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Explainer: Towards a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa

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Why does the EU need a new Strategy?

Africa is Europe’s closest neighbour. The ties that bind Africa and the European Union (EU) are broad and deep as a result of history, proximity and shared interests. It is time to take this relationship to the next level.

2020 will be a pivotal year for Africa-EU relations to realise the ambition of forging an even stronger partnership.

The new Partnership Agreement between the EU and the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States is expected to be concluded and the next EU-African Union Summit will take place in Brussels in October 2020 in view of defining a joint partnership agenda.

Both Africa and Europe face a growing number of shared challenges, including the effects of climate change and the digital transformation.

So Europe needs to partner with Africa to tackle together the common challenges of the 21st century. This is why this communication proposes new avenues for cooperation between the two continents to strengthen the EU’s strategic alliance with Africa

What is new in this proposal for a new Strategy?

The joint communication by the Commission and the High Representative is a contribution towards a new strategy with Africa. It sets out ideas to intensify cooperation in all aspects of the EU-Africa partnership. It proposes a comprehensive framework for future partnership to enable both sides to achieve their common goals and to tackle global challenges.

As a response to new, changing realities, the proposal for a strategy introduces a specific focus on the green transition and the digital transformation as key target areas for future cooperation.

More importantly, throughout the joint communication, the EU emphasises the need to fully take into account youth and women as well as their potential as agents of change. Responding to their aspirations will determine the future of the continent.

The proposal for a new strategy is a starting point to take the partnership to a new level based on a clear understanding of our respective and mutual interests and responsibilities. It aims at reflecting the comprehensiveness and maturity of our relationship in which the interests and values of both sides are brought together to promote joint cooperation on areas of common interest.

These include developing a green growth model, improving the business environment and investment climate, boosting education, research, innovation, the creation of decent jobs through sustainable investments, maximising the benefits of regional economic integration and trade, combatting climate change, ensuring access to sustainable energy, protecting biodiversity and natural resources, as well as promoting peace and security, ensuring well-governed migration and mobility and working together to strengthen the multilateral rules based order that promotes universal values, human rights, democracy and gender equality. Enhanced cooperation on global and multilateral affairs must be at the heart of our common action.

The EU and its Member States must adapt the way it engages with Africa ensuring its positioning is in line with our mutual interests and give more prominence to values, key principles and good regulatory practices in the light of the increased interest from many players in Africa’s potential.

What are the main challenges and areas of cooperation going forward?

The strategy identifies five key areas for deepened future cooperation between Europe and Africa.

These are: (1) green transition and energy access, (2) digital transformation, (3) sustainable growth and jobs, (4) peace and governance, (5) migration and mobility

Under each of these headings, the proposal for a new strategy sets out ways to deliver on common goals.

In addition, forging a strong political and enhanced cooperation on global and multilateral affairs will be at the heart of our common action.

Has the EU engaged with stakeholders to produce this strategy?

Today, the Commission and the High Representative presented the first elements of the strategy. There has been preliminary outreach before. Beside internal engagement with EU member states and members of the European Parliament, as well as with civil society, both formally and informally, the EU has reached out to African partners, including during the 10th Commission-to-Commission meeting on 27 February 2020 in Addis Ababa.

The proposals also build on the agenda jointly agreed at the 2017 African Union-EU Summit in Abidjan and on recent exchanges that took place at political level.

Today’s joint Communication set out proposals to feed in the ongoing dialogue with EU member states, African partners, as well as private sector, civil society and think thanks, which will be taken forward ahead of the next EU-African Union Summit in Brussels in October 2020.

The African Union-EU Ministerial meeting on 4-5 May in Kigali will be another opportunity to discuss the communication in depth at a more formal level with the African side.

The EU-African Union Summit in October 2020 should be the culminating moment when we hope to agree on a common way forward with our African partners to tackle joint priorities, which is our objective.

Will the new strategy replace the Joint Africa-EU Strategy set out in 2007?

The Joint Africa-EU Strategy in 2007 was an important step in the relationship between the EU and Africa. However, in 2007, the world was a different place and the reality of our partnership with Africa was in a different global context. In 2020, 13 years later, new opportunities and challenges occur – such as climate change, the digital transformation, inequalities, demographic pressures and global governance. Africa is a booming continent, with over recent years some of the quickest growing countries worldwide, and is attracting the attention of several other players. We live in a competitive global environment where global public goods are under threat. We have to adapt to these new realities and renew our partnership with Africa.

Today the EU proposes the potential priorities for this new partnership. The EU will continue to engage with our African partners in view of defining together our joint strategic priorities for the years to come.

How does this strategy fit with the European Commission’s broader objectives, such as the EU’s Green Deal and a focus on digital?

The European Commission wants to lead the transition to a healthy planet and a new digital world. On both of these issues, the EU’s engagement with Africa reflects those ambitions.

To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the EU and Africa alike need to opt for a low carbon, resource efficient and climate resilient future in line with the Paris Agreement.

The European Commission is committed to making Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent; in its external action, it proposes to partner with Africa to maximise the benefits of the green transition and minimise threats to the environment. This will include every aspect from the circular economy and sustainable value-chains and food systems through to promoting renewable energy, reducing emissions, protecting biodiversity and ecosystems, and advancing green and sustainable models of urbanisation.

African countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change as it risks jeopardizing the ongoing progress on sustainable development.

Similarly, the European Commission has vowed to create a Europe fit for the digital age; in its external action, it proposes to partner with Africa to promote and harness digital transformation in Africa and ensure access to safe and affordable digital services.

A 10% increase in digital coverage could boost by over 1% Africa’s GDP, according to estimations. With the right investment, infrastructure and regulatory framework, digitalisation has the power to transform African economies and societies. Moreover, the interdependence of the two continents means that the EU’s engagement with Africa is driven by its values and by its interests alike.

What economic ties exist between Europe and Africa?

The EU is Africa’s largest trade and investment partner, and the main supporter of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) with €72.5 million mobilised by the end of 2020.

In 2018, total trade in goods between the 27 EU member states and Africa was worth €235 billion – 32% of Africa’s total. This compares to €125 billion for China (17%) and €46 billion for the US (6%).

In 2017, the 27 EU Member States had foreign direct investment stock in Africa worth €222 billion – more than five times either the US (€42 billion) or China (€38 billion).

How much development and humanitarian aid does the EU provide in Africa?

The EU and its Member States are the leading provider of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Africa. In 2018, the EU and its 27 Member States provided €19.6 billion – 46% of the total which Africa received.

Furthermore, the EU, together with its Member States, is Africa’s leading donor of humanitarian aid. Since 2014, the European Commission itself has allocated more than €3.5 billion for humanitarian relief in Africa.  

The EU is currently negotiating its future long-term budget. Under the European Commission’s proposals, the new EU external funding instrument for the period 2021-2027 would have a global scope, but over 60% of the funds available would benefit Africa.

What is the EU doing to boost investment and job creation in Africa?

Africa is a continent of growing opportunities, with a young, innovative workforce and high levels of economic growth. The EU is Africa’s largest trade and investment partner.

We want to partner with Africa to:

– Boost trade and sustainable investments in Africa

– Promote policy reforms which improve the business environment and investment climate

– Increase access to quality education, skills, research, innovation, health and social rights

– Advance regional and continental economic integration

This can be achieved building on the work under the Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs announced in 2018 with the objective of creating 10 million jobs in five years, boosting investment and promote sustainable development. Through the EU External Investment Plan, a key part of the Alliance, the EU has already allocated €4.6 billion in funds for blending and guarantees since 2018. These funds should leverage €47 billion of public and private investment. Moreover, since 2018, the EU has also provided almost €1.4 billion to Africa to strengthen the business environment and investment climate.

The EU is proposing to turn the Alliance into the central pillar of economic relations between the two continents.

Will EU will prioritise trade, investment and economic growth over human rights? How will the strategy promoterespect for human rights?

Respect for human rights remains at the heart of the EU’s development cooperation, and therefore play a fundamental role in the proposal for a new strategy.

Respect for the universal human rights –political, civil, economic, social or cultural- will remain a key trait of our partnership.

Through the partnership for peace and governance, the EU will seek to join forces with African partners to promote full respect for human rights, acting at all levels. For example, the EU will continue to support human rights defenders and initiatives to reinforce civil society organizations. A more strategic and structured approach to human rights political dialogues with African countries will also be adopted, in complementarity with regular consultations with African regional organisations and the well-established consolidated AU-EU Human Rights Dialogue.

Development, meaning economic growth, can only be sustainable if it is built on a foundation of respect for human rights.

What does the EU do to promote peace and stability in Africa?

Peace and security are not only a basic need for all, they are also a pre-condition for economic and social development.

Peace, security, good governance and economic prosperity in Africa are also vital for the EU’s own security and prosperity.

The EU is already active in this field in Africa. It is currently providing advice and training to more than 30 000 African military, police and judiciary personnel through 10 Common Security and Defence Policy missions. In addition, the EU has provided €3.5 billion through the African Peace Facility since it was established in 2004, including €2.4 billion since 2014, to contribute to peace and military operations led by the African Union.

Additionally, more than one million people in sub-Saharan Africa have benefited from EU-supported post-conflict peace building and conflict prevention programmes since 2014.

Under the proposals set out in the strategy, the EU will adapt and deepen its support to African peace efforts through a more structured and strategic cooperation, with a particular focus on regions with the highest tensions and vulnerabilities. The EU proposes to support African capacity in defence and security, including through the European Peace Facility and its CSDP missions, and focus on an integrated approach to conflict and crisis, acting at all stages of the conflict cycle. This entails prevention, resolution and stabilisation efforts by well targeted humanitarian, development, peace and security actions.

Resilience should in particular be at the heart of African and EU efforts to address protracted conflict and fragility, given that resilience, peace, security and governance are intimately linked. The EU proposes in the strategy to support the efforts of our African partners to address the full spectrum of challenges and increase their overall resilience.

How will the EU partner with Africa on migration and mobility?

Demographic trends, the aspiration for economic opportunity, the ongoing conflicts and crisis and the impact of climate change will mean that the levels of migration and forced displacement will continue to pose both challenges and opportunities for both Europe and Africa.

Migration will remain one of the priorities of our partnership. Well-managed migration and mobility can have a positive impact on countries of origin, transit and destination alike and benefits both our societies.

Since 2015, the EU and African countries have developed a joint approach to managing the external aspects of migration and mobility,in the context of the dialogue and cooperation under the Valletta, Rabat and Khartoum processes, which has proven that together we can save and protect lives, assist those in need, and break the cruel business model of smugglers and traffickers.

The EU will partner with Africa on a balanced, coherent, and comprehensive approach to migration and mobility, guided by the principles of solidarity, partnership and shared responsibility and based on the respect for human rights and international law. Both issues of legal migration opportunities and improved cooperation on return and readmission will be part of the discussions on the way forward.

The EU promotes continent to continent dialogue on mobility and migration and will continue to enhance the trilateral cooperation between the African Union, the United Nations and the EU.

How will negotiations with the African, Caribbean and Pacific be reflected?

The EU and the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States are expected to conclude a new Partnership Agreement to replace the Cotonou Agreement, which will expire at the end of 2020. The future ACP-EU agreement covers a common foundation agreement, along with three specific partnerships tailored to each region, including one for EU relations with Sub-Saharan African countries that are party to the ACP Group of States. This will create a new legal framework for relations between the EU and the ACP countries.

The EU also has separate Association Agreements with four Northern African countries.

The overall relations between the EU and the AU are defined by the joint Summits, which take place every three years, and by the regular ministerial meetings, giving political steering to the continent-to-continent relationship.

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Rise of disinformation a symptom of ‘global diseases’ undermining public trust

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Societies everywhere are beset by “global diseases” including systemic inequality which have helped fuel a rise in disinformation, or the deliberate spreading of falsehoods, said the UN human rights chief on Tuesday, addressing the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Michelle Bachelet said the restoration of public trust was essential, as disinformation should really be seen as a symptom of diseases such as systemic inequality, which has seen “deep-seated discrimination” flourish, along with fragile institutions, a loss of trust in effective governance, and “limited rule of law”.

She said those countries impacted by inequality were now threatened with instability and frayed co-existence within society.

Flourishing amid discontent

“Disinformation spreads when people feel that their voices are not heard. It arises in contexts where political disenchantment, economic disparity or social unrest flourish”, she said.

“It flourishes when civil society, journalists, human rights defenders and scientists cannot work, assemble and speak freely. When civic space is limited or closed. When the human rights to freedom of expression and access to information are threatened.”

It can be fuelled by governments and public officials, potentially leading to hate crimes and violence.

But she warned governments against trying to “officially ordain what is false, and what is true, and then attach legal consequences to those determinations. Our human right to access and impart information, is not limited to only what is deemed by the State as ‘accurate’”.

She called for a focus on “assessing how communications are being revolutionized by technology and on unpacking who is responsible for what.

“We need to look at how best to contain the harms caused by disinformation, while addressing the underlying causes that give disinformation life and allow it to gain traction.”

She said the sheer speed and volume of information circulating online, meant that it could be easily manipulated, with campaigns using automatic tools, rapidly creating a “false impressions of broad popular support for or against certain ideas, or be used to counter and marginalise dissident voices and ideas.”

Organized disinformation campaigns are also being used to silence rights defenders, journalists, and minority voices, “and as a result of repeated attacks, women, minority communities and others can be deterred from participating in the public sphere.”

Fighting back

The international response has to be consistent with universal rights obligations, she warned.

“When we debate the best ways to respond, we need to understand that censorship is not only an ineffective medicine – it can actually harm the patient.” Freedom of expression and the right to access information are essential, she underscored.

“I therefore call on States to uphold their international obligation to promote and protect these rights, whatever the social ill they seek to mitigate. Maintaining a vibrant and pluralistic civic space will be crucial in this endeavour.”

She called for policies which support independent journalism, pluralism in media, and digital literacy, which can help citizens “navigate” the online world and boost critical thinking.

“States must also ensure wide and free access to information so that it reaches all communities and constituencies…Trust can never be achieved without genuine government transparency.”

Social media regulation ‘insufficient’

The human rights chief said that social media businesses have transformed the way information circulates, “and they have a clear role to play.”

“To start with, we must understand better how they affect our national and global debates. While platforms have taken welcome steps to enhance their own transparency, and redress channels, progress remains insufficient.

She called for independent auditing of social media companies’ services and operations, and more clarity on the way advertising and personal data is being handled.

“And we need access for researchers and others to the data within companies, that can help us better understand and address disinformation.”

Two steps

Ms. Bachelet told the Human Rights Council that there are two “critical needs” in the battle against rising disinformation.

First, we need to deepen our understanding and knowledge: we need more research on how the digital sphere has transformed media and information flows; on how best to build public trust within this environment; and on how different actors can contribute to countering disinformation operations.”

Secondly, she said all discussions had to be framed within human rights norms. “Shortcuts do not work here: censorship and broad content take-downs are an ineffective and dangerous response.”

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Abu Akleh shooting: fatal shot came from Israeli forces

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Veteran Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh spent a quarter century covering life under Israeli military rule. Photo: Al Jazeera

Israeli forces were behind the fatal shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank – not indiscriminate Palestinian firing – the UN human rights office, OHCHR, alleged on Friday.

Ms. Akleh – an experienced television journalist familiar with reporting in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – was killed on 11 May, as she attempted to report on an arrest operation by Israeli Security Forces and clashes in Jenin refugee camp in the northern occupied West Bank.

‘Deeply disturbing’

“More than six weeks after the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and injury of her colleague Ali Sammoudi in Jenin on 11 May 2022, it is deeply disturbing that Israeli authorities have not conducted a criminal investigation,” said OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani.

Following OHCHR’s own probe into the incident, Ms. Shamdasani added that “this monitoring from our Office is consistent with many findings out there that the shots that killed her came from Israeli Security Forces”.

Rejecting that conclusion, a statement issued by the Israeli mission in Geneva insisted that it was not yet possible to conclude who was responsible, in view of the Palestinian Authority’s “refusal to conduct a joint investigation and hand over the bullet”.

Final moments

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, Ms. Shamdasani described Ms. Akleh’s final moments, with her colleague, Ali Sammoudi.

“At around half past six in the morning, as four of the journalists turned into the street leading to the camp, wearing bulletproof helmets and flak jackets with ‘PRESS’ markings, several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired towards them from the direction of the Israeli Security Forces. One single bullet injured Ali Sammoudi in the shoulder, and another single bullet hit Abu Akleh in the head and killed her instantly.”

Highlighting how the OHCHR probe had followed the methodology used in many other country situations, Ms. Shamdasani explained that there was no evidence of activity by armed Palestinians close by.

Ms. Akleh and her colleagues “had proceeded slowly in order to make their presence visible to the Israeli forces deployed down the street”, Ms. Shamdasani said. “Our findings indicate that no warnings were issued and no shooting was taking place at that time and at that location.”

Every angle

She added: “We’ve inspected photo, video, audio material, we’ve visited the scene, we’ve consulted with experts, and we’ve looked at official communications; we’ve interviewed people who were also on the scene when Abu Akleh was killed…Based on this very vigorous monitoring, we find that the shots that killed Abu Akleh came from Israeli Security Forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians.”

After Ms. Abu Akleh was shot, “several further single bullets were fired as an unarmed man attempted to approach her body and another uninjured journalist sheltering behind a tree,” the OHCHR official continued. “Shots continued to be fired as this individual eventually managed to carry away Abu Akleh’s body.”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has urged the Israeli authorities to open a criminal investigation into the killing of Ms. Abu Akleh and into all other killings and serious injuries by Israeli forces in the West Bank.

Since the beginning of the year, OHCHR said that it had verified that Israeli Security Forces had killed 58 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 13 children.

“International human rights law requires prompt, thorough, transparent, independent and impartial investigation into all use of force resulting in death or serious injury,” said Ms. Shamdasani. “Perpetrators must be held to account.”

Israel has rejected the findings of the OHCHR probe, adding that the Palestinian Authority has not handed over the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh.

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EU-UNIDO projects highlight gender equality as key to climate action

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Ensuring that women and girls equally lead, participate in and benefit from environmental action are key priorities for the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). Speaking at an event held in connection with the Stockholm+50 conference, three women who participate in EU-UNIDO projects around the world told their stories. 

Opening the event, Gerd Müller, UNIDO Director General, and Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, both underlined that a healthy planet is impossible if gender inequalities persist. Therefore, women’s voices as leaders of circular economy, climate technologies and environmental preservation must be recognized and amplified.

Three projects from the EU-UNIDO cooperation portfolio were highlighted during the event.

Amira Saber, Member of the Egyptian Parliament and Secretary General of the Foreign Relations Committee, participates in the Parliamentary action on climate and energy project, which helps catalyze greater engagement of women MPs in renewable energy, energy access and sustainable transport issues. She said that “voices of women are not well represented in the issue of climate change, neither as negotiators, nor as policymakers. Through my NGO, which was founded to close the gap between civil society organizations and policymakers, we’ve been helping with many trainings to build the capacity of women-led organizations, to train women, to give them data and to help implement their projects on the ground.”

She continued, “I want all the women figures in senior policymaking who are influential in their countries and in their surroundings to understand and to stand very solid on the importance of the critical issues, which we’re talking about: climate change.”

Lep Mary, a Cambodian business owner, is part of the CAPFISH project, which supports the Cambodian government’s efforts to achieve sustainable development, climate resilience and inclusivity of the country’s freshwater and marine fisheries resources. Mary noted that “with the support of the UNIDO-CAPFish project, we are able to address most of our challenges related to food safety compliance while enhancing capacity of our suppliers along the value chain on food safety practices. The support will also help to improve environment plans regarding waste management and the safety of workers.”

The Youth Rising project supports vocational education and training for young people in Liberia. Esther Gheh Isatta Javillie, who is part of the project, said that ”the local carpenter producers are all-male. We have this stereotype in Liberia that technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is really for males”.

The event was organized by UNIDO and the EU in association with the Stockholm+50 conference, which commemorates the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment and celebrates 50 years of global environmental action. It was moderated by Cecilia Ugaz Estrada, Director of UNIDO’s Office for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women.

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