22 November 2016

Southern Africa: EU Seeks to Eliminate Aid to Angola, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa After 2020

opinion

AT THE time of decolonisation in the 1960's and 1970's, the then EEC brought together a strange collection of former European colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific islands (called the ACP group).

It was just at the time that the UK was joining the EEC, and so the group included all the former British, French, Dutch, Belgian and eventually Portuguese ex-colonies. Oddly, it did not include any of the former Spanish colonies. The ACP group was formed in 1975, and since then, the EU has paid substantial amounts of aid through the European development fund, which is replenished by its members every seven years.

For Europeans, the payments of aid were essentially 'guilt money' for centuries of slavery and then colonialism, and while they had some real innovations at first, they degenerated, and by the turn of this century, the EU signalled its desire to bring this to an end. But there was always a deeper objective. The Lome Convention and the subsequent Cotonou Agreement were focused on assuring continual access to African raw materials, and trade preferences were offered unilaterally to assure that the sugar and beef and metals kept coming.

On 22 November, the European Commission was scheduled to issue a communication which, according to normally well- informed sources in both Berlin and Brussels, would bring to an end half a century of aid for the richest 21 ACP countries by 2020, when the current Cotonou Agreement comes to an end.

All of Namibia's neighbours, with the exception of Zambia, will have their aid terminated from 2020 under the 12th European Development Fund. This elimination of aid applies to Angola, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. The official reason for the cut in aid is that the EU wishes to focus its efforts on the poorest of the ACP states.

In the rest of Africa, the countries which will no longer receive national allocations are said to include Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Mauritius, and the richest country in Africa, Seychelles. Other low-income countries like Zimbabwe will continue to receive EU aid.

For Namibia, the loss of aid is very important because of late, EU assistance has been principally focused on education and skills development. Under the 10th EDF (2008-2013), a total of 104,9 million euro was budgeted for Namibia, which dropped to 68 million euro under the 11th EDF (2014-2020).

If the proposal goes ahead as planned, then after 2020 the figure will be zero, and while Namibia and Botswana will lose important funding for the education sector, which has been central to still have access regional funds. These are programmed with SADC secretariat and may somewhat compensate in part for the loss of national aid, but Namibia has less of a direct say over these regional funds. Much of the regional funds are used for funding of SADC activities and this too has been questioned by both SADC and EU members alike. There are real questions being asked as to whether funding of the SADC secretariat in Gaborone really constitutes value for money.

What is certainly positive from an African perspective is that there is every indication that the EU is very likely to propose a legally binding agreement with the ACP in the post-2020 era, which means that they will continue the relationship with the ACP group. Whereas the creation of the ACP was done for strategic purposes in light of the widening of the then EEC, the dismantling of this relationship that appears to have either an economic, trade or clear developmental objective is proving far more difficult to achieve.

In the last few weeks the European commission has also proposed the development of a new 3,5 billion euro investment fund. This is meant to help foster investment in large part in those countries which are Europe's 'near abroad' i.e. in North and West Africa from where many of the illegal migrants come. Europe aid policy appears once again to be responding to its own immediate need but its effectiveness and usefulness will depend very largely upon how well it works with its own private sector to actually create employment in Africa. Unfortunately for the countries of southern Africa, like Botswana and Namibia who are going to lose their national programmes, they do not send large number of refugees and illegal migrants to Europe and so they are unlikely to benefit substantially from the new investment fund even though they can in principle have access to the investment facility.

In its early days the European Commission behaved very much the way China does today. It used its considerable aid in ways that directly helped African countries develop their commercial and export sectors through European investment. The European Commission also worked closely with the commercial arms of EU member states like the UK's Commonwealth Development Corporation, which undertook so many important commercial investments throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Since the 1970's and 1980's the EU's development policy has focused less and less on commercial matters and helping European firms invest profitably in Africa and more on whatever happens to be important to European politicians that year, whether it is human rights, conservancies, global warming or gay rights.

This complete lack of consistency and focus of EU development policy has meant that China, which is far more single-minded in its approach with aid there to help Chinese exports and promote Chinese investment and its economic development, has played an ever more important role in the economic transformation of Africa while Europe has become progressively less relevant.

- These are the views of professor Roman Grynberg, and not necessarily those of Unam where he is employed.

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