Apirl 1, 2014
The head of the EU’s huge aid programme to Africa warned on Tuesday that tying investment on the continent to democratic reforms risked backfiring if viewed as neo-colonialism.
“I would always warn against linking the two things directly, because it seems like blackmailing,” the European Union’s Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs told AFP.
He emphasised that conditions on aid were necessary, but said African governments might view them as a “colonial tool”.
Speaking at the margins of the fifth EU-Africa Business Forum in Brussels, Piebalgs said that as a Latvian, whose country had been “colonised” by the Soviet Union, he understood these sensitivities.
The EU and its 28 member states are the largest donors of development assistance to Africa, spending over 18.5 billion euros in 2012 — over half of the state support provided worldwide to combat poverty on the continent.
“If a government is improving human rights and is a stable democracy, we provide support directly to that government. If that is not the case we work through projects.” Piebalgs said.
“So there is some carrot in this process, but there is no stick,” he said.
While the EU leads the world in aid to Africa, in 2009 it was overtaken by China as Africa’s leading trading partner, with Chinese companies making large investments in the continent.
Piebalgs said China’s growing presence was positive, because the “need for investment in Africa is so huge” that the EU cannot be the only player.
But he also called on donor countries, including China and India, to improve accountability and transparency, and said there should be greater coordination of international efforts in Africa.
“It does not help if we have the same role, in the same place, but with two different (forms of) financing competing,” he said.
African and EU leaders meet in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday for an EU-Africa summit which will bring together some 80 states from both continents.