More than 30 African and European heads of state and the heads of global financial institutions met in Paris for this year's Africa-France summit. Their goal was to find ways to finance African economies hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic and discuss how to handle the continent's billions of dollars in debt.
Although Africa has so far not been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and has a total of 130,000 deaths across the continent, compared with 3.4 million worldwide, most African economies are highly dependent on countries outside the continent, which have been highly affected by the pandemic.
The IMF warned in late 2020 that Africa faces a financial shortfall of almost $300 billion (€246 billion) by the end of 2023 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A major concern of the summit was, therefore, to figure out how African countries could be supported in financing their economies given the challenges caused by the pandemic.
While initiatives to support African countries in dealing with the pandemic and their debt might show European concern towards the continent, there is a need for fair economic cooperation.
Fair economic cooperation
The COVID-19 crisis led to a fall in commodity prices and increased costs of imports. Additionally, income from tourism, remittances and raw materials also dropped. These are among the legacies of colonialism, of which France has been a major player. The coronavirus pandemic and its economic effect on African countries is another reminder that countries need to diversify their economies and facilitate internal trade.
But there is a need for fair trade deals to be signed between African countries and the rest of the world. French President Emmanuel Macron, who hosted the summit, and his EU counterparts are currently in the process of signing and ratifying the post-Cotonou deal with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. If France is really concerned about dealing with post-pandemic challenges, it should use its influence to ensure that African countries are getting a fair-trade deal with the entire 27-member EU.
European-African relations in post-pandemic era
As it stands, the coronavirus pandemic has shown, once again, that the world is more connected than we think and that the economy isn't the only place where we all depend on each other. Macron was clear about the future challenges Europe would face if it abandoned Africa: reduced economic opportunity, larger flows of migration toward Europe and a growing terrorism threat.
These points, however, are nothing new. So far, the focus has been on French concerns about African countries and trying to find solutions to help them. That's all fine and good, but it also needs to be made clear that France does this mainly to ensure its own economic, social and security interests.
Both of those aspects should be laid on the table to have a real, mutual exchange of interests between European and African countries. Dealing with COVID-19 challenges in both Europe and Africa will require equal partnership based on fair cooperation.