Calls for a change of the terms of the Africa-EU relationship have been a leitmotiv of the discussions of the different lunch-time seminars organised by the support mechanism to the Africa-EU Partnership ahead of the IV Summit of 2-3 April 2014.
With the fastest growing economy in the world in the past few years, and contrasting with the economic hardship experienced by several Western and EU States, voices are increasingly raised on the European side for more political engagement and less financial dependency from Africa on the EU.
If speakers at the event were all converging in underscoring the necessity to move beyond the donor/recipient relationship that currently underpins the Africa-EU partnership, some went as far as to say that the language of “development” should be scrapped from our vocabulary when defining the nature of the relationship.
Theory on language in political science, and research on the linguistic construction of our understanding of events and developments abound. The use of specific narratives can legitimise courses of action, as it can also constrain and frame them into a given paradigm. In this respect, the term of “development”, and its corollary of “aid”, was perceived as a point of contention in the current state of play.
Indeed, both donors and recipients have come to articulate their relationship and interactions through the spectacles of development aid. If, despite all criticisms, progress was achieved in some chapters of the partnership under the current setup, today’s challenge is to move beyond this limited approach which has contributed to imposing barriers on the development of a truly equal partnership.
The consequences of the monolithic approach in EU policy-making towards Africa are manifold. Not only does the language on development, almost incessantly coupled with the submissive term “aid” (development aid), confine the different actors into a donor/recipient relationship, but it also limits the spectrum of actors, initiatives, and policies that are included in the partnership to the development community. To bring about mutually beneficial changes (peace, democratic governance, economic growth, regional and continental integration), a wider representation of all sectors of activities should be taken into consideration and involved in the process. In this sense, participants deplored the fact that an extreme focus on development has led to an over-representation of actors from the development community on the ground and in political negotiations, whereas entrepreneurs for example, are treated with suspicion.
On this note, calls were voiced for a review of the vocabulary used to qualify the content of the African-EU relationship, so as to change the way challenges the continent faces are viewed and tackled. One of the suggestions that was brought to the table aimed at replacing “poverty reduction” by “wealth creation”, a task in which entrepreneurs, and most importantly young entrepreneurship have a fundamental role to play.
To illustrate the power and impact of language on overall perceptions, understanding, and definition of actors’ roles and relations, one can look at the least economically performing regions of Europe. The policies adopted towards these regions are never qualified as development policies or aid; instead, one talks about job creation, growth, and investment.
So, is it all about development?
“Development” has come to reach far beyond its sole economic dimension, as it encompasses initiatives in a series of areas; infrastructures, health, conflict preventions etc. It is clear that the work and efforts that the development community has dedicated to Africa in the past decade cannot be scrapped and replaced by a mere reference to investment.
However, there seems to be a consensus over the difficulties created by the development terminology for the Africa-EU partnership. Will the next Summit tackle this impediment?