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EU-Africa: A Partnership for Peace?

February 24, 2014

EU and African leaders meet in early April for one of their regular summits. What are some of the things should they focus on, for peace?

 The EU is in the process of developing the next phase of its Pan-African Programme (PAP), in the context of the EU-Africa Partnership and Joint Strategy, and is also preparing for April’s EU-Africa summit: Investing in People, Prosperity & Peace. Reading the EU’s recent PAP consultation document a few days ago stimulated a few thoughts not just about the EC’s Pan-African programme priorities, but also towards the summit itself. These are premised on the idea that the EU and its partners in Africa have a commitment to positive peace, i.e. not just the absence of fighting but also the non-violent management and resolution of conflicts, and therefore the need for effective institutions, policies and attitudes.

The EU-Africa Partnership, or the EU-AU Partnership?

The EU-Africa Partnership and its accompanying Joint Strategy are broadly consistent with a peacebuilder’s perspective. As one would expect,  given the EU’s own genesis as a peacebuilding project and the African Union’s  (AU) heavy focus on peace, the Strategy explicitly emphasises peace and security, along with a variety of cross-cutting issues of relevance to peace, including migration, economic development, gender, human rights and the inclusion of civil society, as well as national, continental and global governance.

It’s worth pointing out that at a fundamental level the partnership seems slightly curious: how does the EU, an established intergovernmental arrangement with a legal personality and institutions, maintain a meaningful partnership and a joint strategy with Africa, a physical continent with no legal or political personality? Perhaps it is time to change this arrangement from the African side, to convert it into an EU-AU Partnership and Joint Strategy, to make it less unequal and more institutionally meaningful?

Post-2015 MDGs and the Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals

The Joint Strategy highlights the importance of common policy work by the EU and Africa. As part of this, perhaps the EU and the AU could play a joint leadership role in promoting the ideas which emerged from the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, and which are incorporated in the New Deal for Engaging in Fragile States, as summarised by the five Peace and Security Goals (PSG) which between them address legitimate politics, livelihoods, security, taxation and government services, and justice. While the New Deal itself has been problematic, the five PSGs provide a powerful framework within which to consider development in fragile situations. It’s a conceptual framework which needs to be integrated into the post-2015 MDGs, and political support from Member States will be needed to make sure this happens. Meanwhile a lot of effort is still needed if this conceptual framework is to be exploited for positive change in fragile countries. The EU is the main global donor by volume, while most fragile situations are in Africa. Therefore there’s surely a powerful case to be made that the EU and the AU jointly promote the PSGs as part of the international post-2015 policy debate, while also working together to promote them on a very practical basis on the ground in African countries.

Positive peace

The AU continues to devote most of its peace and security attention to crisis prevention and response, rather than to building a capacity within Africa to manage and resolve conflicts non-violently in a positive peace framework. Thus the EC’s PAP consultation proposals, with a focus on peace, democracy, human rights and civil society, are very welcome. But perhaps they could go further than they currently do, and explicitly reference the need to promote better functional relationships between citizens/civil society and African governments, regional economic communities (RECs) and the AU, and by being more explicit about the need to strengthen the capacity within African countries to manage and resolve conflicts non-violently, both in formal institutions and in civil society.

This would fit in with the idea of promoting the PSGs and the New Deal, and would help ensure a good strategic balance in the Partnership between supporting continental initiatives, as well as the critically important national and sub-national dimensions of peace, security and good governance.


Addressing extremism and especially Islamic extremism is a major component of EU-African relations, not the least in Somalia, the Sahel and the Maghreb. There is a real risk that European/Western actions in Africa in pursuit of legitimate European “home security” needs will create security problems for Africans, as has already happened in Mali. It seems reasonable therefore to expect that the communiqué emerging from the April Summit will contain a commitment to working in a joined-up way to promote initiatives which are designed to build local resilience and foster progress in Africa, even while protecting Europeans and Africans from the threats posed by extremism and terrorism.

Demographics and Youth

Both Africa and Europe are dealing with challenges linked to demography. Broadly, Europe has an aging population and low birth rates, thus a rising dependency ratio; Africa has a young population with high birth rates, thus currently a high dependency ratio (although this is reducing, and expected to reach optimal levels for economic development in the next twenty years). Put simply, young Africans need jobs, and Europe needs more young people, thus there is a natural flow of labour towards Europe, although this is problematic as youth unemployment is also high within the EU.  

The role of young people in society is important for peace and security because, as we have seen in West African civil wars, the Arab Spring and in youth unrest within the EU, young people who see an uncertain and difficult economic future ahead of them can be a destabilising influence in a number of different ways. Many young people on both continents are or perceive themselves to be excluded from political debate and processes, so risk becoming alienated. Demographic issues linked to peace and security, and especially those related to young people, should surely therefore be more explicitly included in the Partnership, the Joint Strategy and in other documents. Delegates at the April Summit will discuss issues of employment, youth and peace; it’s important that these are linked together and not treated as separate issues.

Conflict-sensitive economic development

Economic development is at the heart of the Partnership, is very much on the Summit agenda, and is addressed repeatedly in the PAP consultation document – e.g. in connection with employment, with trade and with natural resource management. It is by now well-recognised that in fragile contexts, economic development strategies, as well as the projects and comportment of individual companies, especially extractives and agribusiness, need to be conflict-sensitive. This means they need to take account of actual and latent conflicts, and be designed to contribute to reducing or managing these. For example anything in Africa which touches on issues of access to land or water or the provision of infrastructure or jobs, can have a major influence on the potential for peace and conflict. The idea of promoting conflict-sensitive and peace-promoting economic development should surely be a core element of the Partnership, by the inclusion of a joint commitment to promoting peace-supporting economic development, and improving peace and security through improved trade, infrastructure and labour mobility, and by promoting conflict-sensitivity in the exploitation of natural resources, particularly in the agribusiness and extractive sectors. We hear all the time that African economic growth will be increased and sustained over the next few decades; the EU provides a great deal of economic developement aid; and one way or another, many of the world’s large investors and companies are regulated within the borders of the EU. Therefore it’s of great importance that the Summit should consider this issue, and that the Europeans and Africans should make a joint commitment to peace-conducive and conflict-sensitive economic development.

Climate adaptation

Climate change is on the April summit agenda. Little is certain about the impacts to be expected in Africa due to climate change, except that adaptation will be required, and that adaptation brings with it a high risk of instability. The Summit is a great opportunity to highlight the need for more knowledge about these risks and how to respond to them, as well as increased access to and better targeted resources. Peaceful and equitable adaptation demands an approach which embraces governance, security, economic development, agriculture and environment, and so it is a very real cross-cutting issue appropriate for the Partnership. The Partnership is a great opportunity to support research on how adaptation to climate change can be leveraged for improvements in governance, the economy, human rights and environmental stewardship, as well as flexible programmes designed to build resilience to the economic, societal and political consequences of environmental stress within African societies as they unfold. Again, it would be a shame if the Summit fails to make such a commitment.

The Partnership and the Joint Strategy contain many of the right headings and sub-headings, and the planned EU-Africa Summit is a great opportunity to explore and make important commitments for peace. Let hope this happens.

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