'The International Community Needs the African Vision to Address Challenges'
Africa as a continent has a total surface area of 30.2 million square kilometers – bigger than China, India, Europe and the United States combined. And yet too many people associate it only with poverty, conflicts and – more recently – Ebola.
Latifa Akharbach, ambassador of Kingdom of Morocco and Dean of the Group of African Ambassadors to Bulgaria, is now adamant this stereotype has to change for the well-being of Bulgaria, Europe and the world alike. With the Africa Day (May 25) celebrations prepared by the Group in Bulgaria's capital Sofia, Mrs Akharbach and the other 12 envoys believe this is the right moment to put Africa in the spotlight.
In her opinion, Africa deserves more visibility in the diplomatic agenda and cultural landscape here in Bulgaria, because “you don’t have enough Africa even if you’re part of the EU.” Africa, secondly, is not a just a land of problems, but also of opportunities, contributing to the world’s prosperity and growth. Bulgaria could benefit from this just as the continent could use its expertise, but “a tremendous effort” is needed to make things work.
Here in Bulgaria, Mrs Akharbach can speak for 12 countries that have representatives here: six of them with ambassadors and the rest with honorary consuls.
This is the summary of what Latifa Akharbach, ambassador of Kingdom of Morocco and Dean of the Group of African Ambassadors to Bulgaria, has told Novinite ahead of the Africa Day celebrations in May 25, for which an event is being organized in Bulgaria's capital Sofia.
On May 25, the Africa Day is celebrated all over the world, Mrs Akharbach is convinced that in Bulgaria it could have a particular meaning.
“Our main message for Bulgaria is that Africa deserves bigger visibility in diplomatic agenda and in the cultural landscape,”she said. This is why the event will bring together a number of people who have ties to Africa: politicians, business representatives, diplomats, and students. All the accredited African ambassadors in Bulgaria will take part in the event held under the patronage of Daniel Mitov, Bulgaria's Minister of Foreign Affairs. These include envoys of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan and South Africa (Ambassadors) and Ghana, Kenya, Mali, the Seychelles and Uganda (Honorary Consuls).
Handicraft items from all African countries represented will be on display, and videos advertising all these African states will be run throughout the event, along with important facts and figures about the world's youngest continent, populated by 1.1 billion people. “It’s very important to deliver the message that Bulgaria had good historical links and ties with Africa, and Bulgaria and Africa could really have future mutually beneficial relations in trade, cross investment, and other fields.”
“Africa - land of greatest opportunities” is the motto chosen by the group of ambassadors, since they believe people in Bulgaria must be aware of the potential of Africa's potential. But why aren’t these opportunities used properly yet, I ask. “There is no problem in the situation, there’s only a delay,” she explains. “I am convinced that Bulgaria has a sense of the strategic value of Africa. We need both sides to make more effort in pursuing our opportunities and more common work to see where the best opportunities are… There is also a big need of promoting people-to-people dynamics.”
She assures me Bulgaria has a very positive image on the continent, and this is quite easy to grasp. In the latter half of the 20th century physicians, doctors, teachers shared their experience with the African people – a very good asset to pave the way for future cooperation. And there are certainly chances to seize in Africa: many neglect the fact that it performed outstandingly last year in terms of economic growth (with an average rate of 4.7% it was the fastest-growing continent). International media outlets, however, contributed to the distortion of its image, with diseases and civil war prevailing in the coverage of the entire region. “Africa is much more than this; it has big assets and has its own development agenda it is following.” Mrs Akharbach points out. “It also has its own vision. And this should be known better by the international community, because we need the African vision to address challenges.” The fight against illegal migration, combating terrorism and global warming are only several examples of where Africa could have a substantial contribution.
There is no doubt whatsoever that Africa is tormented by a host of problems: poverty, lack of regional integration and “some development issues”, to name a few. But the rest of the world is not immune to crises, and Mrs Akharbach reminds the Eurozone for instance could look to Africa more carefully as it is seeking a way out of its own crisis.
For now, concrete economically-oriented events are not on the agenda, and this year’s Africa Day in Bulgaria will be more about celebrating African culture. The aim is to gather “people from business and academic milieu, people who are studying here, just to draw attention of media and public opinion.” If all goes well, a roundtable could be due next year to explore economic opportunities. If Europe is working on its cooperation with Africa, with a comprehensive roadmap adopted at the last EU-Africa Summit in 2014 involving many fields of cooperation, why shouldn’t Bulgaria, as a EU member, also make use of this roadmap?
Yes, why not, I think, but in what fields can we cooperate most successfully? “All the members of our group are convinced Bulgaria has big assets. [In] Bulgarian agriculture for example, it’s very good and [Bulgaria’s] know-how is very useful ,” the Dean replies, then adding: “But I think it also has very good resource in engineering and public works.” She underlines she cannot talk on behalf of the Bulgarian government, but also that on the African side there is much to offer, not least because of the geographical proximity – and because of the figures for the continent as well.
“I'm convinced as dean that it is important to have a new paradigm in the international community about cooperation with Africa,” Mrs Akbarbach points out and is quick to explain:
“Africa doesn't need the development aid. It needs more partnership and equality in the relations. There is the perception that Africa is just a big venue with people begging. While in our culture we consider that it is bad to beg, because the hand who gives is over the hand which takes. So [begging] is not in our African culture.” In her words, development aid should not be the only factor in relations with the rest of the world: ties should be partnership-based instead, and a new approach, in touch with reality, is needed. “While you say that the hand who gives is above, and the hand that takes is below.”
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