Africa’s place in the world has changed drastically over the last decades. With a young, self-assured and well-connected population, it is claiming a more prominent position on the world stage. Geo-political interest in the continent has surged, with countries such as China, India, the Gulf States, Russia and Turkey having increased their presence across Africa in the competition for good-will and resources. In this context, the influence of the EU and the Netherlands is waning. Africans look to Europe with mixed feelings, as the continent represents a bounty of opportunities while also harbouring a colonial past that seems to apply double standards at times. In view of continued instability, armed conflict and unrest, as well as persistent gaps in living standards when compared to European societies, more cooperation is not only necessary, but urgently needed.
Responding to calls from the Dutch Parliament and the government’s Advisory Council for International Relations to redefine Dutch cooperation with Africa so that it stands on equal footing and is based on mutual interests, the Netherlands and its African partners have begun formulating a 10-year strategy. Consultations with stakeholders from civil society, academia and diplomacy from Africa and the Netherlands have provided a starting point for the Netherlands’ first continent-wide strategy. With the EU as our primary vehicle for action, we are committed to contributing towards the African Union’s Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want, which will extend those elements of the SDG agenda that we are committed to beyond 2030.
The Africa Strategy of the Netherlands is an integrated agenda relating to 1) economic development on an equal footing, 2) security and stability, 3) migration, reception and return and 4) poverty reduction, sustainability and inclusion. Having been published in May 2023 and discussed in Parliament in early October 2023, implementation has just started and is being followed with a fixed action agenda for the short, medium and long term. Concrete actions include aiming for dialogue with African countries on priorities in the framework of EU Global Gateway projects, improving matters regarding the issuing of visas for entrepreneurs from growth markets and strengthening local civil society on the basis of local ownership. At the same time, “how to” questions still remain, especially with regard to ensuring genuine equality in the implementation of the strategy.
What does equality and the pursuit of shared interests mean in practice? What language and attitudinal changes are needed to genuinely build equal relations? How does this relate to different fields of implementation – from diplomacy, trade promotion and knowledge exchange to development programming? How do we ensure a sustainable government-wide commitment? How do we shape an effective monitoring and evaluation process while highlighting what works and what does not? And how do we involve our African partners throughout?
Finding answers to these questions requires attitudinal changes on the part of diplomats, business people and development professionals as well as other Dutch actors with connections to Africa. Equality requires a mutual understanding of positions, looks for cooperation on the basis of shared interests and puts the relationship first. More engagement is needed with partners across the African continent to ensure this strategy delivers the desired results – from government, civil society and business to academia. It also requires working with domestic and international implementation partners. In the process of formulating our strategy, we looked closely at the strategic approaches of our friends in Europe. Initiative taken by the German Government, in particular by formulating the BMZ Africa Strategy and currently the revision of the Africa Policy Guidelines, are a point of influence and very welcome. . Germany has taken responsibility for its historical legacy by addressing the more difficult periods of its past and drawing lessons on how future generations may live together. Similarly, the Netherlands and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs are trying to take on their historical responsibility to address colonialism, slavery and institutional racism. Having adopted a Feminist Foreign Policy that is focussed on addressing systematic inequality world-wide, the current Africa Strategy is a logical next step for the Netherlands to take regarding its international responsibility.
Lofty declarations and policy objectives alone are not enough. The challenge is for governments in Europe as well as Africa to take responsibility and move towards a secure, just and prosperous future. In this endeavour of working towards mutual interests and benefits, there is a possibility to lead by example and share the opportunities for leadership with the women, men and youth in Africa, Europe and beyond.
Disclaimer: This blog post provides the author’s perspective on the Netherlands’ Africa Strategy for 2023-2032. Though it reflects on a strategy submitted by Ministers to parliament, it may not precisely and fully reflect the position of the Government of the Netherlands. The author is an independent advisor within the government, contributing to the diversity of thought.
Dr Melle Leenstra is Strategic Policy Advisor at the Africa Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (BZ) of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
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