Rome, 15 June 2018 – Distinguished experts from three continents met for a two-day conference on the state of Africa-European relations at the LUISS School of Government, the 2010-founded international annex to the prestigious private Italian University, LUISS ‘Guido Carli’. Situated in the heart of the Parioli quarter in Rome, its campus offers both a choice location and prime conditions for academic study and work. Co-organised be the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute (DOC) and chaired by LUISS Associate Professor Raffaele Marchetti, the conference took a multi-angle approach to the many aspects of a difficult and historically twisted relationship.
Fifteen panels plus opening and conclusion sessions made for a vast array of information. But in spite of the many contradictory – or at least contrasting – viewpoints, certain insights could be taken from the conference. Some of the more conspicuous ones: undoubtedly, there is ongoing economic and social progress in Africa; this tends to occur where political and public governance attains certain quality standards; political instability and crises in West Africa severely hamper the whole region’s prospects; the effect of traditional Western and European aid is indeed questionable; the growing Chinese involvement in Africa in recent years provides African countries with a serious – and even rival – alternative.
The panels were structured along with the general topics: migration; politics; economy; inter-regionalism; and the Maghreb and the Sahel. It soon became clear that a continent larger than China, the US, India, Japan, and all of Europe combined, was not to be measured with one and the same yardstick. Far beyond the North-South divide presented by the Sahara, Africa is characterised by a multitude of internal divides, not the least being its borders, arbitrarily drawn by European colonial masters in the 19th century.
Strong critical remarks with respect to current European activities in Africa came from former US congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. She accused Western Europe of continuing “to underdevelop Africa” and asked: “Why won’t Europe just leave Africa alone?” Others agreed that the Western approach, focusing on the allegedly “backward” features of African reality, had outlived itself.
On the positive side there was a growing self-assurance among the third and fourth post-independence generations in sub-Saharan countries. Trust in internal capabilities and development from within seem to be the key factors for a brighter future. Unfortunately, as during the last 500 years, the continent remains one of the playing fields for global geopolitical ambitions. All the more, as was pointed out by all representatives from the continent itself, it is necessary that Africa refocuses on itself. With today only 14% of all African countries’ trade being inner-African trade, it is high time to do so.