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Africa – Europe: High level forum on digital age in Vienna

Africa – Europe: High level forum on digital age in Vienna

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The economic and political Capital of Austria, Vienna hosted 18 December 2018 a high-level Forum bringing together European and African political leaders. More than 50 official delegations from member states of the African Union and the European Union attended the forum, along with 1,000 innovators and representatives of companies and start-ups from Africa and Europe.

The theme of the meeting was “Taking cooperation to the digital age.”

Austria’s Federal Chancellor, Sebastien Kurz – whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union – along with Rwandan President and current President of the African Union, Paul Kagame were the main architects of the “mini summit”.  President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Parliament Antonio Tajani, and several African ministerial delegations, as well as the Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union Moussa Faki Mahamat participated.

The event was an opportunity to focus on issues related to innovation and digitization: leveraging   new development partnerships, the goal being to unlock the potential of the digital economy both in Europe and Africa.

The challenge was to deepen the Euro-African partnership in the field of technological exchanges, unleashing the sector’s potential for economic growth and job creation and the realization of sustainable development goals.

A full afternoon of round tables gave rise to lively discussions; an opportunity for experts from the public and private sector, both African and European, to compare experiences in areas such as: 4.0 agriculture (also known as intelligent and precision agriculture). Participants looked at the scope for boosting agricultural production using digitization; the acceleration of e-commerce in Africa and how the creation of a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) can assist the African continent in “creating 18 million jobs a year to meet the challenges of unemployment and underemployment “.

The Forum experimented with innovative concepts: setting up exchange frameworks that reflect business-to-business (B2B) meetings where entrepreneurs and other businesses share their current experiences and outline solutions for digital development in Africa and Europe.

Other parallel events in the sidelines, “How to mobilize funding for climate action” … were a nod a nod to the recent Katowice Conference of 2018 on Climate Change (COP24).

EUROPE AND AFRICA: STRATEGIC ALLIANCE MOVING FORWARD
Among the many highlights was President Kagame’s vibrant plea, calling on Africans to take their destiny into their own hands, as a condition sine qua non for changing the way the West views the world. Africa, he said, “must be seen as a source of opportunities and not as a threat …”. Chairman of the AU commission, Moussa Mahamat said Africa must make the contribution that is expected in its partnership with Europe and refuse to be the theatre for playing out of rivalries between Chinese, Americans or Europeans. “We have to stop infantilising ourselves,” he said in a firm tone.

President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker  referred to the initiative he himself launched in his speech on the state of the Union in September 2018 made to the European Parliament. The main objective of a “new Africa-Europe alliance” was to boost investments in Africa, strengthen exchanges between the private sectors in Africa and Europe, and above all: “encourage European businesses to be more present in Africa”. It was an excellent opportunity for the President of the European Executive to explain, in figures, the ins and outs of the new alliance being carried forward by the European Commission and the African Union which builds on the commitments made at the African Union-European Union (AU-EU) Summit in November 2017 in Abidjan.

President of the European Parliament, Antonio Tajani stressed the need to increase substantially the volume of investment in Africa, and thereby “to stimulate the growth of the African economy and to create the millions of jobs that will be needed to absorb the demographic growth taking place on the Continent”.

The Austrian Presidency carefully avoided debates becoming bogged down on the issue of migration (a theme that has also been at the heart of the news and a focus of the media lately). Apart from brief discussion on the subject – notably raised by African officials – the Federal Chancellor succeeded in keeping the focus of the conference on economic cooperation between Africa and Europe rather than the divisive issue of migration. He emphasised the importance of channelling investments to the continent and assisting the digital revolution underway in Africa.

Held in the hometown of Sigmund Freud – otherwise known as “City of Dreams” – the Forum signalled great opportunity. The event will undoubtedly mark a milestone in the annals of cooperation between Europe and Africa. It also laid the foundations for a new era of reinvigorated Austro-African cooperation; a paradigm shift in the perception that Austria and the Austrians of the African continent; a promising sign for the thousands of African nationals living on the banks of the Danube, mainly between Graz and Vienna.

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