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Monday, 3 April, 2000, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Africa and Europe: Burying colonialism?

Delegates from Germany and Sierra Leone mingle in Cairo
The Cairo conference of African and European Union leaders brings together for the first time the world's poorest continent and the rich club of Europe, with all the imbalance that coupling implies.

Their shared aim is to forge a strategic partnership for the 21st century, burying the colonial legacy of earlier centuries. But they have come to Egypt with sharply different agendas.

EU agenda
Democracy
Corruption
Human rights
Conflict prevention
Arms/Drugs trafficking
Africa is crippled by mounting external debt, currently estimated at $350bn, which has risen at a rate of about 12% a year in the last 20 years.

African agenda
Debt relief
Foreign investment
Trade terms
The EU also wants to promote prosperity in Africa, from which it would benefit by creating larger, richer markets for European goods. But its priorities are fostering democracy and human rights on the continent, reducing corruption and finding ways to resolve or prevent the dozens of conflicts which have rocked many of Africa's 50-plus states.

Problem of debt

African leaders are reluctant to listen to European lectures on stability and good governance.


Africans want a fairer share of the global economy
Many resent what could be seen as little more than a revival of colonial interference, a reminder of the time when western European powers enriched themselves at Africa's expense.

African demands for a cancellation of ruinous foreign debts are unlikely to succeed, but they serve to dramatise the scale of the problem and might perhaps pave the way to a reduction or rescheduling.

As long as debtors must expend their capacities repaying loans and interest, they cannot afford to develop education, infrastructure and healthcare systems, to encourage investment and revive their economies.

In 1999 the EU put up nearly a billion dollars for debt relief in the world's poorest countries, but given the size of Africa's debt, the funds do not go very far.

Europe favours a solution which comes from existing bodies, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, but have agreed that meetings of a Europe-Africa working group will study the problem further.

Equal rights

Europe is offering better access for the sale of African goods in its markets on condition African countries take more care of their populations' human rights and root out corruption.

Rich and Poor
Case 1: France
Per capita GDP
$22,600
Life expectancy
78 years
Literacy
99%
Case 2: Burkina Faso
Per capita GDP
$1,000
Life expectancy
45 years
Literacy
19% (female 9%)
The bold aim is to halve poverty in Africa over the next 15 years, while African nations embrace liberal economic reforms and uphold democratic principles.

The other side of the argument is that equality is a human right too, and allowing Africa a fairer share of global wealth would have a far more significant impact on ordinary people than an end to authoritarian government.

In the end, it is in everyone's interest to reach a consensus on what should come out of European-African dialogue and the signs are that officials on both sides are prepared to overlook their disagreements in order to encourage a mutually beneficial partnership.

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See also:

15 Mar 00 | Africa
Debt relief for Mozambique
18 Jan 00 | Africa
Seeking growth in Africa
02 Jan 00 | Africa
Call to stop African arms trade
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