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EuropAfrica: catching up with the development train

Last Saturday, the Future Food Institute hosted Member of the European Parliament Dr. Cécile Kyenge at the Scuderia in Bologna for a knowledge-filled day of sharing and learning during the EuropAfrica workshops. Established in 2008, EuropAfrica brings together the emerging actors in Africa to explore the impact and opportunities for EU- Africa and global relationships.

Welcomed with open minds and hearts Dr. Kyenge is no stranger to Italians as she is the former Minister of Integration in Italy. Bologna as the backdrop for this engaging day, it happens also to be the city with the largest number of African students in Italy.

At the opening session, Deputy Mayor of Bologna Mr. Marco Lombardo highlighted that European integration with African will be a renewed dialogue between cities as well as a dialogue between neighboring countries. He emphasized that Mediterranean cities play a leading role in addressing the challenges of European integration, refugees and cooperation for development.

Dr. Kyenge pointed out that Europe needs to adopt a new vision for Cooperation for Development, which has become a competitive arena, with important players such as China and Gulf countries bringing more development projects to the African continent. A first step could be a review of the juridical framework of international cooperation policies within the European institutions.

Be Careful in Africa, is the title of the video that opened the speech of Mr. Emilio Ciarlo from the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation (AICS). The video debunks the myth of a poverty stricken, unsafe Africa. It demonstrates that several African nations have made significant progress to become among the fastest growing economies in the world. Mr. Ciarlo called for attention to Sub-Saharan Africa, to look beyond historical relationships with Libya. Integrating the business of big multinationals alone is not enough, but also through small and medium sized enterprises who seek to have their own space in Africa. He called for a strategy akin to the “Marshall Plan” for Africa.

Mr. Ciarlo shared AICS’s recently launched platform dedicated to agriculture, which allows NGO’s, universities and the private sector to exchange best practices and opportunities in a manner that favors their involvement in development projects.

As highlighted by Cécile Kyenge, the newest Agenda2063, developed by the African Union, has depicted a vision for Africa developed by Africans in the next 50 years, rather than a development agenda imposed from outside, often criticized as colonialism. By this time the African population will reach an estimated 3 billion, mostly youth which calls for prioritizing investment in youth education.

The conference recognized that Bologna has recently been nominated for the chef de fil for Euromediterranean dialogue. According to Deputy Mayor Marco Lombardo, Bologna is the city of “dialogo ed ascolto” or where listening matters as much as having a dialogue, if not more. Although Bologna does not border the Mediterranean Sea, he emphasized that it is important to shift our focus from the geography and territorial competitiveness to the cultural identity that is the Mediterranean. The reason is that, as Deputy Mayor Lombardo said last Saturday, “there will be no development for Italy, without a new vision of the Mediterranean.” Cooperation for development in this context would start from addressing the needs of the diverse communities that live in the territory.

According to UNEP’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by 2050 an estimated 80 million persons will be displaced from their homes due to climate change. Up to now, climate refugees have not been included in the Geneva convention. We need to plot a course of action now, a plan that recognizes (contrary to the concerns raised by many) the immense value of refugees to bring to a territory, especially in situations of demographic decline.

Upon the closing of the panel, Dr. Kyenge, when addressing our necessary rethinking the status quo asked that stop thinking of the EU as a “slot machine,” just like development efforts must keep focused on support, rather than the “flawed intuition of governors”.  She expressed that there are opportunities for multiple actors who work collaboratively to address issues of development. The take-home message couldn’t be clearer: there is opportunity in the dialogue between European cities and African cities in order for cooperation for development to bring true impact; or in the words of Dr. Kyenge: ‘”A dialogue should take place between two parties, otherwise they are two parallel monologues.”