The Government’s foreign policy must initiate a new era and help lay the groundwork for a change in Spain’s foreign action in respect of Sub-Saharan Africa. Now is the right time, and not only because Spanish citizens are demanding such a change, amid concern for the weakness of the heart of a continent which is not poor, but impoverished, not marginal, but marginalised, and not aging and infirm, but young. Also, because it is an urgent ethical requirement for the intertwined community of destiny which is the international community today.
Spain’s presence and institutional relations with Sub-Saharan Africa have traditionally been scant, and in some cases merely testimonial. Their anchorage to the past has led to the neglect of the defence of mutual interests, and both present needs and future challenges.
In accordance with the line devised by the Government, the instruments for this change are international legality, action from within the European Union (EU) and the generation of a climate of mutual trust based on relationships of equality and respect, as well as the recognition of the sovereignty and individual idiosyncrasies of each of these countries.
Western and southern African States are developing towards democratic systems, models and habits, and they are striving to resolve their local and regional disputes. These advances, undertaken by societies and their governments, have been aimed at identifying their own, autochthonous solutions, encouraged by bodies such as the African Union (AU) of the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS).
At the political level, institutional reforms have been implemented which help however timidly to pave the way for the social transformation and macroeconomic change necessary to maintain a certain level of economic growth (a 5% annual average). There is no doubt that this growth is insufficient to improve living conditions and create sufficient employment among a very young population which often sees emigration to Europe as its only chance.
Although there are some reasons to be hopeful, urgent and committed solutions are required to avoid mortgaging the future and progress of these countries. The international community and the European Union must be more sensitive towards Sub-Saharan Africa and must put all its human, scientific, technological and financial weight behind the fight against pandemics such as AIDS or malaria, drought, locust plagues and natural catastrophes which are so devastating to the horizon of progress on the political, social and economic front in the region.
What seems clear on the threshold of the 21st century is that existing models of relations and cooperation with this region, the heart of Africa, have so far yielded unsatisfactory results. This is especially true for these societies, whose most elementary and legitimate hopes are being dashed. Accordingly, not only will the Spanish Government modify and strengthen its network of relations, with greater diplomatic and consular deployment, but it will also review all its instruments for aid to development and will enhance the quality and quantity of our cooperation throughout this term of office.
My recent visit to Ghana, Angola, Mozambique, Nigeria, Niger and Mali further convinced me of the need to create a new Spanish policy on Africa, which will be reflected in the Action Plan or ‘Plan África’, soon to be approved by the Government. This initiative will, naturally, be in full harmony with the global strategy defined by the European Union and the forthcoming European Council Summit, where Spain will table specific proposals designed to boost efficiency.
The Spanish Government is convinced that political dialogue with governments in this region, founded on efficient multilateralism, will signal the beginning of a new era in our relations and our cooperation. The aim is to contribute to these countries’ political, social and economic development, as well as to foment democracy and further peace and security, without overlooking the political management of migratory flows.
In this regard, my recent tour of Sub-Saharan countries has served to specify some of these action lines with six States and with the ECOWAS, where we will take part in a light-weapons control programme, in actions to recruit and train young people, and in peace projects implemented by the Kofi Annan Centre in Accra.
The Government is sensitive to and conscious of the urgent need to prioritise Spain’s development cooperation in Africa, where we plan to channel greater attention and resources. In southern Africa, our cooperation levels are proportionate to our capacity, and we have implemented innovative instruments to improve the quality and efficiency of our solidarity work abroad in countries such as Angola and Mozambique.
In western Africa, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, in conjunction with humanitarian organisations and other bodies, has pinpointed new challenges for Spanish cooperation. We cannot ignore that Mali and Niger are among the world’s poorest countries. Famine is also a scourge on their vulnerable societies, with fragile institutions, almost non-existent education systems and grave health problems, as I have already highlighted.
In view of this situation, Spain will send missions to identify specific problems and needs and to implement aid programmes in these countries, where there will also be a permanent institutional representation.
The six countries I have visited in recent weeks were highly receptive to Spain’s proposals on the issue of migration. They are firmly committed to adopting a global approach based on consensus, as well as establishing agreements between source, transit and destination countries, for the management of migratory flows. Proof of this have been the statements issued by Ghana and Mali or, in Nigeria’s case, the improvement to the agreement establishing cooperation and re-admittance mechanisms for immigrants.
Sub-Saharan African countries have also committed themselves to participate in and support the Euro-African conference on migration and development, spearheaded by Morocco and Spain. This means opening up new channels of understanding and work to meet common challenges and articulate the contribution by African and European countries in solving serious problems and conflicts.
Spain’s foreign action in Sub-Saharan Africa will also be renewed in terms of cultural, education and economic policy. Accordingly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, together with the Autonomous Government of the Canary Islands and its local institutions, will set up the institutional consortium Casa África, in order to promote cultural exchange and educational programmes as well as to strengthen economic ties.
Spain’s solidarity and cooperation with countries in Sub-Saharan Africa respond to an ethical undertaking by Spanish society, and a political commitment by the Government of Spain.