In recent months, the European Union has embarked on a clear process aimed at fostering increased engagement with the African Union which is intended to lay the ground for a new, comprehensive EU-Africa partnership to support economic growth, create better jobs, enhance security, improve governance and reduce irregular migration.
The key element of this dialogue is an emphasis on partnership and mutuality. As the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, recently put it, the EU is proposing a strategy with Africa, not for Africa, and this approach also underpins Malta’s Strategy for Africa which was launched in January of this year. Malta’s strategy, likewise, highlights trade, solidarity and partnership as the basis for future Malta’s relations with the continent of Africa.
As is the case in the rest of the world, the immediate challenge for the African continent is the COVID-19 pandemic which has devastated African economies. While Africa has overall addressed the medical and health challenges of COVID-19 in an impressive, organised and efficient manner, the impact on Africa’s economy has been harsh. The World Bank predicts that the Nigerian and South African economies, two of Africa’s largest economies, will shrink by double figures as a result of COVID-19 with severe effects on jobs and livelihoods.
The impact of COVID-19 on supply chains has been particularly apparent in countries like Namibia which experienced a food shortage caused by a combination of factors including COVID-19 and climatic change. The government of Malta responded to this urgent need by donating over 500 tons of potato to vulnerable populations through its Overseas Development Agency funding.
As part of a wider Team Europe approach, Malta is gearing up to play an even more prominent role in development and capacity-building activity across Africa.
Beyond COVID-19, Africa’s focus rightly remains on the long-term vision – on job creation to provide dignified employment to its people, recognising that work gives people dignity and allows them to look after their families. With a population exceeding 1.3 billion on the continent of Africa, this is no mean feat, especially considering that 60 per cent of Africa’s population is under the age of 25.
The continent hosts the youngest population in the world so it is imperative that Africa’s youth are encouraged from now to enter into new job sectors and the economies of the future including digital, maritime and green economies. Given the right support in high level education and skills, African youth is fully capable of adding value to their countries and their resources for the benefit of their own people.
Malta recognises the huge potential of Africa- Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi
Prime Minister Robert Abela underlined this point when he highlighted that it would be a mistake if the EU engaged with African countries exclusively on migration. Our commitment should be to become trusted business partners to create more, better-quality jobs and opportunities by the people for the people and, thus, address the root causes of migration.
Malta recognises the huge potential of Africa and it is for this reason that the government of Malta is prioritising its activity in Africa through the establishment of diplomatic missions in East and West Africa and through the consolidation of links with the African Union which is increasingly playing a valuable role as a partner to the EU on issues of concerns and in areas of opportunity.
Africa is taking the lead in harnessing its own future through the launch of the African Continental Trade Agreement (AfCTA). The agreement was brokered by the African Union and requires members to remove tariffs within Africa on 90 per cent of goods, allowing free access to commodities, goods and services across the continent. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa estimates that the agreement will boost intra-African trade by 52 per cent by 2022.
The Secretariat of AfCTA is hosted in Accra, Ghana, where the Maltese government recently established its first diplomatic presence in Sub-Saharan Africa. Malta’s ongoing and successful efforts in Ethiopia and Southern Africa are complementary and are intended to provide a platform for Malta to both benefit and contribute to this anticipated growth across Africa.
Malta’s engagement with Africa is timely. As our economies readjust to the challenges of COVID-19, it is important for the EU to observe and support these developments on our neighbouring continent to ensure that African growth translates into better livelihoods for its people through improved quality jobs, better governance and more sustainable economies that will help us all plan for the new economies of the future.
Stefan Zrinzo Azzopardi is Parliamentary Secretary for EU Funds.