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Progress and Pitfalls: Development Policy Forum Africa Summit


Progress and Pitfalls: Development Policy Forum Africa Summit

Progress and Pitfalls: Development Policy Forum Africa Summit
Andris Piebalgs. Photo credit: epa | Warnand

Speech by Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Development, at the Friends of Europe’s Development Policy Forum (DPF) annual Africa Summit entitled ‘Africa: Progress and Pitfalls’, on Tuesday, 24 June in Brussels.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction: Africa today

In a matter of decades, Africa has emerged from the shadows of colonial rule, apartheid, crippling debt and economic stagnation. It has entered a new era of unprecedented economic and demographic growth.

Today it is the most dynamic continent, considered the world’s growth “reservoir”. It has a number of assets that will be vital to its ability to unleash its full potential. Let me highlight just two.

1. Economic dynamism

First, there is growth. Between 2003 and 2011, while much of the world was stuck in recession, average GDP in Africa grew by 5.2 percent. In 2012, eight of the ten fastest-growing economies were African.

2. The youngest continent

Second, there is human capital. Africa has the fastest-growing population in the world – and the youngest, too. In 1900, Africa represented 7% of the world population; today it represents 16% and it is estimated that in 2100, it will represent 38%. Between 2010 and 2015, Africa's working age population will more than double. And by 2050, a quarter of the world’s working age population will be African.

Challenges ahead (pitfalls)

You will agree, then, that in many respects Africa’s progress has been astounding. And with much of its potential still untapped, the path ahead looks promising. However, there will be many pitfalls to avoid along the way. For Africa is also a continent of contrasts. A number of huge challenges still prevent it from fully exploiting its potential.

First, governance is still an issue. The 2013 Mo Ibrahim index showed that while most African countries had experienced widespread human development and improved economic opportunities since 2000, average scores in the safety and rule of law category had declined sharply.

Second, violent conflict and the threat of extremism continue to dog the continent. The conflicts in Central African Republic, Mali, South Sudan and Somalia in particular have grabbed headlines worldwide.

Third, famines, pandemics and climate change impacts are an ever-present danger.

And fourth, solid economic performance still hides huge inequalities, which may prove destabilising. In sub-Saharan Africa the number of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day has fallen from 56 to 41 per cent. And yet this is the only region where the number of people living in extreme poverty has risen steadily – from 290 million in 1990 to 414 million in 2010. In all, more than a third of the world’s poor live in sub-Saharan Africa.

In short, today is the time to finally unlash Africa's huge and unrivalled potential. And I am very confident that this can be done. In recent years I have noticed strong willingness among African leaders and citizens alike to change the perception of Africa. They want Africa to become a continent of opportunity and success rather than a land of starving children and poverty. They want former and unjustified stereotypes to disappear once for all. In this regard, the African Union’s long-term strategy, Agenda 2063, sets out a vision and a plan to make full use of Africa’s potential to give its people a brighter future.

More than ever, Africa is taking its destiny in its own hands while Europe is ready to remain Africa’s steadfast and reliable partner to make its vision a reality.

EU-Africa: a privileged partnership

The EU-Africa Summit which took place in last April demonstrated once again the privileged relationship both continents have The EU is Africa’s main development partner. It is its biggest trading partner and its top investor.

Despite the economic crisis, in 2012 the EU as a whole committed 18.5 billion euro, or 45 per cent of global aid, to Africa. Between now and 2020, the Commission alone will provide more than 28 billion euro in development assistance for Africa.

Aid really does work, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thanks to EU development assistance, since 2004 around 14 million new pupils have enrolled in primary education and more than 70 million people have been connected to improved drinking water worldwide. Over the same period, the EU has helped construct or renovate more than 8 500 health facilities worldwide. Between 2007 and 2012, the EU helped provide access to electricity to over 600 thousand households in Africa, with around 80 thousand jobs being created in the energy sector.

These great results have been possible because donors and partner countries have worked together to achieve them.

And yet, with the MDG deadline only some 500 days away, much remains to be done. Progress has been uneven and most sub-Saharan countries are still lagging behind.

We must all redouble our efforts to finish the unfinished work and put Africa on the road to inclusive and sustainable growth for good.

Inclusive and sustainable development and poverty eradication strategy through the Agenda for Change

The enormous changes in many African and developing countries, and a belief that we could and should get even better poverty eradication results from our development funds were some of the factors in my decision to carry out a fundamental reform of EU development policy to make it even more focused and effective.

With the Agenda for Change the EU has set up a strategy that goes beyond the symptoms to tackle the very root causes of poverty. It is based on three principles: targeting our funds to those countries most in need; concentrating funds on a limited number of strategic sectors where we can have the greatest impact; and placing special emphasis on results.

Over the last three years, we have put these principles in action.


In today’s world, we can’t cooperate with China, India or Brazil as we do with Senegal, Somalia or Bangladesh. In the negotiations on the multiannual financial framework to set the European Union’s budget from 2014 to 2020 we succeeded in maintaining high levels of aid. Our aid budget, amounting to 50.1 billion euro, will be mostly targeted towards the poorest countries where our aid really has an added value. Indeed, 70 per cent of EU bilateral cooperation will be allocated to Least Developed Countries and other low-income countries. With 24 of the 25 poorest countries in 2013 located in Africa, the continent will be our major partner.

Concentration of aid

The focus of our support will be directed to the three critical sectors for development identified by the Agenda for Change. They are, first, human rights, democracy and other key elements of good governance; second, drivers for inclusive and sustainable growth – notably agriculture and energy; and third, human development.

Human development will remain a key feature of our development. We will therefore continue to allocate at least 20% of EU funding on health and education.

This means, for example, that the EU will more than double its funding for vaccines and immunisationworldwide, from 10 million to 25 million euro per year. We also strengthen our support to the Global Partnership for Education, whose objective is to achieve universal education goals by putting all 57 million primary-school-aged children in school and providing good quality learning. The Commission plans to double its contribution to the Partnership at the Replenishment conference on 26 June.

Likewise, to escape poverty, countries must be able to feed their people and secure their energy supply. That is why we see agriculture and energy as catalysts for sustainable growth. For the next 7 years, agriculture and food security will be a focal sector in more than 30 African countries. In today’s world of abundance, it is indeed unacceptable to see starving children, as I have seen in Somalia and Djibouti for instance. More than 3 billion euro will be allocated to support sustainable agriculture activities and around 3.5 billion euro to fight against stunting.

Energy will also be an important focal sector. Under the Sustainable Energy for All initiative the EU will allocate more than 3 billion euro to energy over the next 7 years, which will in turn leverage investments exceeding 15 billion euro. I recently announced the launch of 16 energy projects across 9 African countries under our new rural electrification programme. These actions will translate into projects bringing electricity to more than 2 million people in rural areas and will move us closer to our target of connecting 500 million people by 2030.

So growth is an important factor in development. Yet we must not forget how fragile it can be without solid institutions and governance to support it. The Arab Spring has shown that there is a real thirst for transparency, accountability and respect for human rights. This is the reason why 25 per cent of the funds we allocate will be directed to good governance-related sectors, including support for civil society.

Beyond these three main principles under the Agenda for Change, I must add a word on our support forpeace and security. We all have in mind the terrible images of violence in Central African Republic or South Sudan. The EU is playing a critical role in those countries torn apart by conflicts which destroy any gains made in development and push millions of people back in extreme poverty.

We have contributed more than 1.2 billion euro since 2004 to help finance Africa-led peace support operations, in Somalia, Sudan, Mali or CAR.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Africa-EU partnership not only deals with concrete projects and development aid. It is also about cooperating on global political issues – such as the post 2015 agenda.

What is at stake is critical: it is about putting the world on track towards poverty eradication and sustainable development.

The EU made its position clear last year. We believe that the post-2015 framework should have poverty eradication and sustainable development at its core, and include five main elements: basic living standards; inclusive and sustainable growth; sustainable management of natural resources; equity, equality and justice; and peace and security.

When the African Union adopted its common position on the post-2015 framework last January, I was very pleased to see that it is extremely close to the EU position. During the last Africa-EU Summit, African and European leaders recognised that defining the post-2015 agenda provides – and I quote – a “unique opportunity to realise our common vision of a peaceful, just and equitable world that is free of poverty and respects the environment”.

Both sides also committed to “work in partnership to support the definition and of an ambitious, inclusive and universal post-2015 development agenda that should reinforce the international community's commitment to poverty eradication and sustainable development”.

We must now turn these fine words into real action by engaging further in the moves to set up an ambitious agenda ahead of the intergovernmental negotiations in 2015.

Conclusion: future relations with Africa

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The time has come for Africa and Europe to leave behind the traditional donor-recipient relationship and to develop a shared long-term vision for our relations in a globalised world.

That’s why we’ve agreed to build a strong political relationship and cooperate closely in a broad range of priority areas – from peace and security to social and human development and economic and trade cooperation. Our relationship is founded on shared values, shared interests and shared strategic objectives. It strives to bring Africa and Europe closer together through stronger economic cooperation and more sustainable development, with both continents living side by side in peace, security, democracy, prosperity, solidarity and human dignity.

Ours is a partnership of mutual interests. When terrorist activities spread in Africa or migration flows become unmanageable, they threaten Africa and Europe alike. Likewise, when Africa’s growth increases or inter-African trade expands, the opportunities for both Africa and Europe are evident.

We may not agree on everything, but with a sense of common responsibility we can work together to find common solutions. That’s what a partnership of equals is all about. It’s a partnership to which we can and must aspire.

Thank you.


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