The fourth European Union-Africa Summit will take place in Brussels on 2-3 April 2014. It will bring together Heads of State and leaders from the institutions and organs of both continents. This Summit is a follow-up of previous ones held in Cairo (2000) Lisbon (2007) and Tripoli (2010). The forthcoming event is an important time of to reflect on the value, lessons and commitments for the future of the partnership.
The two continents now strongly recognise shared interest and vision in intercontinental and global affairs. Addressing terrorism, piracy, unemployment, human rights violations, peace and security concerns, democracy deficits are some of the examples that affect both continents irrespective of where they happen.
Through the Africa-Europe strategy adopted in 2007 and first action plan adopted in 2010, both continents have partnered in addressing common challenges and promoting common interest and shared vision.
The partnership has undoubtedly been useful to both Africa and Europe. The two continents have worked together in promoting democracy and human rights, trade, peace and security and social issues. It is common knowledge that before year 2000 elections were not common in many parts of Africa and where attempts were made they fell far below standard. Consequently, nearly one third of the continent was in perpetual conflict, in most cases occasioned by or a consequence of coup detats. Election observation and recommendations of both African Union and European Union have progressively been reflected in electoral reforms in many parts of Africa. The African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance came into force in 2013 and provides an important standard on which to benchmark democracy in Africa.
Further, efforts have been made to improve the human rights situation in Africa and Europe. The African Union completed its human rights strategy while the institutional framework for the promotion and enforcement of human rights in Africa has been improved. Specifically, the work of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well as the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights have gained recognition in Africa. This as it may, citizens especially in Africa continue to suffer human rights violations especially regarding the right to freedom of expression, association and information.
The partnership between Africa and Europe has contributed to addressing piracy and terrorism. These problems affect trade, life and property, human rights and escalate impunity. They also provide convenient excuse for lack of accountability. Through concerted efforts an African Union led process with support of the European Union there has been progress generally in Africa but most especially in Eastern and Central Africa where both problems had escalated.
Although the partnership has only been part of the contribution, it has provided an important framework. For example, during the Arab spring, debate on African democracy and need for regular, free and fair elections became significant both in Africa and around the world.
The 4th Summit is significant in several respects. The negotiations that have preceded the Summit have been coordinated by the African Union and the issue of engaging Africa as one has been prominent. Africa has pushed for key areas for its development including infrastructure, energy, democracy and human rights. Promoting trade and addressing illegal migration have also come prominently on the European side while cooperation and consideration of joint positions at global level has also been considered.
Civil society under the coordination of Africa- Europe Joint Steering Committee convened an intercontinental forum from October 23-25, 2013 in Brussels to review Africa-Europe partnership and propose areas for attention at the 4th Summit and second joint-Africa-Europe action plan. A general conclusion was that citizens should be at the centre of the partnership.
What is the role of citizens in the partnership?
The Lisbon Declaration envisaged and recognised the role of civil society in the partnership. However, previous engagements between Africa and Europe have not fully nurtured this role. Consequently, not many ordinary citizens are aware about this partnership, its structures and benefits. Importantly, the shared vision and interest in democracy, development, human rights, transparency, mutual accountability and inclusive development have largely remained boardroom matters of the partnership. The African Union has a vision of building a people centered Union. This is true also for Europe that strides to ensure that they are accountable to citizens in decision they make.
The new action plan for the partnership must address the central role of citizens. The role of civil society should be clarified right from the beginning to include promotion and popularisation of the partnership, its focus and priorities to citizens. Civil society in Africa and Europe should monitor the implementation of commitments by both Commissions and Unions to ensure that the partnership produces lasting benefits for citizens. Efforts should be made to ensure that all organs and institutions in the two continents are brought on board to understand and implement commitments in the partnership.
Civil society space should protected and guaranteed at the highest decision making level in the partnership. Further, the two Commissions should ensure that funding for civil society work go beyond support for coordination meetings to cover planned activities of Steering Committees in Africa and Europe.
Citizens need unhindered access to information not just about the partnership but everything including matters covered by the partnership such as conduct of elections, trade negotiations and treaties and concessions and other matters of the two continents. For this reason that ratification and effective implementation of treaties that guarantee the right of access to information should be given high priority in the action plan and the upcoming Pan-African Programme.
Finally, the Summit should agree mechanisms to facilitate lesson learning from this partnership that may be of relevance to other partnerships. For example, what be of use in the Africa-China partnership or what could the Africa-Europe partnership learn from other partnerships.
Gilbert SendugwaAfrica Freedom of Information CentreMember, Africa CSO Steering Committee