Free trade and less aid: that’s the latest call from Europe’s top leader on how to engage with Africa.
In a key address delivered today (Sept. 12), European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said Africa was “the future” and called for strengthening partnerships with the continent. Juncker specifically proposed a new program that would create up to 10 million jobs in the next five years and could potentially unlock €44 billion ($51 billion) in public and private investments.
The plan comes as Europe tries to bolster economic growth in Africa in order to limit irregular migration from the continent. The proposal also comes just weeks after both German and British leaders toured Africa in order to promote investment opportunities that could create viable livelihoods and disincentive migration.
Juncker said that he spoke with Africanleaders including president Paul Kagame of Rwanda who affirmed that aid relations should be replaced with “reciprocal commitments” in investment and trade. The EU will also plan to support 105,000 African students and researchers through its education and training program Erasmus.
“Africa does not need charity, it needs true and fair partnerships. And Europe needs this partnership just as much,” he added.
Migration from African nations has increased dramatically in the last three decades, going from just 1% in the 1990s to 31% by the 2000s. Last year, some 25 million people from sub-Saharan Africa lived outside their countries, according to a Pew Research study. Many of those people are driven out of their homes by a motley of reasons including conflict, economic decline, disease, and hunger.
To escape this, migrants undertake dangerous journeys across the Sahara or take sea routes from North Africa to reach Europe. The rates of deaths, especially those crossing through the Mediterranean has risen sharply, with the UN refugee agency saying 300 people have died as of July 2018, in contrast to 2017 when a total of 200 deaths were recorded.
European nations have tried to reverse illegal migration in several ways, mostly by offering African nations billions of euros in aid and other forms of incentives. The EU has also proposed setting up “reception centers” in nations like Libya where asylum seekers can wait while their applications are processed. Italy’s right-wing government even went further, recently announcing it would fight undocumented migration to its shores by helping China invest in Africa.