Not long ago, the leaders of the European Union(EU) and the African Union (AU) met in Lisbon to discuss issues of common interest.I suppose that this summit achieved its most important objectve, which is a photo opportunity to transmit to the whole world, and of course to show that Africa is an equal partner ;).
The relationship between Europe and Africa has always been a complicated one. It sounds like one between ex-couples.The reasons are not hard to find. Years of slavery, colonization, cold war, and winds of changes mean that there are many grudges to settle. Africans are still trying to co-exist within the artificial borders created by the Europeans. The mixture of people of no common ethnic, historical or language background continue to cause conflict in the continent. The African continent seems to have overcome the sponsored ideological wars caused by the East-West divide during the cold war days. Democratically elected governments are gradually replacing lifetime military puppets that had to deliver the wishes of their masters. Globalization has also meant that the world can no longer remain indifferent to what is happening in Africa, as everone becomes affected in the long run.
On the other hand, Europe needs all those natural resources coming Africa-oil, gold, diamonds, as well as the agricultural products-tea, coffee, fruit, cocoa, cotton and the rest.However, Europe is not happy that many Africans are finding all the possible means to move to Europe, and thinks that should be stopped by all means. Europe also wants to associate all its interaction with Africa with human rights and democracy. Many European leaders were very uncomfortable with the presence of Robert Mugabe at the summit and had it not been for the insistence of AU leaders that they would boycott the summit without Mugabe, he would have been dropped from the list. The Europeans do not want to discuss fair trade and subsidies.
There is a third factor-China. The entrance of the Chinese in Africa without pegging its relationship to human rights, religion, democracy, transparency and the rest sounds more like equal partners than the previous. This also means that Europe has a big competitor to face. China’s investment in Africa is huge. There are no grudges to settle.
This is not to say that the above mentioned problems-corruption, human rightsand the rest, are not serious problems for Africa. They are ,indeed. They are worth attention. However, there are a lot of other important issues on the table. You need equal partners to get things done. The Eastern European countries e.g. Latvia can play a very important role here. There are no colonial an other grudges to deal with. However, a lot of learning will have to be done in order to understand Africa. Talking about Africa only in terms of Aids, aids, poverty, conflicts is just unfair. Africa has a lot to learn from Eastern European countries in terms of development and democratisation.
As already mentioned, trust and understanding will have to be built. The Afro-Latvian Association (Afrolat) can play a very important role in bridging the gap between the two continents, and is already doing a lot in terms of informing people through stories that encourage mutual understanding.