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Thursday, 16 July 2020

Editorial: Working together

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial , Thursday 29 Aug 2019
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The speech delivered by Egypt’s President and current Chairman of the African Union (AU) Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, on partnership between Africa and the G7 in Biarritz, France, summarised the key elements required to confront the key challenges facing the African continent.

While leaders of the world’s largest seven economies met to discuss trade, climate change and threats to international peace and security, leaders of the G7 recognised the need for a new partnership with Africa that is primarily based on the priorities set by its peoples.

The special meeting on Africa that was attended by French President Emmanuel Macron, leaders of the G7 and the presidents of South Africa, Senegal, Rwanda and Burkina Faso, called for a “balanced partnership” to overcome the key challenges facing Africa such as overpopulation, endemic diseases, economic development and climate change. 

In his speech, which he delivered as AU chairman, Al-Sisi stressed that there was no alternative to dialogue between African countries and international partners to solve the challenges facing Africa in a way that serves the interests of its peoples. “We need to work together to find solutions according to the continent’s priorities,” Al-Sisi said.

The president also spoke of the efforts exerted to boost women’s empowerment in Egypt, and Africa. Currently, Egypt has six women ministers in its cabinet, the highest number ever in the country’s modern history. Women’s share in parliament seats was also increased to assure that they will have a say in running the country’s affairs.

The same is now taking place in Ethiopia, which has celebrated recently having the first woman ever as president. The pro-democracy parties that led the revolt against Sudan’s former president, Omar Al-Bashir, also recognised the importance of women empowerment, and the extremely important role they played in recent protests. Therefore, they insisted that the newly established “sovereign council” should include two women, one of them a Sudanese Christian. These are all important steps that the African continent is proud of.

However, to confront poverty and unemployment, and to achieve higher growth rates in order to provide education and healthcare for Africans, the continent also needs to strengthen peace and security, and to combat all forms of terrorism. Having weak states or failing governments, or being involved in regional or civil wars that are fuelled by outside parties, will certainly not help in confronting the challenges facing Africa.

For Egypt, and several other African nations, finding a just settlement for the current state of division and war in Libya is a top priority. In his speech, Al-Sisi noted that the current conflict affected security and the stability of Libyans, as well as its neighbouring countries due to the growing threat of terrorist groups that have benefited from the current vacuum to turn several areas in Libya into safe havens. 

According to Al-Sisi, “the way out of the crisis in Libya is known and needs true political will to start a political reconciliation process that involves all sides of the crisis… [and] ending foreign intervention in Libya and to ensure the just distribution of state resources.” He added that unifying Libyan state institutions was another important step to support the reconciliation process. 

Moreover, in order to assure the success of partnership between Africa and the world’s major G7 economies, the relationship between the two sides must be based on equality and common interests. The era of dictating orders to Africa must come to an end, and before lecturing Africans on the need to combat illegal migration, for example, there is a lot of work to be done to provide African economies with a fair chance to compete in world markets. One key demand African nations have repeatedly made, and clearly intentionally ignored by the richest economies, was to abolish huge debts that mostly went to former corrupt governments.

International partners can also help develop infrastructure in Africa and provide technology in order to benefit from the continent’s rich resources, help improve local economies and provide jobs for millions of young Africans who are yearning to improve their living standards. African leaders have already taken an important step in that direction by approving a free trade agreement that will abolish customs on inter-African trade.

However, African nations should not expect making demands without doing a lot of work themselves. Therefore, President Al-Sisi, in his speech, confirmed Africa’s determination to combat corruption and to exert all efforts possible to assure transparency and accountability for governments. In this framework, Sharm El-Sheikh hosted in June the “First African Forum to Combat Corruption,” reflecting serious will among the continent’s leaders to work on this endemic problem.

Finally, goodwill, high-level meetings and photo opportunities gathering African and G-7 leaders is a good start. But what’s needed is action and hard work by both sides.

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