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Europe Must Be Africa's Partner of Choice

Having committed to pursuing a much closer partnership with African governments and the African Union, the European Union must consider how it can best contribute to Africa's security and economic prospects. With other global powers competing for influence, much more than trade and investment is at stake.

BRUSSELS – After being postponed several times because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this month’s European Union-African Union Summit in Brussels (February 17-18) will bring together European and African heads of state and government for the first time since 2017. The EU’s objective is to become Africa’s partner of choice, a goal set by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during our first visit to the AU’s headquarters in Addis Ababa two years ago.

What will it take to achieve this ambitious goal? First, we must approach the EU-AU partnership with modesty. Africa is a continent as large as the United States, Mexico, China, Japan, India, and much of Europe combined. With 54 countries and some 2,000 languages, and with a diverse range of opportunities as well as problems, the continent cannot be treated as a homogenous entity.

Second, we must be realistic. Between Afro-pessimism and Afro-optimism, I advocate Afro-realism. Before talking about economic growth and trade relations, Europe must show that it can contribute to peace, security, and good governance in African countries. Before talking about the demographic dividend, we must also acknowledge the scale of the difficulties that uncontrolled population growth can create in societies. By 2030, 30 million young people will be entering the African labor market each year. To generate sustainable jobs for them, basic education must be a high priority.

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