Reshaping African-European Relations in Challenging Times


  • Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO, African Union Development Agency AUDA-NEPAD 
  • Koen Doens, Director General, European Commission DG DEVCO
  • Tanja Gönner, Chair of the Management Board, GIZ
  • Scientific input presented by Dr. Melanie Müller, Senior Associate, SWP

On October 7th, GIZ’s Berlin Representation hosted its fourth Web Talk on International Cooperation focusing on the topic “Reshaping African-European Relations in Challenging Times”. Against the backdrop of the postponement of the summit of the African (AU) and European Union (EU) due to Covid-19 and the European Union’s announcement of a new Comprehensive Strategy with Africa in March this year, the panellists discussed the expectations and priorities for a future EU-AU relation on both – the African and the European – side for building a coherent and cocreating approach. Dr. Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of the African Union Development Agency, Koen Doens, Director General at the European Commission’s Directorate for International Cooperation and Development and Tanja Gönner, Spokeswoman of the GIZ Board, discussed these issues in front of their digital audience by giving an insight into their perspectives and approaches on a new phase in the relationship between the two continents as well as obstacles and opportunities in the partnership. Dr. Melanie Müller from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) provided a scientific perspective to the discussion. The event was broadcasted via livestream on GIZ’s Twitter account, joined by many interested viewers who also made use of the tool Wisembly in order to pose their questions.

The EU-Commission declared 2020 to be a pivotal year for the EU-AU relations with the new Comprehensive Strategy with Africa and the projected EU-AU summit. With the global pandemic of Covid-19 and the resulting crises, the AU and EU are now searching for a new type of partnership while simultaneously facing new challenges.

In her opening statement, Tanja Gönner pointed out, how the GIZ – through the close cooperation with both the EU and the AUDA-NEPAD – positions itself as an integral part in strengthening the relationship between the two continents. The cooperation with the AU compliments the GIZ’s work in bi-lateral partnerships and the cooperation on a regional level. Especially the partnership with AUDA-NEPAD is of crucial importance to the GIZ in order to contribute jointly to sustainable and inclusive growth on the continent. According to Gönner, building back better and greener is a focal point in the face of Covid-19. Key factors of success in the cooperation are coherence and the integration of policies and activities at different organisational levels.

Koen Doens presented his perspective on the current situation as a paradox in which major trends like climate change, digitalisation and migration, are producing tectonic changes across all societies around the globe while simultaneously these global challenges seem to bring up a tendency to retreat into nationalism and isolationism instead of globalism. Regarding the relation of the EU and Africa, Doens put an emphasis on three essential procedures. Firstly, the unifying approach between the AU and the EU as a clear stand on promoting international cooperation in multilateral fora. Secondly, the restarting of the relation by taking intentions and interests from leaders on both sides into account and to rebalance an approach of cocreation by bringing Europe’s and Africa’s strengths, experiences and potential together. And thirdly, to design a joint agenda with the implementation of sustainability according to the Green Deal.

Dr. Mayaki supported Doens’ emphasis on multilateralism and stated, that the quality of the AU-EU relationship is crucial as it has a direct impact on strengthening multilateralism. At the core of the partnership, he sees a common destiny between the two continents which results in common agendas with topics of migration and climate change. Thus, the process of drafting critical priorities on which both can agree complimentarily, is simplified. Three characteristics are significant in the relation, according to Dr. Mayaki: The strengthening of multilateralism, the shaping of a common destiny with priorities directly linked to the Agenda 2030 and to elicit financial flows. Doens confirmed a common destiny, which must be directed from an emotional connection towards a rational interest-based angle to better detect shared interests. Gönner underlined the co-creative idea of Doens of blending experiences instead of transferring them onto Africa. She understands the role of the GIZ as a transmission machine to translate the differences into a coherent approach. Therefore, it is very valuable to have the AUDA-NEPAD as a partner organisation on the African continent in the technical development work.

With regard to the question of necessary steps to be taken to overcome a donor-recipient model in the relationship, Doens stated clearly: “It is not about Europe helping Africa.” It is rather about bringing ideas, potential and experiences together and putting the relation on cross- and intersected interests: “This has to be a fundamental change – a cultural change and a change of approach.”

“We talk about Africa as a monolithic kind of system, but there are several and different Africas”, stated Dr. Mayaki and argued, that intraregional differences must be considered in the EU-AU relations. Beyond that, cocreation and coproduction of solutions are extremely important.

Dr. Melanie Müller highlighted several points in her presentation of the scientific input. Firstly, she argued, that there is an emphasis in the EU-AU relation on an institutional character. But the focus should rather be on strengthening the voice of the AU, not only with focus on the relationship with the EU, but also in other international fora. The solutions are on the continent itself, for that Dr. Müller named the AU-Agenda-2063, the African free trade area and the security and peace agenda.

As a second point Dr. Müller stressed, that the topic of migration must be addressed in the discussion of future relations. African priorities are neglected while German and European interests on the African continent have increased in this field. “Interest in cooperation is often based on the interest of decreasing the migration to the EU”, Dr. Müller argued. She went on to say that migration and visa regulations must be addressed: “We won’t build an equal relationship if we don’t find equal visa regulations.”

Finally, the Covid-19 pandemic could divide the two continents through a focus on domestic recovery and security or facilitate cooperation by a joint strategy for a similar set of challenges that the continents face.

With a look to future developments, Dr. Müller said: “The postponing of the summit is unfortunate, but it gives us time to further develop ideas.”

Concerning the topic of migration, Doens stated: “The reality is, that our dialogue with Africa – both with the African Union and regional processes or individual countries – is a much richer one.” Intracontinental migration must be considered as well as return and readmission and legal migration. The EU is pursuing a trilateral approach between the EU, AU and the UN. According to Dr. Mayaki, migration is a multisectoral problem which needs to be tackled by an integrated manner and a frank discussion in order to find co-created solutions.

Against the backdrop of the Covid-19 crisis, Doens pointed out the EU’s commitment for an affordable and accessible vaccine and the support in strengthening health systems and their resilience. Dr. Mayaki described the challenges, such as the high unemployment rate and the institutional weaknesses on national and regional levels in Africa. The pandemic had the effect of a check-up for rethinking institutional processes and reprioritising targets as well as the better implementation of policies with faster acceleration. Not the government, but communities need to own the solutions and stop the spread of the virus. Therefore, trust needs to be built between the government and the communities. On a positive note, the main advantage of the African continent in the pandemic is the overall young population with a median age of 19, explained Dr. Mayaki.

Gönner concluded by highlighting the crucial importance of capacity building on the African continent for successful cooperation. A change in mindset as well as an approach of cocreation have the potential to create space for an improvement of the African-European relation.

You can still access the Livestream on the GIZ Twitter Account via this link.


Anton Scholz

GIZ-Representation Berlin

Reichpietschufer 20

10785 Berlin