Africa: Let's Not Ask What Can Be Done for Africa, Kagame Tells Europe

President Paul Kagame.
3 December 2020

President Paul Kagame has said the idea of always asking what should be done for Africa does not help the continent, but rather emphasized it was important to have mutual understanding between Europe and Africa.

He was speaking at the fifth meeting of the high level group of personalities on Europe-Africa relations, a team of top-level leaders convened by Mo Ibrahim and Etienne Davignon.

Kagame told leaders it was important Europeans and Africans understand each other better if the partnership between the two continents were to flourish, and that the platform was key to achieving that.

"This is a place where different voices from either side can be heard, and factored into the thinking on the future of our relations," he noted, insisting that there are usually perspectives that are rarely considered.

The leader said Africa engages Europe with a view toward taking the relationship to a higher level, and making sure that the relationship is adapted to the present times.

For one thing, Kagame said, Africa has assets and capabilities to offer to the partnership, both human and material.

"Let's not ask what can be done for Africa."

Rather, he emphasized that the guiding question should be: "What can Europe and Africa do together for mutual benefit, which neither can accomplish alone?" giving reference to the Africa-Europe Strategy approved 2017.

Continent-to-continent relations

The strategy that the President referred to aims at strengthening the relationship between the two parties in areas of trade, peace and security, migration, and climate change.

However, Kagame said that Africa aims to change the terms of engagement on trade and investment, pointing to the African Continental Free Trade Area which will enter the implementation phase on January 1, 2021.

"This opens up new opportunities for more attractive cooperation with partners who are invested in Africa's prosperity. It is therefore important to ensure that the space to properly and fully implement the AfCFTA is respected," he noted.

With the agreement, he added that countries on the African continent wish to negotiate the future trading rules on a continent-to continent basis, not in a fragmented or haphazard manner.

The high level dialogue featured Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, and other eminent persons including former African heads of state Ellen Johnson-Sirlief of Liberia, Festus Mogae of Botswana and Hailemariam Desalegn, the former Ethiopian Prime Minister.

Others included Sudanese-British business magnate Mo Ibrahim and former AfDB President, Donald Kabera among others.

President Kagame insisted that leaders in Africa were willing to take their relationship with Europe to the next level, only if the attitude of 'adult supervision' was left in the past.

This, he said, meant avoiding the temptation of reducing Africa to the lowest common denominator, with what he termed as "blanket judgments and generalisations."

"There cannot be a mutually respectful partnership premised on the unspoken assumption that one party lacks values, or has defective values, while the other party is a fully-formed moral agent," he noted.

The complexity of politics, historical context, and public opinion in every country, Kagame indicated that it requires sensitive understanding, and a willingness to genuinely listen, learn, and adapt.

This, however, did not imply not talking about excusing wrongdoing or abusing the principle of sovereignty to evade responsibility, especially when there are some who do so.

It was rather about dialogue, respect, and a commitment to the more robust partnership which both Africa and Europe need in order to prevail over the challenges of the 21st century, he said.

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