Why Europe re-focuses attention on Africa - analysis


The Europeans, who once colonized Africa for scores of years, have refocused their attention on Africa in recent years following decades of neglect.

After a seven-year delay, the second EU-Africa Summit is finally to take place in Lisbon on Dec. 8-9, with the Europeans aiming at establishing a special relationship with their former colonies. So why are the Europeans focusing on the continent again?

„Strategic Revolution on Africa”
Louis Michel, European Union Commissioner for relations with African, Caribbean and Pacific States, said Friday in his „Europe-Africa: the indispensable partnership” speech to a conference organized by the European Policy Center that the EU needed to create its „strategic revolution” on Africa to change the nature of its relationship with Africa. He proposed a „comprehensive, ambitious and sustainable” new partnership on the basis of a balanced sharing of responsibility between partners with equal rights and duties.

European Commission President Jose Manual Barroso wanted to put Africa as „a priority in our external relations,” describing the summit as „not ordinary” and „a new departure in the relations between the two continents.” Barroso urged to „change radically our approaches to each other, moving away from the mere donor-beneficiary relationship to launch a true partnership between Africa and Europe, based on common interests and tackling together global challenges.” Michel echoed Barroso as saying that the summit should be taken as a launch pad for a new era in relationship and „must mark the end of a relationship rooted in conservatism and sometimes in prejudice on both sides and mark the start of a recognition of real opportunities that are at hand for both sides.”

Reasons for change
The Europeans have re-discovered the geostrategic significance of Africa in the globalization process as their dependence on energy imports deepens. As the world is changing under combined influence of the globalization of economy and the „multi-polarization” of power, Africa „is evolving and changing more than many other regions of the world,” as Michel put it. He cited economic, strategic and security, and challenges over power as the three „sets of challenges” that made the change of relationship crucial to Europe. Globalization of the economy was reflected in the greater than ever determination of the economic powers to access the vast resources of the African continent to pursue their continued economic expansion.

„Africa thus has a pivotal role in the new geopolitics of energy, driven by high demand of oil and gas,” as it has a 10% of the world’s oil reserves and had taken on strategic importance in the race for oil fields and in the diversification of the sources of supply. Africa has also become a theater of global strategic and security challenges as poverty, terrorism and illegal trafficking prevailed the continent. Michel said that world powers such as the United States, India and Brazil „have now made Africa the scene of a new ‘Great game’” as they were jockeying for position. „The United States is back in force in Africa as part of its global strategic vision,” he pointed out.

Challenges in bettering ties
„Europe occupies a unique position vis-a-vis Africa by virtue of its geography and by virtue of history which has left us a common multifaceted legacy,” Michel said, but the EU and its member states „do not appear to be taking advantage of their unique position.” Michel listed the attitudes of the EU member states, Afro-pessimism in Europe and the attitude of the African side toward the Europeans as the reasons. He explained that the colonial heritage and the power instinct created a situation where some member states forged strong bilateral links with their African partners, which only „serves to complicate Europe’s position as a global partner for Africa.” Afro-pessimism has still prevailed in Europe, „not just in the circles of power, but in public opinion too,” according to Michel. Africa continues to be regarded as a „problem” by the Europeans. African leaders were clear that „Africa is no longer Europe’s private domain” and they often criticized Europeans for their overcautious and backward-looking approach. (

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