disappointment leaves many with fewer opportunities and is fueling political nativism that is already hampering trade and international cooperation.

Africa, on the other hand, is not creating enough jobs to match its growing youth population. Youth account for about 40% of all of Africa’s jobless.3 Many more are under-employed or in vulnerable employment.

Young women face disproportionate barriers. Africa needs 22.5 million new jobs a year for the foreseeable future to absorb the youth boom as these young people enter the workforce.

Africa doesn’t just need new jobs, it needs new types of jobs: while the informal sector has been the main driver of employment growth for decades, the continent’s demographic changes are adjacent to evolving digital technologies and developing artificial intelligence which could disrupt and destroy low-skilled jobs but could also create new markets to bolster the incomes of informal workers.

Both continents are grappling with a common challenge of how to create the social, economic and cultural dynamism to sustain their populations into the 21st-century, and the safety and security their citizens need. Neither can solve this problem alone.

Aid programmes – though essential – cannot solve this problem alone. A new partnership should be based on mutual commitments to address common challenges. It involves reforming the governance and leadership of multilateral institutions, and sharing experiences of creating single markets.

It would involve delivering the necessary investments in skills and infrastructure to harness the power of the digital economy – while managing the downsides of fake news, privacy and data ownership.

Structural issues, such as the estimated $50 billion in illicit financial flows that leave the African Continent Africa – much of which is laundered through European banks and legal structures must be tackled head-on.

It will require revisiting Europe and Africa’s shared histories, addressing present perceptions and suspicions between both continents, and creating opportunities to promote understanding between future generations.

A scaled up EurAfrican Erasmus programme giving young Africans and Europeans the opportunity to study, learn and promote integration between the two continents could create a generation of young people with greater understanding and empathy for one another.

This partnership must be underpinned by actions. European governments should deliver on their commitments to reach 0.7% of ODA/GNI and channel part of this through the EU budget; 140 billion which could be invested in the poorest people and countries. African governments should commit more of their own budgets to the health and education of their people.

Europe and Africa cannot rewrite their painful interwoven history– but together, both continents can plan for a prosperous integrated future.

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