Knowledge Cooperation between Africa and Europe: The power of engagement and changing perspectives

Photo: International practicioners of the Managing Global Governance Academy 2018 learning together

As humanity, we face many common challenges in the 2020s: climate change and its effects are at the core, resulting in demands for economic transformation geared towards more sustainability. Underlying are demographic changes, with the need to feed more people while maintaining the natural basis for our survival. Increased digitalisation, global health issues (this is not the first nor the last pandemic), and strong refugee and migration movements call for a united action to address these shared global challenges. Additionally, geopolitical changes bring new important actors onto the world scene.

Often discussed – and rightly so – are the rising powers of the Global South, such as China or India, and their relevance for global governance. In a multipolar world under this pressure for sustainability, however, African leaders are also at the forefront, as the 2030 Agenda stands or falls with Africa’s development successes and stringent implementation of the African Agenda 2063. In these discussions, African actors need to be understood as partners for joint action for mutual benefit, not mere recipients of benevolent aid.

The future of Africa as our neighbouring continent is of particular relevance and scope for Europe and Germany. In its 2019 Africa Policy Guidelines, the German government postulates:

„Europe’s well-being is inextricably linked to that of our neighbour Africa. Both continents are actors in global development. Cooperation in partnership with the states of Africa is therefore a central task of German policy. It is in the German and European interest to contribute to political stability and a reduction of the development and prosperity gap.“

We have to live this partnership perspective in our cooperation. The African continent offers social and economic potential for sustainable development that should be further strengthened through continental initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) or the development programme of the African Union (AU). Africa is a predominantly youthful continent – with great opportunities. Yet, we also need to see and name the challenges, not least in creating 20 million jobs annually for school graduates. In many African countries, fragile economic and social development successes of recent years are in danger of being wiped out as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and advancing climate change. Development under the premise of sustainability is becoming more complex and requires networked thinking and action.

Changing dynamics between Africa and Europe

While globalisation puts the focus on the interdependencies and interconnectedness of our societies and the shared challenges arising from it, the effects are local. And so are the solutions to tackle these challenges. While Europe and Africa face similar global challenges, their perceived realities often differ vastly. This is crucial to acknowledge, as consequently, the starting conditions for mastering these challenges differ significantly and determine which are identified as urgent and are thus prioritised. Common value orientations and mutual understanding of key challenges cannot be taken for granted – nor can they be imposed. They must be developed through long-term exchanges and knowledge sharing processes to identify common interests and generate joint answers to common challenges. We certainly cannot afford to ignore one another between Europe and Africa.

Future leaders need more opportunities and platforms to engage in international dialogues on interconnected challenges across all major policy areas – in a working environment beyond political summits. In order to be better able to play a key role in shaping globalisation on different levels, African leaders in politics, business and civil society need access to diverse knowledge and cooperation opportunities to develop concepts and strategies for problem-solving and policy-making jointly. And German decision-makers require first-hand insights into the lived realities and thinking of African partners and can learn from problem-solving in other contexts, too. In the 2030 Agenda, there are no teachers and disciples – we all learn.

New competencies for transnational cooperation

For a successful transformation towards sustainability, it is important for future leaders, on the one hand, to acquire and exchange (new) knowledge through learning with and from each other. Furthermore, on the other hand, they need to develop critical interpersonal competencies concerning cooperation, transformation and innovation. These competencies include, among others, the awareness of one’s mindset and values, the ability to adapt to different perspectives, to develop mutual understanding and to identify, analyse and deal with complementarities arising from different value systems. Additionally, future leaders are required to deploy creativity and strategic thinking to foster innovative ideas and identify new ways to advance said ideas. Finally, young leaders need to develop a systemic understanding of the interconnectedness and interdependencies of different systems, and especially the interplay between the global and local level, according to a competency model developed for the Managing Global Governance Academy in 2019.

It is no coincidence that interest in leadership training formats including African participants is currently soaring. One format that offers this kind of mutual learning and exchange about sustainability is the African-German Leadership Academy. The programme aims to foster cooperation amongst young change-makers in reform partner countries and Germany, and develop transformative and innovative competencies for sustainable development Building on the experiences from the MGG Academy, the format builds on the diversity of the participants who work in different sectors of society (academia, public and private sector, civil society), are specialised in various disciplines and live in different contextual and national realities (African reform partner countries and Germany).

We have to jointly un-learn our mutual stereotypes and embrace diversity as a key and driving force for innovation. Open exchange as peers, mutual learning and joint solution-seeking for common challenges is a core competency for a successful 21st Century engagement.

Photo: Isabelle Eberz is a Cultural Scientist and Researcher in the BMZ African-German Leadership Academy at the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE).

Isabelle Eberz is a Cultural Scientist and Researcher in the BMZ African-German Leadership Academy at the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE).

Image: Sven Grimm

Sven Grimm is Head of the Programme “Inter- and Transnational Cooperation with the Global South” at the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS)

Photo: Ditebogo Modiegi Morare is a Political Scientist and Researcher in the BMZ African-German Leadership Academy at the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE).

Ditebogo Modiegi Morare is a Political Scientist and Researcher in the BMZ African-German Leadership Academy at the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE).


  1. Chileshe - Antworten

    Interesting…. German seems to be taking a bigger step in the EU – Africa partnership….

  2. Enoch Agyepong - Antworten

    These are very relevant and topical items for consideration. I’m further interested in the coordination within the two continental blocks… ie, how Africans are coordinating our efforts, and how Europeans are also. It appears Germany has taken the lead on the EU side, and that’s commendable.

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