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The opportunities for Europe of closer cooperation with Africa

When asked whether they think that their children will have a better or worse future than themselves, a Gallup poll in 2022 found Europeans to be the most pessimistic, in comparison to people from other continents. Remarkably, the most optimistic were people from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Still, migration flows from Africa continue to put a heavy burden on European countries, as desperate people pay huge sums of money to human smugglers in the hope to reach Europe and bring over family members through family reunification, which is difficult to restrict, due to EU rules. When in Europe, they tend to end up in a dire situation. When they are denied asylum, European governments often struggle to send them back.

Belgian Migration Secretary Nicole de Moor recently complained that attempts to return migrants residing illegally in Belgium are “troubled by countries of origin that do not cooperate (…) especially in North Africa.” She adds that she has been to Morocco, Tunesia and Egypt, but “it makes no sense that I play the bad cop over there, when other government departments are able to play the good cop there, when it comes to foreign investment, development aid.” Until today, linking development aid with an obligation to welcome one’s citizens back remains a taboo at the EU policy level, let alone exploring the Australian approach for migration, whereby everyone that illegally enters EU territory would see their asylum claim processed outside of EU territory, to break the back of the human smuggling mafia. At some point, the wisdom may come, but to realise that, closer cooperation with African countries will be unavoidable.

Economic potential

Despite all the troubles that Africa is still suffering from, many in the West are underestimating the continent’s economic potential. This despite the fact that in a 2021 report, Ernst & Young called Africa “an attractive investment destination, with its young population and vast natural resources giving it the potential for enormous growth and innovation”, while however adding that “rapid economic reform” and “good governance” are crucial to achieve this.

It singles out the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which came into effect in 2021, as a promising development, though lamenting that “in the nine months since AfCFTA came into being, implementation has been patchy, with many members reluctant to cut tariffs and thus expose their local businesses”.

Global accountancy and consulting firm Rödl pointed out in 2019 that “the 55 countries of Africa have taken the centre stage of the global investment agenda: The next Asia is Africa” as “the booming economies of Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Angola and other nations — many of them expecting GDP growth rates in excess of 7 per cent per year, every year, for decades to come — offer fascinating opportunities for global business and African citizens alike”.

German investment

Currently, German investors are the EU’s largest private investors in Africa, after French investors.

Recently, Germany-based project development company Gauff and another German company, Conjuncta, have teamed up with Angola’s state-owned energy company Sonangol to produce green hydrogen using some of the power generated by the Lauca plant. The 1 billion euro project is supposed to supply Germany with the carbon-free gas.

This is however only a small part of the company’s activities. Sonangol produces almost 2 million barrels of oil per day. The Angolan government has announced it is privatising its national oil company, to “create a lean and internationally competitive oil and gas operator.”. The sale of government shares in the company already began in 2021, when the state placed 30% of its stake on offer. The company, with 13,000 employees, is the sole dealer in liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons in Angola. It has been valued at a whopping $51.5 billion.

Last year, German Chancellor Scholz stressed the importance of close collaboration with African states, declaring, “Our relationships are of strategic relevance for both sides.” The recent series of coups, which mainly have hurt France’s geostrategic clout, may in that regard be a wake-up call. Obviously, any kind of neocolonialism is idiotic, but to try to keep African countries on a friendly basis as partners is becoming ever more important, given the rapid population growth on the continent.


Africa is demographically the youngest of all Continents. Fast internet has proven crucial to support economic growth. Two thirds of the world, which includes large parts of Africa, are still deprived of this, meaning the continent’s future growth prospects can only be understated. According to one estimate, the African internet economy has the potential to grow to $180 billion — roughly 5.2 per cent of the continent’s GDP — by 2025.

Clearly, African economies still have major hurdles to overcome, from corruption to illiteracy to war, but these are all well-documented. Much less appreciated are the major opportunities and chances for rapid African economic growth. Once European and African government have found each other to put an end to illegal migration flows, they should at the same time also explore closer economic ties.

Guest Post by Pieter Cleppe