DAKAR, Senegal — The European Union’s top brass headed to Africa Thursday, aiming to cast relations between the two continents in terms of opportunity.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took 19 commissioners and the bloc’s foreign affairs chief to meet the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. At the same time in Dakar, Senegal, the European Investment Bank and UN-Habitat co-hosted Africa Day, focused on urbanization.

For Von der Leyen, the hope is that “the transformation of our economies to make them green and digital will create new jobs, especially for our youth,” she said. Yet AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki also highlighted the need for “recognition and acceptance” of differences between the EU and AU on issues such as international criminal justice, sexual orientation, and the death penalty.

The latest in a series of strategies the European Commission has produced in recent years on Africa is set to be released Mar. 4, with more consultations throughout the year, leading to the EU-AU summit in Brussels in October.

“What’s important on our side as African governments is also to make sure that when we are partnering with European companies, European governments, that it is truly on a win-win basis,” Amadou Hott, Senegal’s minister for economy, planning, and international partnerships, told journalists in Dakar.

“We want our agriculture products to have access to the European market. Sometimes you have excuses on criteria, let’s say sanitation, that block our agricultural products … We don’t want to be only buyers of products, we also want to be sellers.”

Among the factors driving the EU’s renewed interest in its southern neighbor is the growing role of China on the continent, as well as efforts to stop people from trying to reach Europe.

Macky Sall, president of Senegal, told the conference in Dakar that when young people leave the countryside and are unable to find happier prospects in cities, “nothing will be able to bridle their dream of a better tomorrow across the borders.”

Africa’s population is expected to double to 2 billion by 2050, with more than 80% of that growth expected in cities.

Part of the discussion in Dakar was also about the need for a new approach to urbanization. Professor Edgar Pieterse, director of the African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town, told the audience that even though infrastructure financing in Africa has increased, “the net effect of that is that it has worsened the urban sprawl,” leading to a “crisis” in poorly served major cities.

Werner Hoyer, president at EIB — which expects to provide €4.7 billion ($5.18 billion) in financing for Africa this year, up from €3 billion last year — told reporters that trying to improve the infrastructure of existing cities, in Europe and Africa, is “a nightmare” due to high costs and the difficulty of displacing what is already there.

Instead, he spoke of his vision for approaching urban planning from scratch.

“In view of the establishment of totally new cities, whose location in some cases is not even clear yet, we have a huge challenge and huge opportunity to integrate [our] planning from the beginning,” Hoyer said. “You think [digital, social, education and transport] from the beginning … If that is done well, I think there can be opportunities.”

Editor’s note: The reporter’s travel to Dakar was supported by EIB. Devex maintains full editorial control over the content.

‘EU sets out its stall in Africa’ by Vince Chadwick was first published on Devex on 28 February 2020.