The Lisbon EU--Africa Summit: Africa stands firm.

Position:Conference news

The significance of last month's EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, goes well beyond immediate trade and diplomatic concerns. It marks a seismic change in the relationship between the two continents. It is likely to go down in history as the moment when Africa's economic independence was finally declared. Analysis by African Business editor, Anver Versi.


If British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan's 'Winds of change' speech in 1960 signalled the end of the colonial era and the birth of independent Africa, the Lisbon summit has signalled the end of European paternalism and the beginning of Africa's economic independence.

On the face of it, the EU-Africa Summit was almost a non-event. There was no agreement on trade issues, little real movement on African immigration to Europe and the usual nodding of heads towards issues like governance, human rights and international security.


But peel away the surface and the whole superstructure appears subtly but irrevocably changed. The drama may have been low key but it was intense. At Lisbon, Africa stood firm in the face of strong challenges and Europe was forced to yield ground.

"The wind of change is blowing through this continent (Africa). Whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is political fact"--Harold Macmillan, 1960 in a speech first delivered in Accra, later in Cape Town.

"In terms of our relations with Africa, there should be an end to colonialism, moralism and paternalism"--Louis Michel, EU commissioner for development, 2007 in Lisbon.

This was a robust and honest acknowledgement by Michel that the relationship between Africa and Europe has been uneasy at best and that behind the facade of honeyed words and outpourings of concern, Europe has viewed the continent primarily as a burden rather than as an opportunity. Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Socrates, as host of the event, alluded to this in a round about way: "This summit is a summit of equals," he said. "There are no minor cultures; there are no superior civilisations." This statement in itself was an admission that Europe has considered itself a 'superior civilisation' in its relationships with the 'minor cultures' of Africa.

Europe had wanted to start the conference on a clean slate. It wanted to 'bring to a close its colonial guilt' and asked Africa not to play the 'colonial victim' card.


Africa's response was given by Alpha Oumar Konare, the chairman of the AU Commission. He agreed that it was time to drop the colonial tag--but not quite in the same sense that Europe had framed it. "It is time to bury definitively the colonial past. We can no longer be merely exporters of raw materials. We can no longer accept being solely an import market for finished goods."

On the question of making a fresh start in relations, he said succinctly: "This is a point of departure but one very much informed by history. Africa is not poor. That is the paradox. This poverty is not fate. It is the result, we have to admit, of unequal relations. It is also the result of bad governance."

This was as fair a comment as any that emerged from a conference that was refreshingly candid on a number of issues. The blame for Africa's current state of poverty and underdevelopment lay equally with the neo-colonial attitudes adopted by Europe and...

To continue reading