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Views from the Field: In Conversation with the EU Ambassador to the African Union

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23 September 2016

Gary Quince, who is nearing the end of his five years heading the EU Delegation to the African Union, shares his experiences and discusses the EU's support to the AU, touching on the gap between optimistic treaties and their implementation, joint programming and engaging with the private sector. 

Launched in 2002, the African Union comprises 54 African countries, excluding Morocco. The AU Assembly of the Heads of State and Government meets twice a year to decide the continent’s direction on matters from climate change to regional integration. Its secretariat is the African Union Commission, based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. EU cooperation with the AU concentrates on five priority areas: peace and security; democratic governance and human rights; human development; inclusive, sustainable growth and continental integration; and cooperation in global areas.

Capacity4dev (C4D): Alongside country-level Delegations throughout Africa, the EU established a mission to the African Union in January 2008. How does the Delegation operate, and how does it add value?

Gary Quince (GQ): In Addis Ababa we have two EU Delegations – the bilateral Delegation to Ethiopia, and our multilateral Delegation the African Union (AU). It was established shortly after the second EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon which launched the Joint Africa-EU Strategy. Alongside the EU, the US and China have done the same thing – they have also created multilateral missions to the AU.

We provide a strong information flow to our Member States about what’s going on in the AU and in the EU. Right now we’re supporting the AU in the fight against Al Shabab in Somalia as well as the regional campaign against Boko Haram, working closely with Delegations in the Lake Chad region as well as in post-conflict countries such as Central African Republic and Guinea Bissau. That’s in the peace and security area; on broader economic and regional integration we try to keep all the Delegations informed, and in particular the Delegations that deal with regional organisations like COMESA [Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa] in Zambia or SADC [South African Development Community] in Botswana. We try to link what we do at a continental level, to what they do at a regional level, to what everyone does at a national level.

The Delegation to the AU mostly manages projects which are continental in nature. They might have a physical place, and then we manage the support to them from Addis, working closely with colleagues in the bilateral Delegations.

C4D: How can the Delegation support Africa’s vision for its future?

GQ: Africa has a long term vision, the Agenda 2063, which looks at where Africa wants to be in 2063 [50 years on from signing in 2013]. Africa has been growing at about 5% a year for the last 15 years, which is better than Europe and the rest of the world, and some countries have been growing even faster. But the Agenda 2063 make the point that as the population is growing at 3% a year, there’s not much [extra GDP] left for pulling people out of poverty. Africa needs to transform its economy, boost growth, it needs to industrialise, to get into value added – it can’t keep on exporting raw materials to Europe, China, and the US. It needs to be processing a lot more. The growth and integration pillar of our partnership is about that, transforming Africa into industrialised middle income economies. A quarter of the world population will live in Africa by 2050; job creation is the key challenge, and also the key opportunity.

In the following video Gary Quince outlines how the EU is supporting Africa’s regional integration to create opportunities for a rapidly increasing young population. Skip to 1:01 for job creation, education & business environment; 1:40 for trade; 3:10 for cross-border infrastructure; 3:47 for AU passports; and 4:27 for peace & security: 



C4D: What can the AU and EU – two diverse unions of countries – learn from each other?

GQ: I think the AU sees the EU as a model. As a regional organisation ourselves, it’s clear that we support regional integration in Africa. Africa itself has a plan for a continental Free Trade Area - it will take time, because negotiating these sort of trade deals between 54 countries is not easy. We’re building capacity within the AU Commission to lead those negotiations.

They also have the objective of free movement of people. At the moment it’s easier for me to travel around Africa than for many Africans in terms of visas. At the last Summit, the AU launched the AU Passport. The idea is similar to what we have here in Europe - it would facilitate visa free travel over time. It’s work in progress, and something we are keen to carry on supporting.

Financial integration is not yet on the cards, though there is talk of an African monetary authority. Two regions do have a common currency – West Africa and Central Africa – but it’s some years away before Africa would have a common African currency. Rather like us, it took some years to get to the Euro. And when it went through serious difficulties a few years ago, that was noted in Africa.

Another example they’ve picked up on is student mobility. We have Erasmus - that’s been extremely successful here in Europe, and has been extended to third countries through Erasmus+. A number of African students come to Europe and vice versa, and there are staff exchanges built into that. They’ve also developed, with our support, a programme of student exchange within Africa. Then we’re working, and it’s a parallel with here, on harmonising higher education curricula across Africa. So if you have a degree from Swaziland, it’s recognised in Ghana and vice versa. We’re working with 120 universities in Africa to harmonise their curricula and move towards common recognition of higher education qualifications.

I think our experience is looked on in Africa as a good example of how they can move forward. The situations are different; we do give inspiration, but more than inspiration, we give a lot of support.

C4D: What do you see as the main challenges for Africa’s long-term development?

GQ: For the AU, and it rebounds on us, the main challenge is the gap between what the Summits decide and the implementation. Leaders come together every six months, make important decisions about the future of Africa, and then they go back home and many charters and conventions and treaties, approved by the Summit, have never entered into force because they’ve never been ratified, let alone implemented. So we need to give a lot of support, but Africa especially needs to give a lot of push itself, to implement their own decisions. Because only if they implement those important decisions on peace and security, terrorism, human rights and governance, and on economic integration, only if they really implement them can we really support the processes that need to go forward. That is our biggest challenge, and also Africa’s biggest challenge.

C4D: How is the Delegation supporting that push?

GQ: We try to support capacity building at the AU Commission - we support a number of staff to try to strengthen their outreach to countries. Second, we try to join up better with our Delegations on the spot so these issues are included in the political dialogue these Delegations have with the host governments.

C4D: How is the Delegation working to engage the private sector in development projects? Could you share an example which other Delegations could learn from?

In too many African countries the business environment remains difficult for foreign and domestic investors, for big companies and also small ones. We’ve been working on improving the business environment. We also have blending facilities across Africa in energy, transport and ICT.

In the following video Gary Quince discusses a Geothermal Energy project in the Rift Valley (running through Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia) in which the EU developed a risk facility with KfW and the AU to cover the financial uncertainties of exploring for steam, enabling other public and private partners to join in: 



C4D: How does your Delegation cooperate with the EU member states and other donors? What impact has Joint Programming had?

Although our programming as a whole is not done jointly with others, we do have Joint Programming in specific areas - for peace and security, for governance, for trade - with a number of partners including EU member states and non EU donors. And our experience, and I think that of other partners, has been very positive. Certainly it’s been positive for the AU. Rather than having to send different reports to different partners, we have agreed on a division of labour so we all focus within a particular area on priorities, and the reporting from the AU is a common report, and then we do a single auditing. It’s in line with aid effectiveness, and it simplifies the job for the AU and for us, and I think it makes us much more effective.

Over time we would try to extend it to programming as a whole. We are by far the biggest financial partner at the moment; we already work with all our Member States, but I would like to see us linking up more with others including China going forward.

C4D: The EU contributed €330 million to the AU budget last year. What is the impact of the AU needing partner financing, and what are the prospects for it becoming self-sufficient?

In the following video Gary Quince outlines the AU’s fundraising plans, and where the EU’s current support goes: 



C4D: As you look back over 35 years in development cooperation, what have you learnt, and what have been the most noticeable changes?

When I first joined the EU in 1981, I was posted to the Delegation in Ghana. Three months after I arrived there was a coup, Jerry Rawlings took over from the government. How did we react? Well basically, we didn’t. There weren’t démarches or public statements; it was just accepted as a coup. We carried on and so did the international community and so did Africa. Let me fast forward to a couple of years ago when there was an attempted coup in Burkina Faso. The AU met immediately, and gave the coup leaders four days to hand back power, or else they would be branded a terrorist act. And four days later they handed back power. So the African voice spoke out, and we of course supported it fully. Since then Burkina Faso has had elections and is back on a democratic path. For me that would be an area where Africa with our support has made a lot of progress – we don’t have to be the ones condemning coups, Africa does it and more quickly than us. We then come in and support.

The other big change has been decentralisation of responsibilities from Headquarters to Delegations. When I first started working in Delegations, all the big decisions were made in Brussels, down to signing contracts and making payments - everything had to come back here, which slowed us down. Today, as of the last 16 years, those responsibilities have been devolved to Delegations, they have been reinforced, and decisions are taken where they should be, on the spot. That has made us more efficient, quicker than we used to be. We still need to strengthen certain procedures and speed up in certain areas - that’s always work in progress.

Find out more about how the EU works with the African Union by visiting the EU Delegation's website. 

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.

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