S&T cooperation between Europe and Africa has entered a very promising phase
In the last decade, the African continent has quite significantly changed politically and economically and seems to have entered a true period of economic and social development, and started to move – under the aegis of the African Union (AU) created in 2002 – towards an integrated area of peace and prosperity.
In this context, many world powers have logically been striving during this period for closer links with the African continent. It has obviously been the case of European countries but it has, first and foremost, been the case of the European Union (EU):
- Adopting a “EU strategy for Africa” in 2005; promoting in particular a more coordinated approach of the European Member States (MS) policies and activities regarding Africa,
- Agreeing with the AU, end of 2007 in Lisbon (during the second EU-AU Summit), on a “Africa-EU Joint Strategy and Action Plan – JSAP”, going beyond donor-recipient arrangements, and paving the way for a partnership of equals based on mutual interest.
The EU’s wish to treat Africa as one region is quite challenging, not only because Africa remains diverse (development status, population size, political stability, etc.) but also because current EU policies and programmes typically consider three main areas in Africa:
- North Africa – addressed through the “Euro-Mediterranean Partnership” (Euromed), formerly known as the “Barcelona process” and re-launched in 2008 as the “Union for the Mediterranean”,
- Sub-Saharan Africa – addressed through the “ACP-EC Partnership Agreement”, known as the “Cotonou Agreement” signed in 2000 in Cotonou, Benin, and entered into force in 2003,
- South Africa – addressed through a Strategic Partnership signed in 2007 (building on former thematic agreements).
Africa has also recognised that S&T and ICT are key vectors for bridging the scientific and digital divides, for reducing poverty and ensuring socio-economic development, for reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and, eventually, for supporting the sustainable evolution of Africa. The Africa Science and Technology (S&T) Consolidated Plan of Action (CPA) formulated by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the AU, the creation of the African Ministerial Council on Science and Technology (AMCOST), and the African Regional Action Plan on the Knowledge Economy (ARAPKE), are only some of recent examples of Africa’s determination to rely on S&T and ICT to achieve its growth and development objectives.
It is therefore quite logical that one of the 8 thematic partnerships identified in Lisbon in 2007 on the occasion of the EU-AU Summit is a “Partnership for Science, Information Society and Space” (also known as the “8th partnership”).
This thematic partnership focusing on 19 lighthouse projects (6 of them being considered as early deliverables) is under implementation since October 2008 and should widely contribute to strengthening S&T cooperation links between the two continents in the ICT domain.
In the Information Society domain: 2 projects are considered as early deliverables.
- Africa Connect - The Africa Connect project will support the development of regional research and education networks in Sub-Saharan Africa and their interconnection with the European GÉANT network, building on a similar initiative, Eumed Connect, implemented in North Africa (currently interconnecting around 1,5 Million users across more than 500 research organisations). The objective will be to contribute integrating the African research community both at regional and international levels, through interconnection with the most cost-effective high bandwidth capacity.
- The African Internet Exchange System (AXIS) - This project aims to support the establishment of a continental African Internet infrastructure through national and regional internet exchange points. Such deployment is considered crucial for the development of the Internet in Africa, generating huge costs savings by keeping local traffic local and offering better quality of service and new applications opportunities. AXIS activities will include technical assistance on planning, regulatory/policy issues, as well as human training to achieve this objective.
An e-Infrastructures Conference has to be organised in Africa
The development of S&T cooperation on ICT between Europe and Africa is in a booming period, particularly as far as e-Infrastructures are concerned. It therefore becomes necessary and strategic to organise a major event: an open Conference in which all European and African stakeholders (policymakers, companies, research organisations, etc.) involved in the development of cooperation on e-Infrastructures can get together.