Rethinking cooperation with Africa

Photo of a chruch in Addis Abbeba

What could international cooperation look like that promotes economically, socially and environmentally sustainable development in the interests of the global common good? A few weeks ago, Andreas Freytag and Stefan Liebing argued here that modern cooperation with Africa had to be based on private-sector investment, market principles in project selection, and competition between partner countries for international investment. Paternalism in development policy should be replaced with principles of competition and the social market economy.

Private-sector investment and a better link between the private sector and development policy are indeed absolutely necessary for creating jobs and long-term prosperity. However, against the backdrop of the health and socio-economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the consequences of climate change, resource degradation, and the effects of demographic change in Europe and Africa, introducing more market principles into development policy will not be sufficient to create sustainable cooperation. Interlinkages and interdependencies in our immediate and broader neighbourhood affect us all, one way or the other. Consequently, cooperation with Africa must be refined into a transformative partnership. Depending on the regional and country contexts in question, this partnership should be designed differently. This requires a shift in perspective, or “attitude” to quote former Federal President Horst Köhler, and innovative cooperation structures.


Why a shift in perspective? For decades, cooperation with Africa has been characterised by the unilateral perception that the problems are in Africa and Europe helps to solve them through knowledge, technology and finance. This one-dimensional view is simply inaccurate. There is too much overlap between global issues that Europe, Africa and others can only tackle together. Conventional development models with a one-sided focus on economic growth are outdated. Instead, the priority is to create sustainable employment and achieve social cohesion and ecological compatibility. The European Union aims at the ambitious goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050. The African Union has adopted ambitious development goals with its Agenda 2063 and is discussing issues such as how to expand access to energy and what role renewable energies could play in this. European and African partners need to work together to organise the process of identifying ways to shape key areas of transformation. Transregional value chains must be restructured jointly.


This interconnectedness of the transformative pathways of Europe and Africa can be illustrated by two specific examples. First, if Europe is to achieve the energy transition, then some of its renewables will most likely need to be imported in future. Green hydrogen from African countries could play a key role here in the long term. Second, the situation is similar in the European electromobility sector, with its dependence on cobalt, the vast majority of which is imported in raw form from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Demand for cobalt imports continues to rise with the roll-out of electromobility. These dependencies need to be leveraged strategically in order to increase the added value of cooperation for both partners. Cobalt mining practices, for instance, should not only guarantee compliance with human-rights and social standards, but also increase the proportion of local value creation. The case of green hydrogen, our first example, local value creation implies that European and African partners should drive technological development together, first investing in energy access in Africa before exporting to Europe. This could benefit economic players and societies on both continents. However, this is predicated upon more in-depth dialogue in education, research and technology as the basis for joint development of solutions.


A transformative partnership must work with African partners to develop ambitious visions of the future, geared to reform needs in key areas of activity in Africa and Europe alike. To this end, reform projects have to be devised in close dialogue between the private sector, policy-makers, researchers and civil society on both continents. By way of example, the European Commission has set up a number of task forces since 2018 on sustainable investment in energy, agriculture, transport and digitalisation. This approach should be strategically expanded and systematised in conjunction with economic development measures in order to achieve a transformative partnership.


Shared interests and mutual dependencies are the strategic foundation for transformative, partnership-focused cooperation with Africa. It is not about a one-sided focus, whether on “African” or “European” challenges. As illustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the consequences of climate change and peacebuilding work in the Sahel region: market-based competition stands alongside, not above, state intervention and reflexive governance.


This blog contribution is based on an article “„Mehr Markt“ reicht für Kooperation mit Afrika nicht aus” in German language, published by the authors in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

Photo: Anna-Katharina Hornidge is Director of the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)

Anna-Katharina Hornidge is Director of the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) and holds a professorship for Global Sustainable Development at the University of Bonn. She is a development and knowledge sociologist by training. Before moving to DIE and the University of Bonn, she headed the social science department at the Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research and held a professorship at the University of Bremen.

Image: Christine Hackenesch

Christine Hackenesch is Political Scientist and Head of the Research Programme: "Inter- and Transnational Cooperation" at the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)


  1. Pingback: Knowledge Cooperation between Africa and Europe: The power of engagement and changing perspectives -

  2. James Mawanda (PhD) - Antworten

    I enjoyed the article, and thank you for the great piece of work! I am a subscriber to the Germany Development Institute, so I always follow articles and blogs, particularly those concerning fighting poverty in the developing world. Indeed, rethinking cooperation with Africa is worthwhile; however, as that process begins, there is a need, moreover urgent, to address some cross-cutting issues in all development aspects and seem embedded in policy and politics, which are worth expounding.

    The context of corruption in the developing world, particularly in Africa, is deterring national and continental development objectives, strategies, and ambitions. The degree of misuse, misappropriation, and misapplication of funds in Africa has brought the economies to their knees. Even where other countries have economically and politically flourished due to the presence of natural resources, however, due to corruption, Africa remains underdeveloped, mainly with the majority of its population poor and living in dehumanizing conditions (Hussain, Ye, Usman, Mir and Usman, 2020; Guan, Kirikkaleli, Bibi, and Zhang, 2020; Muigua, 2020).
    Development partners such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and other players like the European Union (EU), or even individual countries such as Germany, have taken a passive stance as corruption ravages African economies and continues bilateral and multilateral arrangements, advancing development assistance. Although some countries reduce or even stop this assistance citing corruption, this approach appears unsustainable, bearing in mind that the ordinary person on the ground suffers the most. Besides, the positioning of representatives at the central banks by the World Bank and IMF has not deterred corruption in these countries. For instance, according to Transparency International, Sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest-performing region on the Corruption Performance Index (CPI), showing slight improvement from previous years and underscoring a need for urgent action (CPI, 2020).
    Therefore, for Africa to align appropriately to the global development goals and possibly enhance fruitful cooperation with the rest of the world, there is a need for a „corruption vaccine.“ The kind of vaccine should be in the form of a model that can inhibit the misuse of the funds advanced. If need be, more development assistance in the form of materials and other logistical support than cash. Emphatically, this model should be a collective effort of both the African authorities and the developing partners to harness the development objectives required in the contemporary world. Otherwise, Africa presents an unfortunate situation fighting the scourge on the continent (Dauda, Ahmad, and Keling, 2020; Runde and Metzger, 2020; Arowolo, 2020).

    Impunity in Africa is so alarming! According to the Global Impunity Index (GII), African countries are located in a high impunity range, leading to this continent’s classification as the highest impunity rates when correlated with its inequality levels (GII, 2020).
    Under such circumstances, most African leaders do things contrary to the needs of the people they lead, which has created a contentious atmosphere with the international community and the international organizations. This incompatibility has created friction, for instance, between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the African leaders, which of late has faced disagreement between the two parties. Notably, some leaders have threatened to leave the international agreement. On the other hand, through the African Union (AU), African leaders have expressed their concern over African nations‘ sovereignty when it comes to the ICC (Okpe, 2020; Han and Rosenberg, 2020; Savelsberg, 2020; Nilsson, 2020).
    Given the prevailing circumstances, however, where the political elite has the power, gun, and national resources at their exposure, the local communities are powerless to fight impunity. Hence, although the ICC faces severe challenges on the continent, there is no doubt that it is a much-needed institution to help break the impunity cycle in several states (Mutua, 2020; Aaronson and Cambridge, 2020; Emmanuel, 2020).

    Suffice it to state that cooperation with Africa is a required ingredient, particularly at current Africa’s development path. However, the problems of corruption and impunity are worth rethinking, too, if the cooperation is to work out. Moreover, corruption is one problem that, if not addressed immediately, is likely to throw the continent far away from the rest of the world. Additionally, in most African countries, the leaders that should be accountable to the people they lead are not, which has created an unprecedented gap between the leaders and the led, thus building unrealistic relationships between the two in the same borders. Nonetheless, unless and until the two are addressed amicably and in the manner that creates harmony, Africa’s development problems are bound to go beyond repair.

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