Strengthening cooperation with Africa is one of the EU's foreign policy priorities - Braze

  • 2024-06-05
  • LETA/TBT Staff

RIGA - On June 3 and 4, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs organised an international forum called Latvia and African Countries: Partners for Peace and Resilience in Riga. 

The Forum brought together more than 100 participants, including public and non-governmental sector representatives, entrepreneurs and guests from 18 African countries, LETA was informed by the Foreign Ministry.

“Strengthening cooperation with Africa is one of the priorities of the EU’s foreign policy, as Africa’s security and economic challenges bear direct significance for the EU: The war in Ukraine, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and other factors have had a negative impact on both the EU and Africa, and we need to improve our political and economic cooperation, develop crisis response mechanisms and strengthen our supply chains. Latvia is currently actively working to strengthen political and economic relations across the African continent. In 2023, we both exported to more than 40 African countries and imported from more than 40 African countries. Latvian companies’ interest in expanding trade with African partners is growing steadily – there is great potential for mutual cooperation and long-term cooperation projects, which ought to be availed of,'' Latvian Foreign Minister Baiba Braze (New Unity) emphasized at the event's business forum, which took place within the framework of the Latvia-Africa events.

Braze also pointed out that projects in Namibia and Zambia have already been successfully implemented in 2022–2023, while projects in South Africa, Cameroon, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe are underway in 2023–2024.

Braze and State Secretary of the Ministry of Economics Edmunds Valantis opened the Business Forum and discussions on opportunities to deepen cooperation in education, digitization, agriculture and forestry, emphasizing the introduction of modern technological solutions and the creation of high added value. The Minister of Foreign Affairs drew attention to the growing interest in cooperation between African and European countries. 

Braze highlighted the ongoing shift from a donor-recipient relationship to an equal partnership, for instance, through the implementation of projects under the EU’s Global Gateway initiative, thus promoting economic growth and prosperity on both continents. Interest in cooperation with African countries is also growing in Latvia, as evidenced by the export performance of Latvian companies. Representatives of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development and the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia also gave an address, presenting Latvia’s achievements in digitization and providing information on the offer of various sectors. Presentations were also given by the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Cleantech Latvia and the Information Technology cluster.

At the forum, Dace Melbarde, Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the event was a sign of the growing cooperation between Latvia and African countries. The Parliamentary Secretary stressed that Latvia was ready to continue listening to partners in order to gain a deeper understanding of their needs and stances, as well as to find effective forms of cooperation in addressing common security, climate and economic challenges, especially in areas where Latvia had developed strong expertise, such as digitization, strengthening information resilience, education and science, smart agriculture, forestry, water management, etc.

Melbarde also drew attention to the continent’s development potential and expressed Latvia’s interest in strengthening cooperation in overcoming common challenges and promoting resilience based on international law and the principles of the UN Charter.

Ingrida Circene, Head of the Saeima Friendship Group for the Promotion of Cooperation with African Parliaments, also made a speech, stressing Latvia’s desire to more actively engage in cooperation with African countries, sharing experience of reforms and democratic transformation.

The International Forum included analytical discussions and presentations on the growing international role of African countries, with representatives from the European External Action Service (EEAS), the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and the International Crisis Group (ICG). The debate concluded that, given the fact that 12 of the 20 world’s fastest-growing economies are in Africa, the continent is currently not proportionally represented in the international system. Emphasizing the need to ensure equal and fair geographical representation, Latvia advocates the reform of the UN Security Council to include additional seats for African countries. The founder of Afriwomen Connect, representatives of the EEAS and Namibia’s International Women’s Peace Center, as well as representatives of Latvia’s leading women’s rights advocacy organisation Centrs Marta discussed the UN Women, Peace and Security agenda. The main conclusion of the discussion was that the involvement of the whole society is essential for the success of the agenda, highlighting successful examples of the involvement of both men and boys and the importance of civil society initiatives.

Implementers of Latvian development cooperation projects in Africa, Esi.LV and Riga Tech Girls, presented ongoing projects and new initiatives to promote women’s digital and entrepreneurship skills, as well as financial literacy in African countries. There was also a discussion on future cooperation in smart agriculture, forestry and sustainable water management, where representatives of the Latvian Rural Advisory and Education Center, the Latvian University of Biosciences and Technologies, the State Forests of Latvia and Cleantech Latvia shared their experience.

There was also a wide-ranging discussion on cooperation in the field of education, which was opened by Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner for International Partnerships at the European Commission, who welcomed Latvia’s interest in developing cooperation with African higher education institutions, highlighting the success of the ERASMUS+ program. Given the growing number of young people on the continent, education is a particularly relevant topic in EU-Africa cooperation as well as the African Union’s 2024 topic “Educate an African Fit for the 21st Century: Building Resilient Education Systems for Increased Access to Inclusive, Lifelong, Quality, and Relevant Learning in Africa”. Discussions were held on ways to deepen cooperation, with particular emphasis on the potential of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, taking into account the demands of today’s labor market, as well as digitization initiatives in African countries. The discussion brought together representatives of the Ministry of Education and Science, universities and academic institutions, as well as students from Lesotho and Tunisia. The participants were presented with the report of the Center for Geopolitical Studies on Latvia’s cooperation with African countries.

There was also a session on protecting the integrity of information, focusing on the role of artificial intelligence, as well as on building the capacity of public administrations and civil society to fight information manipulation campaigns. Participants included representatives from the NATO Secretary General’s Office, the Cote d'Ivoire office of the international news agency AFP, the non-profit African Digital Democracy Observatory, the data journalism network Code for Africa, as well as the Baltic Media Center of Excellence.