The African continent has a great potential and Casa África works to bring Africa and Spain closer together. At a time when it seems that Spanish foreign policy has been gradually focusing on this part of the world with the 3rd Africa Plan that guides Spain's relations with the African continent, under the premise "Spain and Africa: challenge and opportunity".
Casa África aims to promote mutual knowledge and strengthen relations with African countries through trust. To this end, it organises more than 200 activities annually in the economic, social, cultural, institutional and political spheres. Its director, José Segura Clavell, explains the vision of this institution, as well as its mission to bring the African continent closer and build bridges between both cultures.
Spanish companies must be the executive protagonist of investment and trade on the continent, and to this end, there must be very good synchronisation with our official bodies (MAEC, Mineco, Cervantes Institute, Cesce, Embassies and Ofcomes), as well as support in financing and risk mitigation by our financial sector and our ECA. How is this aspect being managed and coordinated? Are the working groups mentioned in the III Africa Plan working in this sense?
Casa África's role is to generate contact networks, person to person, between entities as well as between Spanish companies and different African countries. Our role is to make the African market better known to the Spanish business community. We also have a cooperation agreement with the Spanish Chamber of Commerce, which means that we usually have a fluid interconnection and intercommunication, as well as with the CEOE, in short, with the powerful spokespersons of the Spanish business community.
As for the influence of the Spanish language, we are working closely with the Cervantes Institute, with which we held a first meeting of Hispanists at our headquarters in 2019 and we brought around 40 Spanish teachers from universities in different countries, for example, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya and Senegal. And now we are going to hold the second meeting of this type in Madrid in November. An event that seeks to highlight the value of the teaching of Spanish.
How does Casa África view the current situation on the continent, taking into account the handicap of the pandemic?
From Casa África, Ángeles Jurado and Joan Tusell have been doing excellent work on a daily basis, from the point of view of monitoring African current affairs through the media, and they have been opening up a work route linked to the world of health, with the monitoring of the pandemic or Ebola. The health issue must be one of the star themes of Europe's cooperation with the African continent, and Spain's cooperation with the continent in particular.
The African continent is showing a certain resilience. It is holding its own, it is struggling, but it is there. Even so, the rest of the world has to be brave and tackle key issues such as debt. If the different African countries are obliged to pay these quarterly amounts, they are certainly not going to be able to have the funds to deal with health, education, social and coexistence issues. In the coming months, international organisations and the European Union must show solidarity in order to be able to carry out agreements within the general framework of cooperation between the European Union and the African Union.
Africa needs to get back on the growth path from which the pandemic has led it away. And we all have to work together. The world in general, not just Europe or the United States. The Asian countries, in a better economic situation, must show a sense of solidarity with the continent of the 21st century. If the continent of the 20th century was Southeast Asia, Africa will be the continent of the 21st century. Ultimately, not just the COVAX mechanism, to help immunise, but to focus on public debt, the generation of new industry, and so many activities in the agri-food sector and in the blue economy that are yet to be developed. We have paid a lot of attention to the African continent during this stage of the pandemic. And from Casa África we have been a sometimes lonely voice in Europe, asking ourselves about another very harsh pandemic to which the entire globe is subjected, a pandemic commonly known as climate change. In the face of this pandemic, how is the European continent going to help the African continent?
Climate change is the cause not only of desertification in certain areas, but also of a decrease in water resources, famine, conflicts between countries, between territories, and migratory processes. Therefore, we want to raise awareness. And I believe that not only Europe, but also Spain, to the extent of its size and capabilities, must consider and ask itself what we can do for the African continent to help it, to combat the harmful effects of climate change, which has manifested itself not only in typhoons in Mozambique in the middle of 2019, but which is manifesting itself on a daily basis.
The problem is that there are a lot of economic interests involved.
Indeed, but one way to mitigate climate change could be through companies specialising in renewable energies that import or build photovoltaic panels. These companies could invest in the different African countries with incentives from government aid. There are many Spanish companies, in particular consultancies, involved in the drafting of regulations. This could be the contribution, for example, of Spanish companies in the fight against the harmful effects of climate change and in reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases. Morocco is an example within the African continent in terms of renewable energies.
In addition, we have the situation in the Sahel, which is a delicate situation, where terrorist groups are threatening the stability of this area, which is our backyard.
At Casa África we are very concerned about the Sahel, and the proof is in the number of forums we have held here on the region. We are concerned about the existing instability. We have to combat instability diplomatically, as well as culturally and socially. And we are activists in this.
How does Casa África see the future of this African free trade zone and in what timeframe can results be expected?
A giant step forward is the fact that it was signed in January. In Europe it was difficult and has not yet been fully achieved because there is no fiscal harmonisation. Our friend Carlos Lopes, Special Representative of the African Union for relations with Europe, told us that in three years it will be possible to start seeing results.
We now have to do some educational work in Spain to explain to businessmen who produce a certain product in La Rioja that they can cross the strait with their lorry and go from one country to another without being obliged to pay customs duties in each of the respective countries. This explanation is necessary because most Spanish businessmen are unaware of the existence of this unified policy that has been promoted from the African continent.
As Carlos Lopes says: Africa is growing very fast, but transforming very slowly. Doesn't Africa need more transformation to achieve better development and more inclusive growth?
Well, it is obvious. There are several factors that have not allowed this transformation process to take place. First, corruption is an endemic cancer in many African countries. Second, the process of decolonisation was also superficial in some areas. In fact, some experts say that the conflict in northern Mozambique is a consequence of a poorly managed decolonisation process. And it is clear that Africa is in the midst of a modernisation process.
On the African continent we still don't know very well what is going to happen, Africa is in a process of modernisation and this modernisation is going to come hand in hand with digitalisation, renewable energies, the empowerment of women... These are unstoppable facts that are going to progressively transform African countries. But it is also necessary for international organisations to help fight corruption and limit the power of certain lobbies.
How is the Canary Islands being promoted as a window to Africa at the business and cultural level?
Fifteen years ago, some would have liked Casa África to be based in Madrid, but locating it in the archipelago was a wise decision, a decision by Miguel Ángel Moratinos. About fifteen new embassies were opened at that time, so in recent years progress has been made in terms of relations with Africa. Casa África must be an instrument known to all Spaniards, and that is my obsession, to strengthen Casa África in each and every ministry, so that all ministries think and work in and with Africa.
For their part, Europe and Spain must understand that the Canary Islands are an archipelago that belongs to the African continental shelf. What is more, the Canary Islands are the only entity included in the Treaty on European Union and in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union located on the African continent. The Canary Islands is the outermost region, a term coined by Felipe González. In short, we are a genuine platform for the exchange of goods, for the exchange of services, for the industrial exchange of products, which must be strengthened.