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DEVELOPMENT: Spain’s New Drive to Extend its Interests in Africa

Stanley Kwenda

PRETORIA, Mar 17 2010 (IPS) - Spain is breaking new ground in its relations with Africa through an ambitious programme which has seen it increasing its development funding to the continent more than six-fold from 2004 to reach 1,4 billion euros in 2008.

Ricardo Martínez Vázquez: "We are concerned about the quality of the aid we give." Credit: Stanley Kwenda/IPS

Ricardo Martínez Vázquez: "We are concerned about the quality of the aid we give." Credit: Stanley Kwenda/IPS

Spain’s Africa policy was explained at a seminar hosted by the South African Institute for International Affairs, a foreign affairs research organisation attached to the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg on Mar 15.

“We want to build a new neighbourliness between Spain and Africa. We want to come up with a development policy with Africa and not for Africa, as has been the case with other partners,” said Ricardo Martínez Vázquez, the director of Casa Africa.

Casa Africa is Spain’s “public diplomacy research instrument that aims to enhance Spain-Africa relations and to facilitate cooperation between non-governmental entities”. Through Casa, Spain is active in building trade and investment relations between Europe and Africa.

As part of its Africa Plan 2009-2012, the European country works with regional blocs such as Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community to boost regional economic integration.

Its interventions are primarily based on developing fishing, tourism, renewable energy and infrastructure. Spain also has specific programmes for low income countries which are designed to boost their competitiveness in the international market.

As part of its strategic master plan for international engagement of 1998, which has since been revised to cover the period 2009 to 2018, Spain aims to contribute 40 percent of its total development aid to building capacity for African countries to access world markets. “We have the highest concentration in ECOWAS which has become a new priority area for Spain,” said Vázquez.

“We are looking at assisting countries such as Mali, Mozambique and Namibia in fisheries, agriculture and water desalination projects.”

Countries such as Morocco, Nigeria, Tunisia and Egypt have in the past benefited from Spanish financial assistance to develop their fisheries and to establish public-private partnerships in agricultural projects.

“We are glad with the outcome and would like to extend these to other African countries, such as Mali, Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso and Chad in the next two years. We are still learning in order to know exactly what these countries want,” said Vázquez. “We are not just looking at providing aid but are concerned about the quality of the aid we give out.”

Access to markets has been a big concern. Vázquez is of the opinion that these matters are better resolved under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) umbrella.

“Access to markets is still a delicate issue. We should engage more on a global scale such as at the WTO Doha Round. We need to bring theory into practice and avoid helping develop African farmers and then making it difficult for them to access our markets. It has to be a win–win situation,” said Vázquez.

According to information supplied in the invitation to the event, 60 percent of Spain’s development funding was implemented through multilateral avenues such as the African Union (AU), the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and regional economic communities. This accounted for 35 percent of Spain’s total overseas development assistance.

“We are leading discussions between Africa and the EU on migration issues and supplying development aid aimed at creating jobs in countries of origin. We are doing this through the Spain-ECOWAS migration plan established in April last year,” explained Vázquez.

“Our aim is to understand Africa from Africans themselves and not to rely on media images. We don’t claim to be experts on the continent. We need to learn from Africans themselves because they know themselves better,” Vázquez told IPS.

“We are trying to change the negative perception of Africa and present the continent as a place of great challenges, potential and enormous opportunities,” he said.

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