Pope Francis’ recent visit to Sub-Saharan Africa has brought renewed attention to that part of the world, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
While often regarded separately, it is important to remember that Africa, Asia and Europe make up the Afro-Eurasian landmass – a single geographical unit.
Throughout history, the Sahara Desert separated North Africa – which benefited from cultural and economic exchange with Europe across the easily navigable Mediterranean Sea – from Sub-Saharan Africa.
With the 19th century came new technologies, including better navigation techniques and the introduction of quinine as a treatment for malaria, which allowed Europeans to begin exploring and colonising Sub-Saharan Africa.
The region then went through a hasty and disastrous decolonisation after the Second World War. Due to modern transport and telecommunications, the Sahara is losing its efficacy as a barrier. Europe, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa are now all close neighbours.
So aside from purely humanitarian reasons, Europe ought to be concerned about Africa – the fates of the two continents are intertwined. A stable and increasingly prosperous Africa is in Europe’s interest.
But it appears that only France – and on a broader level, the Vatican – understand this political and geopolitical imperative. France’s recent operations in Mali and the Central African Republic, as well as in a number of other countries, have been crucial in averting even bigger disasters in those countries.
The Catholic Church also plays a hugely positive role throughout the continent. Catholic priests, nuns, doctors and teachers often endure in perilous areas on the continent, even when it endangers their lives.
Catholic missions, schools and hospitals have contributed to Africa’s stability and development. As in other parts of the world, the Vatican also discreetly pushes forward negotiations between conflicting parties, helping to advance peace. The pope’s visit to Africa will enhance the effects of the church’s activities.
France and the Vatican take a realistic view. France realises that stability in Africa – after all, a close neighbour – is a vital national interest. The Vatican acts out of duty to its Christian calling.
Now that geography has failed as an effective barrier, Europeans should shed their blinkers. Europe must engage in Africa instead of using poorly directed foreign aid as a sop to its guilty conscience.
This direct engagement will involve humanitarian, educational and even military involvement. It requires an understanding of local realities and traditions. Increasing trade and investment will also be essential.
In December 2013, GIS published a statement, Mass murder in Central Africa, a few extracts of which, warrant repeating:
‘Geographically, strategically and economically Africa is extremely important for Europe.'
‘Africa is a hotspot in this global race for resources. But Europe will lose the last of its moral authority if it is unable to help the people of Africa by protecting lives and property.'
‘Africa continues to face famine, disease and civil wars. Its natural resources will be used by other powers and Europe will receive the starving surplus of Africa’s demography as immigrants.’
None of that has changed. And it will not, until Europe makes Africa a priority.