Latest News, MEIG Highlights 1 février 2024

Highlight 7/2024 – The Evolution of EU’s Development Aid to Africa from a Governance Perspective (Part Two)

Roselyn Doe, 1 February 2024

The African continent now numbers over 1.4 billion people, and this figure is expected to double by 2050. The continent is still noted for its abundant natural resources and its young labour force, making it increasingly attractive to the rest of the world. Furthermore, the continent’s economy has witnessed unprecedented growth in recent decades, increasing the number of business opportunities on offer and attracting new actors with an economic role to play in Africa. Furthermore, Africa is assuming an increasingly strategic role in the international arena, representing 54 countries out of 193 members of the United Nations (UN) and, in general, being home to an increasing percentage of the world’s population.

Unlike in times past, global governance towards the African continent has been strongly centred on the instrument of development aid and official development assistance (ODA). This approach was mainly driven by a post-colonial attitude and the fact that most African countries were classified as least-developed countries (LDCs) with high levels of poverty as indicated earlier. The increasing ‘African agency’ united around the evolution of the development approach in response to new global challenges (from the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the universalistic and more comprehensive Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), calling on the main actors involved in the African continent to change their development strategies. While development aid still represents an important instrument of governance, it is increasingly accompanied by blending initiatives.

There were turning points where it is possible to see a major change in overall governance and actorness, particularly concerning the European partnership with Africa, especially with actorness. The European Commission, when taken together with EU Member State contributions, is the largest donor to Africa overall.

Despite various criticisms of ODA, it is still considered crucial for development, even if accompanied by other instruments, such as those previously mentioned. The international community has been strongly engaged in trying to better coordinate and harmonise aid, improving the monitoring of flows and programme delivery. Recent decades have been characterised by a strong international effort to make development aid more effective.

The way in which Europe has built its partnership with Africa and the overall European attitude towards development policy builds on the decolonisation process. Also, the very formation of the EU16 and its regional integration took place in parallel with the affirmation of independence of African countries. European regional integration has guided and influenced the evolution of European governance towards the African continent. In parallel with the EU’s formation and enlargement, cooperation agreements with neighbourhood countries began to be designed, mainly with ex-colonies. Indeed, the UK and France have played a crucial role in building relations between the EU and developing countries in Africa, since most of them were their former colonies. Even though the EU has tried to build a partnership with Africa based on a continent-to-continent approach in recent decades, historically the EU’s relations with Africa have had a ‘dual-regional scope,’ with different frameworks for cooperation with North African countries and those of Sub-Saharan Africa. Several legal frameworks between the EU and different African regions have slowed down the building of a comprehensive strategy with Africa as a continent, hampered by the complicated and heterogeneous African regional integration process. The EU’s relationship with Africa is based on agreements where aid and trade represent the main instruments for enhancing regional integration and human development. Despite the new attractive players on the African continent, the EU is still the most significant trade partner under various partnerships and agreements such as the Cotonou Agreement, The European Economic Community (EEC), Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP), among others.

In conclusion, the EU prioritized trade liberalization and the inclusion of sub-Saharan African nations in the global economy. As a result, the EU terminated trade rights and non-reciprocal trade favours granted to the OACP nations. To take the place of previous trade concessions, the Union proposed regional Economic Partnership Agreements. The EU adopted the WTO’s trade liberalization strategy. In EU development policy, sub-Saharan nations were no longer regarded as a privileged set of nations. As a result, in the 2000s, the EU abandoned the distinctive elements of its development cooperation program and adopted international practices.

With Africa’s growing interest in global governance, and its quest to be an effective global player, it is worthy to note that the EU ought to reflect on the history of the Union’s development aid to Africa and forge a new frontier in its strategic partnership with Africa – Africa is rising. It is therefore, imperative for the EU to further explore more innovative ways to engage Africa’s teeming youth population, in a structured manner so as to harness demographic dividends. For instance, by scaling up the offer of technical support for STEM, advance TVET and artificial intelligence – a sure way to invest in the present and the future of Africa.

The trade and investment pillar in the Union’s economic partnership with Africa ought to be critically interrogated to fill in the gaps in its effective and efficient implementation while determining strategic priorities. The Union and Africa are better placed by building on existing goodwill. The Union demonstrated these by supporting Africa’s representation in global fora such as AU membership of the G20. African countries have over the years, supported EU candidatures over the decades.

More so, the geopolitical context of today’s world order offers opportunities for the Union to demonstrate its good faith to Africa by being open to security concerns of the region, particularly in the Sahel region, and not leave room for the influence of other external forces to fester, and to affect its historical relations with Africa. The re-orientation of EU development policies towards Africa in this era cannot be overemphasized.

Roselyn Doe, Highlight 7/2024 – The Evolution of EU’s Development Aid to Africa from a Governance Perspective (Part Two), available at

The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the authors and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.


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