ABIDJAN — As the curtain closed on the first-ever AU-EU Summit in Abidjan last Thursday, mixed reviews on the productivity and any concrete pathway ahead lingered.
Host country President Alassane Ouattara called discussions “constructive” during the closing ceremony, and said that conversations extended beyond a donor-recipient tone, and leaned more towards a collaborative effort to build and strengthen partnerships.
This year’s meetings emphasized the importance of the input of African leaders to develop comprehensive AU-EU solutions, rather than others advising African leaders on how to respond to African issues. During the week, several leaders remarked on Europe’s renewed vision for a more mutually beneficial relationship with Africa.
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“The debate was frank,” Guinean President and AU Commission Chair Alpha Conde told a group of journalists during the final press conference. He said this meeting differed from years past because the African Union represented the continent as a unified front, despite certain tensions among member countries. “Africa knows our problems and can discuss them intellectually, but before partners didn’t respect us because we were weak and divided,” Conde said.
Europe currently contributes more than one-third of the overall foreign direct investment in Africa, with 32 billion euros ($36.7 billion) invested in Africa by EU companies in 2015. The EU has seven civilian and military missions deployed across sub-Saharan Africa, and has a planned 1.4 billion euros ($1.7 billion) commitment to educational programs in Africa from 2014 to 2020.
“Concrete actions, immediate answers is what I expect from this conference,” Moustapha Naite, Guinean Minister of Youth told Devex. “We need to discuss how to make access to finance simple and not asking guarantee that people will never be able to deliver … and we still have not made it less painful for people to do agriculture,” he said.
While overall conversations were dominated by migration and news reports of a slave trade in Libya, others issues also played out at the conference. Here are three key themes that emerged from the summit.
Quality education and training
With a growing youth population, the rising demand for education is a critical issue. A key element in providing adequate work opportunities for young people revolves around the question of whether they are being equipped with the skills needed to succeed in a modern workforce. Education exclusion rates in Africa are still worse than any other region in the world, with 60 percent of youth aged 15 to 17 not in school, and roughly one-third of youth between ages 12 and 14.
Some students told Devex earlier this month that one issue in the African education systems is the wide student to teacher ratio, which can surpass 100 students per teacher in certain classrooms, and the ability of teachers to adequately prepare lessons for diversified classrooms and comprehension levels.
To bridge the gap between skills acquired in the classroom and those needed on the job in Guinea, for example, the country adopted a national professional skills training program in 2016 to boost the competencies and improve the employability of youth. This public-private partnership allows companies to detail the top skills they seek and work with the governments to establish a six-month to one-year program to equip recent university and high school graduates with the tangible skills required for hiring. From there, private companies typically go on to hire high-performing students from the training.
Peace, security and governance
According to the United Nations Economic Commission on Africa, “the existence of peace, security, stability and good governance is a prerequisite to achieve sustainable economic development.”
Establishing governance in countries already faced with internal ethnic disputes, armed conflicts, waves of extremism, food insecurity, and looming health epidemics can prove overwhelming for developing states with limited resources.
Deteriorating situations in Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic have been exacerbated by limited funding and access for humanitarian actors, as rural areas remain blocked by armed groups. Earlier this week, Somalia hosted its first-ever security conference and wants to develop a plan to transfer primary responsibility for the country’s security from the United Nations-backed African Union Mission in Somalia to its own security forces. Flare ups of violence by separatists in the anglophone areas of Cameroon continue, with residents there violently pushing to succeed as they argue for better services.
Political stability and insecurity also remain under critical watch in Kenya and in Zimbabwe, where the 37-year rule of President Robert Mugabe recently came to an end.
Migration and mobility
“The migration crisis is really about people finding their dream in their own country,” Naite told Devex. “Youth really leave our countries because they don’t feel like they have opportunities for them to become what they want, especially to live like what they’re seeing now with the access to technology and Facebook and Twitter living in good conditions, prosperous for development and for well-being.”
Addressing the root causes of migration places an emphasis on inclusive widespread growth, access to quality work, education and finance, reiterated European and African leaders.
“What’s important is how we create economic environment that is prosperous for growth, but an inclusive growth where the youth will find jobs,” Naite said. But also vital, he said, is investing in education to capitalise on the demographic dividend.
During the summit meetings, Morocco offered to make aircrafts available to assist with voluntary repatriation efforts. The EU, AU and United Nations also put in place a task force focused on the immediate repatriation of refugees, prosecution of human traffickers with those involved with the slave trade in Libya subject to prosecution of crimes against humanity.
Read more Devex coverage on EU aid.