Trade, not aid, say youth

[Image] Dr Petrus de Kock of Brand South Africa, left, with Minister Alexander Stubb of Finland.

[Image] Mandela foundation CEO Achmat Dangor urged Africa’syoung people to make the future their own.
(Images: Janine Erasmus)

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Southern Africa is hosting a business delegation led by the Finnish minister of European affairs and foreign trade, Alexander Stubb. The emphasis of the trip is to promote exports and boost Finnish businesses already operating in Southern Africa, while looking for new opportunities.

Stubb and his delegation are currently in Windhoek, Namibia. In South Africa they visited Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town, where they met Reserve Bank governor Gill Marcus and the ministers of transport and higher education, among others.

The visit was put together by global organisation Finpro, which promotes and supports Finnish companies in international markets, including South Africa. The company’s local offices are in Johannesburg.

Other members of the delegation include Jussi Pajunen, the mayor of Helsinki, and representatives from the Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Nokia Siemens Networks, and the Tampere University of Applied Sciences, among others.

In Cape Town, the delegation took part in Helsinki Meets Cape Town, an event with a focus on the Mother City as the world design capital 2014 – Helsinki had this honour in 2012. The event is expected to provide more opportunities for partnerships between the two countries through a series of workshops, discussions and social gatherings where experiences from 2012 were shared whilst building anticipation for 2014.

Other participants in the Cape Town event included Finpro, the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Aalto University, and Finnish and local companies.

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 US$3.2-million (R28-million) over the last few years.

From alienation to cooperation

In Johannesburg Stubb visited the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, which is currently undergoing renovations that will see the premises, originally Mandela’s post-presidential office, turned into a public facility with a library, discussion venue, permanent exhibition and state-of-the-art archive for the hundreds of priceless items held there.

At a gathering later the same day, Stubb and his delegation took part in a discussion with the theme Africa-European economic relations: from alienation to cooperation.

The dialogue was facilitated by Brand South Africa, with the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, as part of Brand South Africa’s Shape the Future initiative. A number of students, among them Mandela Rhodes scholars, were also present.

“There has been another shift in world politics,” said Stubb, 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.”

The makeup of the global economy is also changing, said Stubb – currently the US contributes 23%, China contributes 10% and Africa just 2%, 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% 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.

Invest in us, say young people

Young Africans at the event then took the floor, identifying several issues that, they felt, were holding the continent back.

Among these were the perceived lack of capacity for efficient project and financial management in governments; the fact that foreign aid has, in some cases, had a negative effect because it has not been managed properly or has been used as a political tool; and the continuing conflicts in many countries, which hamper young people and prevent them from becoming empowered.

The issue of corruption was also raised, with some saying that all the education in the world won’t help if leaders are taking backhanders from overseas.

“What can the EU do for African youth in these matters?” they asked.

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.”

Investment in humanities and human capacity was a solution put forward by many – “invest in our education, in science, in the exchange of ideas,” said one attendee.

This is the challenge of the next generation, said Dangor – to create an environment where allies such as Finland will feel comfortable to have dealings.

Although there wasn’t enough time to properly unpack all the issues and put forward suggestions to tackle them, the evening’s facilitator, Petrus de Kock of Brand South Africa, promised that there would be follow-up dialogues.