Making the EU-Africa relationship go digital

Source: N. (Neven) Mimica i, published on Thursday, December 20 2018.

High-Level Forum Africa-Europe

I’m just back from the High-Level Forum on Europe and Africa, which took place in Vienna. Hats off to the Austrian Presidency for bringing together African and European leaders, major global companies, innovation champions and start-ups.

It was a momentous occasion, and it gave us all some inspiration for how digital solutions can help take our two continents’ relationship to the next level.

From FinTech and start-ups, to e-government and e-commerce, we discussed how digitalisation can be a powerful engine of sustainable development and inclusive growth in Africa. Under the new Africa-EU Alliance launched in September by President Juncker, we continue to look for ways of building a true and fair partnership based on mutual economic interest. Digital is one example of many areas of cooperation where Europe and Africa are becoming stronger partners.

Sometimes it’s as simple as what an internet connection can do for education. In Africa, student numbers in undergraduate programmes will double or triple in the next decades. Building universities alone will not keep up with demographics. An internet connection however can be the gateway to e-learning and digital classrooms. It can make all the difference on whether or not the next generation gets an education.

I am also convinced that digital solutions can go a long way in helping to feed Africa and the world. Agricultural productivity will have to double by 2030 - and double again by 2050 - to meet SDG2 on food security. But to achieve that level of productivity, we will have to harness all the tools at our disposal, including digital tools. Solutions like mobile banking and alert warning for weather disasters can make lives easier for smallholder farmers. They can also help bridge the rural-urban divide, create rural job opportunities and make farming attractive to young people.

Last February, Commissioner Hogan and I launched a Task Force on Rural Africa to strengthen Europe’s partnership with Africa on agriculture. It was enlightening to hear this Taskforce’s recommendations during one of the panel sessions. This was the very time we heard from an external group of African and European experts on agriculture and agri-food.

I was also delighted to be able to launch the Digital Economy Task Force, which will bring together leaders and experts from both continents for the sake of pan-African digital integration. This Digital Economy Task Force will be critical to breathing life into our new strategic EU-Africa Alliance.

This was one of my last events before taking a break for the Christmas holidays. As we wrap up 2018, it’s a good time to reflect on all the work done over the past twelve months. It’s been a year of highs and lows, with some set-backs, but many more achievements. But when we come together, strong and united, we edge closer to solving some of the most pressing challenges of our time. I am confident that Africa and Europe will continue this journey into the 21st Century, as mutual partners, in a safer, more stable and more sustainable world.