Europe–Africa relations are generally depicted from the view of Europe as the centre or actor and Africa as the periphery or acted-upon. The colonial history of European countries in Africa, their present day policies towards the continent, or the way that Africa is reported on and written about by Europeans are all familiar topics. Relatively little appears to be said about African views of Europe and Europeans, and how these have changed over time.
Over the last decade, a number of significant geo-political and socio-economic changes have made it all the more interesting to ask how Europe is perceived from the continent. The rise of emerging powers such as China, India and Brazil has called into question the privileged relationships that Europe and the West have enjoyed in Africa. And while the global financial meltdown of 2008 has left large parts of the Eurozone struggling with a sovereign debt crisis and subdued economic growth, Africa has shed its “hopeless” label to become the world’s latest growth story, widely known as “Africa rising”.
It is against this background that the Heinrich Böll Foundation asked a number of African intellectuals, writers and analysts to provide their take on Africa’s relationship with Europe. The result is a small collection of interviews, short essays and comments that throw light on the complexities and complexes of this relationship, using analysis, imagery, experience, provocation and humour.
While hundreds of Africans continue to migrate to Europe, daily risking their lives to reach a place of perceived modernity, stability and economic opportunity, these changing conditions are producing bold new images and statements. Europe is portrayed as old and arrogant in its ignorance of Africa’s true potential. Many African leaders have become visibly more assertive in their engagement with Europe, with some “looking East” to cultivate extensive political and economic relations, particularly with China.
But even though the terms of engagement are changing, these articles suggest that Africa is nowhere near severing its ties with Europe to join up with the emerging powers of the global South. The interdependence of the two regions is such that it can be hard to make a clear separation, as the contribution from Angola particularly illustrates. After five centuries of colonialism and a post-independence civil war during which thousands fled to Portugal, the roles between the two countries seem to have reversed in some respects. Due to Angola’s current oil-boom economy, thousands of Portuguese have emigrated to their former colony in hope of a better life.
Africa is building a new, more confident self-perception and will expect more from Europe than its habitual well meaning but paternalistic attitudes. As the Cameroonian filmmaker and intellectual Jean-Pierre Bekolo provokingly puts it: “It is no longer Europe that has a plan for Africa, but Africa that has a plan for Europe.”