Strategic relevance of the Afro–European relationship
The relationship between Africa and Europe is of high strategic importance. Simply put, the future of Europe will depend on its relationship with Africa, and the future of Africa will depend on its relationship with Europe. While other areas of the world will also be relevant to global dynamics, the relationship between a declining Europe and a rising Africa will be essential in many political domains from economics to security, from culture to mobility. Building win-win partnerships might constitute the only chance for prosperity for both players. Conversely, entering into a competitive relationship or seeking partnership elsewhere could entail a significant loss of opportunity.
Over the last centuries, the two continents have had a long history of interaction featuring a prolonged period of colonialism and a difficult post-colonial period. More recently, the African Union–European Union (AU–EU) relationship has undergone a process of gradual institutionalisation. The fifth AU–EU summit in November 2017 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire marked a special anniversary: 10 years since the adoption of the Joint Africa–EU Strategy (EU-Africa Summit, 2007). In 2018, European Commission President Junker announced the Africa–Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investments and Jobs. The current dialogue is centred around several strategic priorities that include economic cooperation, job creation, peace and security, mobility and migration management, global issues such as climate change, and the need to invest in youth and future generations.
Africa and Europe are developing through divergent yet reciprocally dependent paths. Sixty percent of the African population is under the age of 25, and large investments are needed to give African youth the chance to enter the job market successfully without needing to leave their home countries. Despite being the continent with the highest economic growth during 2000–2015 (UN data), Africa has also been characterised by high political instability, frequent civil wars, and severe pandemics. Europe is going through a critical phase featuring weak economic growth, institutional weakening, youth disillusion, social discontent, and centrifugal forces that threaten the unity of the continent. Yet Europe remains a key political, economic, cultural, and security player at the global level.
If we take a future-oriented perspective, the relationship between these two continents could indeed constitute a key element of positive interdependence, as there is an intertwined destiny for both. The African–European relationship is intensifying, and Europe remains Africa’s largest foreign aid provider. The flow of trade and investments between the two continents is quite high. Technological transfer across the Mediterranean Sea is similarly important: Africa provides significant amounts of raw materials and labour forces to Europe, a region where major African diasporas live. The two continents remain connected in cultural terms as well; from the university system to religious integration, from a linguistic commonality to the arts scene, the level of cultural exchange is remarkable. Security threats are also shared by the two continents. From terrorism to cyber-attacks, Africa and Europe face common problems and need to find common responses. Africa needs Europe just as Europe needs Africa.
This commentary is tied to an edited book (Africa-Europe Relationship: A Multistakeholder Perspective), forthcoming in the Dialogue of Civilizations Routledge Series World Politics and Dialogue of Civilization, which addresses precisely these issues. The collection holds that only through an inclusive development that benefits both continents can Africa and Europe surmount the challenges that lay ahead in the 21st century and spread a model of genuine cooperation. At the same time, the reverse is also true: failure to launch a structured cooperation would lead to a future of hardship and marginalisation from world affairs for both Africa and Europe. If properly developed, the Africa–Europe relationship could indeed constitute a significant component of wider inclusive development at the world level.
A multistakeholder perspective
The Africa–Europe cooperation is already and must be based on multistakeholder interaction. This relationship should be considered by focusing on a crucial node of interaction that is underexamined but of great importance: the plurality of socioeconomic and political interaction underpinning the relationship between Africa and Europe. A study of the ongoing dynamics between these two continents is needed that adopts a pluralist understanding of international relations and encompasses non-state actors as well as states. Traditionally, research on Africa and Europe has focused nearly entirely on government-to-government interaction; the current reality is far more complex and must be analysed through appropriate lenses to be fully understood.
Although knowledge production related to the Africa–EU relationship has grown exponentially in the last few years, it remains biased and incomplete. The scientific literature is predominantly European, thus carrying a strong political bias (Farrell, 2005; Haastrup, 2013; Scheipers & Sicurelli, 2008). Most studies have explored how the EU engages with Africa in specific sectors, such as security, the economy, and migration (e.g., Carbone, 2013; Langan, 2015); few scholars have assumed a more comparative and comprehensive perspective on Africa–Europe relations overall. Even fewer have managed to take a more balanced viewpoint in which African voices are given equal standing (Adebajo & Whiteman, 2012; Marchetti, 2018). Finally, relevant studies have focused, almost invariably, on a governmental level of analysis.
Policy-oriented production follows a similar pattern. Most production is attributable to think tanks or civil society analysts (Bello, 2010; Friends of Europe, 2017; Kotsopoulos, 2007), many of whom hail from Europe. Especially important are the official documents and reports (EU-Africa Summit, 2007) issued by either European institutions (European Commission, 2014, 2016; European Commission and EEAS, 2017), African institutions (African Union, 2015), or the UN (United Nations, 2015), but they all tend to present an intergovernmental perspective.
The book Africa-Europe Relationship tackles these deficiencies on several fronts. First, it places African and European reflections on equal footing to achieve a true dialogue among civilisations. Second, it adopts a broad perspective that comprehensively considers political dynamics using a multifield approach that integrates economic, security, and cultural dimensions simultaneously. Third, it holds a multi-actor perspective that includes but extends beyond pure intergovernmentalism; indeed, it focuses on and brings in different actors. In fact, the book contains different profiles: scholars, activists, businesspeople, and analysts, both from Africa and Europe.
For too long, analysis of this relationship has focused nearly exclusively on intergovernmental dynamics. While such dynamics are clearly important, I contend that we must broaden our perspective if we wish to fully capture the crucial dynamics creating interdependence between these two continents. A multistakeholder perspective that surely includes governmental and regional organisations while also incorporating civil society, business, religious, and research actors as well as local authorities is essential to understanding and appropriately guiding the complex interdependence between these two continents. This approach is ultimately a matter of avoiding risk, managing challenges, and capitalising on opportunities.
Politics in the era of globalisation are much more complex than in previous times. Phenomena in one location are often connected with events in other locations. Together with states and international organisations, a plethora of new actors have come to play significant roles in global politics. These actors range from international gatherings (e.g., the World Economic Forum) to global terrorism groups (e.g., Al-Qaeda or Daesh); from philanthropic foundations (e.g., the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) to social movements (e.g., Movimento Sem Terra); from international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) (e.g., Amnesty International) to national diasporas (e.g., Palestinian diasporas); from alternative media (e.g., Wikileaks) to pop singers/activists (e.g., Bono); from think tanks (e.g., the Council on Foreign Relations) to banks (e.g., JPMorgan Chase & Co.); from rating agencies (e.g., Standard and Poor’s) to major global media players (e.g., Al Jazeera) or new media (e.g., Twitter); from cities to regions. Non-state actors are everywhere in global politics (Khanna, 2011; Naìm, 2013); hence, the system has become more intricate.
Complex pluralism depicts an a-polar world (Avant, Finnemore, & Sell, 2010; Haass, 2008; Hale & Held, 2011; Khanna, 2011; Kupchan, 2012); that is, a world in which power is spread across many players, including non-state actors, none of whom possesses overwhelming power over the others. This arrangement implies that each actor needs the other(s) to further its objectives. This is a world strongly moulded by globalisation, in which realist state-centric exclusivity is rejected along with liberal institutionalism. On one hand, the state, as a unitary actor, is seeing its central role wane in favour of disaggregation into sub-state authorities with increasing transnational agency (Slaughter, 2004). Transnational governing networks are also acquiring growing importance: courts, public authorities, interparliamentary assemblies, and central banks are all increasing their cooperation with their international counterparts. On the other hand, an increasing number and range of non-governmental actors are either demanding inclusion in the decision-making process or have the de facto authority, expertise, and power to influence public affairs in parallel to and regardless of state authority (Avant et al., 2010; Naìm, 2013).
The dynamics of globalisation have accentuated the non-exclusivity of states as actors of international relations. Globalisation binds distant communities and de-territorialises power relations while contemporaneously extending their reach beyond traditional national borders. By diminishing the exclusivity of states as international actors, globalisation has opened up space for new social players. Beyond the states and intergovernmental organisations that have occupied a central place in international life since their origin (consider, for example, the UN), the system of global governance is currently populated by a variety of international and transnational actors who have a strong say in international affairs. By ‘transnational’, I refer here to actors operating beyond national boundaries, either individually or in partnership, without necessarily passing through governmental filters. Among these actors, four typologies are particularly relevant: profit-oriented transnational enterprises; civil society NGOs (including violent groups, religious organisations, and the media) that tend to have public goals; local authorities, including regions and cities (so-called ‘paradiplomacy’); and private or hybrid organisations that regulate specific sectors through the formulation of standards (so-called ‘standard-setting bodies’). While these typologies do not represent all actors in global governance, they do represent an important and innovative component of new world politics. Significantly, the sheer number of transnational enterprises, civil society NGOs, standard-setting bodies, and networks of cities and regions have increased significantly in recent decades and follow a pattern that closely parallels the spread of globalisation.
Non-state actors have assumed an increasingly large role within world politics by performing a growing number of functions that were previously conducted mostly by states (Avant et al., 2010; Hall & Biersteker, 2002; Marchetti, 2016). They contribute to bringing new issues to the public’s attention and, in so doing, they participate in the formulation of political agendas (e.g., the recent campaign by civil society organisations to abolish the death penalty). They lobby policymakers (as in the case of the decision to waive debts of the least-developed countries at the end of the last millennium). Non-state actors also offer technical assistance to governments and intergovernmental organisations (e.g., legal help provided by many NGOs during the conference that led to the Charter of the International Criminal Court of 1998). They provide funds for private and public players (let us think, for the former, of the considerable resources the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has allocated to sanitary projects on a global scale; and for the latter, the taxation of enterprises on their patents and trademarks to ensure functioning of the WIPO). Non-state actors formulate regulatory decisions (e.g., various codes of conduct and the Kimberley Process providing guidelines for the trade of diamonds). They implement programs and public policies (e.g., the whole sector of development aid and of conflicts and the roles of mercenaries and NGOs within them). Non-state actors provide services which that previously fell under the purview of embassies (e.g., private centres for the issuance of visas). They monitor the respect of international agreements (e.g., files compiled by the most important NGOs on human rights are then received by intergovernmental organisations, such as the UN, as a basis for reference and action). Non-state actors resolve disputes (consider the numerous arbitration chambers that resolve international litigation completely privately) and facilitate conflict resolution (e.g., the peacebuilding role of Sant’Egidio in Mozambique). Non-state actors, finally, also help implement decisions, so-called ‘enforcement’ (e.g., numerous NGOs’ strategy to enhance respect for the rules through campaigns to demonstrate which governments and multinational corporations do or do not respect such rules, as in the case of Transparency International on corruption or SIPRI on the arms trade).
The book thus examines a plethora of different actors, including firms, NGOs, religious organisations, think tanks and research centres, individual leaders, and local authorities. Particularly important within this project is analysis of the roles played by transnational networks and hybrid coalitions. Of course, the book also studies intergovernmental relations in their bilateral and multilateral formats while paying attention to inter-regional interaction (e.g., EU–ECOWAS). Only by taking into account traditional governmental relationships and more innovative multistakeholder interaction can a more accurate understanding of the current and future path of cooperation between Africa and Europe be developed.
The collection is divided into three sections. In the first section, Bond, Freeman, Menegazzi, and Iratni explore different aspects of the civil society domain. In the second section, Langan, Pistelli, and Mudida look at business actors. In the third section, Dimier and Gliottone, Massoni, Mattheis, and De Nictolis consider different types of institutional relationships and policymakers.
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