Suomi/Africa
Perspectives from Africa,
engagement from Finland
 
 

Understanding Africa

Representing Africans

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Fireworks at Kansalaistori Square, Helsinki, to celebrate a century of Finnish independence (Photo: Finland 100)

Fireworks in Helsinki, to celebrate a century of Finnish independence (Photo: Finland 100)

Looking for trade, not aid

South Africa is one of Finland's top trading partners outside the OECD countries, a 34-nation group known as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. In terms of imports and exports, the country is Finland’s biggest trade partner in Africa. Trade is also growing between Finland and Namibia, with the annual value of Finnish exports to Namibia standing at about R28mn (US$3.2mn) over the last few years.

“There has been another shift in world politics,” said Finnish minister of European affairs and foreign trade, Alexander Stubb, recently, explaining that the first major shifts came after the Second World War and the end of the Cold War. “Now we have a multipolar world, with numerous blocs such as Brics, the G8, G20, Old Russia, Southeast Asia, and so we have to adapt our trade and foreign policies accordingly. I welcome this.”Finnish minister of European affairs and foreign trade, Alexander Stubb

Africa's place in the global economy

The makeup of the global economy is also changing, said Stubb – currently the US contributes 23 per cent, China contributes 10 per cent and Africa just two per cent, but this will change. The world won’t always be dominated by the West.
“South Africa is one of the EU’s strategic partners, and Africa is the place where the future lies,” he said. “We in the West need to understand this.”

But Africa has historically been alienated from the West because of the policies of interaction driven by paternalism, exploitation and colonialism, whereas they should be driven by cooperation.

“We need to link Africa and Europe with what I call a dignified foreign policy,” Stubb asserted. “One that does not have conditions attached or that is driven by the country’s own agenda.”

It’s up to the youth

The topic of conversation then turned to Africa’s young people.

“Within 10 years, 60 per cent of Africans will be under the age of 35,” said Achmat Dangor, CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. “These are the people in which we need to invest – they literally have the future in their hands.”

He said that Africans themselves must create an enabling environment for proper investment from the West and the accountable use of funding, but this means that Africans need to change the way they view themselves, so that developed nations will follow suit.

“It would be wrong for us to turn away development aid,” said Dangor. “We don’t have 60 years to build up a strong regional bloc, like the EU had.”

It’s up to young people to take the lead, he said. Stubb agreed, saying that he personally believed that leaders should not hang on to their posts for decades, but should relinquish them within a reasonable time so that the government does not grow stale and that young ideas are always available. Impressed that Africa’s young people were so insightful and aware of the challenges facing them, Stubb promised to take their concerns to heart once he was back home. In the meantime he named certain lessons that his own country had learned, sometimes the hard way, which he felt could work in the African context, too.

“When we went into recession in the 1990s, we had to rethink our policies,” he said. “We poured money into education and research and development, especially in ICT – this has led to the dominance of companies such as Nokia, although that is not so much the case today. So we have to reinvent again. We are now interested in clean technology and sustainable development.”

Janine Erasmus