Imagine alternative future(s) of the Belgian development cooperation

VUB Vrije Universiteit Brussel 24/3/2023 

VUB report identifies paternalism and self-interest in development cooperation


The soft approach: the modern industrialisation of Africa

Africa, takes the driving seat of its own future, joins Europe in tackling global challenges.





How Africans could win it

A plea to opt for the first of the three concluding approaches of the VUB/DGD report: the soft approach by the modern manufacturing industrialisation of Africa. Without making systemic changes in advance, foreign private investment and AU-EU partnerships between established industrial SMEs are realising Africa's development. They create ten million decent jobs every year and trigger systemic changes: capacity building, participation, inclusion and democratic processes. Poverty, inequalities, child labour, gender inequality, corruption and a lack of governance are just symptoms of a lack of inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

 Seen from Europe with Africa in mind, the conclusion of the VUB report translates as follows: "African countries must take the lead in their future and tackle global challenges together with Europe." (Climate - Pandemics - Energy - War in Europe - Ageing of industrialised countries - Africa demographics).

Interviews over the past decade in seven Sub-Saharan countries with more than 900 locally educated highly qualified young professionals demonstrated their more than decent level of knowledge and their expressed motivation to contribute to the socio-economic development of their country. Rightly or wrongly, they and their families opt for the soft approach documented in the VUB report as "grounded on a strong belief in modernity, economic growth and progress that can be achieved with industrialisation, science and technology." The European model of a socially corrected industrialised society is what they also want to introduce in Africa. They believe they have a voice in the current climate transition. Africa is endowed with abundant renewable energy sources, vast mineral resources, the world's agricultural lands, the second green lung and the future market. (Africa 2050: 25% world population, Europe: 7%).

Africa denounces the duality of European appeals for “solidarity” on the one hand, and the fact that this same Europe - imposing leonine contracts - continues to buy African raw materials to create jobs and wealth in Europe, thereby perpetuating that 80% of its population is deprived of decent “work”.

Africa wants to transform its natural resources locally into exportable products and thus create more jobs annually than its demographic growth and prevent forced migration. A broadly educated Africa is aware of having the necessary theoretical knowledge but suffers from a lack of practical experience with complex manufacturing processes. Therefore, its search for "win-win" direct foreign investors and partnerships with established international industrial SMEs.


"It will require building new ways of relating to others and nature to address global challenges collaboratively. We hope that DGD continues the conversations that have already started with Belgian NGOs. But we encourage them to expand and deepen the work with the various actors from the partner countries, allowing them to take the driving seat of their futures."

(p 45, last paragraph)

The socio-economic development that Africa wants

The VUB study recommends that Belgium’s Directorate-General for Development Cooperation let partner countries determine their own future.

Here the dominant view of more than 900 empowered representatives of the civil society in seven Sub-Saharan countries (locally trained engineers, economists, agronomists, computer scientists) and supported by the authorities of most African countries.

They believe they can take the driving seat of their futures by forging cross-border "win-win" partnerships with experienced manufacturing entrepreneurs.

Abundant renewable energy offers Africa the opportunity to achieve socio-economic development, copied on the European model, while respecting biodiversity and limiting global warming to 1.5 C. “Jobs & Modernity & Real independence”, that is what Africa is concerned about, not paternalistic "solidarity", "SDGs" or "reparations". 

In both Belgium and partner countries, the colonial approach permeates all levels of development aid.”

Or to put it another way: "Actors from Africa must determine their own future and, together with homologues from industrialised countries, take new paths to address global challenges."

Participants in the VUB study of partner countries believe that the Belgian system of development cooperation suffers from insufficient knowledge of the local socioeconomic, political and ecological context of its target countries. This translates into actions aimed at relieving the symptoms and not at the causes.  Had it already dawned on all 70 Belgian participants in the study that (1) even the most unstable Sub-Saharan countries can bow to an educated, empowered middle class that is aware of being at the wheel and can choose between East and West? - (2) that Africa wants to create 10 million 'formal' jobs every year and therefore is concerned about “jobs”, not decolonisation, solidarity, human rights, governance or SDGs? – and (3) that despite sixty years of development aid, more than eighty percent of the African population still is deprived of social rights?

The soft approach is grounded in a strong belief in modernity, economic growth and progress-making that can be achieved with industrialisation, science and technology. 

(VUB-report, p42, last paragraph) 

Africa’s advanced industrialisation saves the entire planet."

The empowered representatives of the African civil society are opting with the most important and most urgent priority for what the report mentions as the "soft approach" and their modern industrialisation. Only the local transformation of African natural resources into exportable products will create 10 million formal jobs annually and structurally remove the root causes of poverty and forced migration. To achieve this goal, they invite experienced foreign for-profit industrialists — not taxpayers from industrialised countries — to invest in Africa and learn from each other. Africa has the raw materials, the green energy and the market. Europe has – for the time being – a head start with experience with advanced manufacturing. Thus, Africa can achieve "development" through capacity building, participation, inclusion and democratic processes. Moreover, they hope that the example of industrial cooperation for mutual benefit between the AU and the EU, facilitated by Africa's abundant green energy, can even save the entire planet.

Putting Act at the CenTre


Contrary to the fears of participants in the study from the aid industry (sic), another Africa - of the higher educated - does have a voice in the debate and is convinced that only an inclusive and sustainable manufacturing industrialisation of Africa can structurally remedy the root causes of poverty and is possible and urgently needed.

This Africa wants to move swiftly into action by fostering partnerships between established industrial SMEs from Africa and Europe. (Africa's advanced industrialisation in four phases).

It believes in the importance of a “métissage” of skills: capacity sharing & walking uncharted path & mutual learning.

This “other" Africa says:

'Europe, let us do business together. We, in Africa, are being applied for our natural resources from all over the world, recently also for our climate-strategic rare metals and our abundant green energies. We are the future new growth market with, by 2050, 25% of the world's population. For the time being, Europe has a head start with experience in advanced industrial processes and technologies. In the past, Europe has hurt us by imposing leonine contracts on us when purchasing our raw materials and process them in Europe. We notice that a new progressive generation is emerging in Europe that recognises that only a "new deal" with Africa can secure its future through cooperation between equals for mutual benefit.

We want our natural resources, with the help of European experience and technologies, to be processed locally into exportable products. Only in this way will we be able to create more decent jobs each year than our population growth and curb poverty and forced migration. The entire planet gains with local manufacturing in the short chain, with the help of our abundant green solar and hydro energy. Your shareholders must also benefit. That is why we help them, if desired, to repatriate parts of the realised profits. We live at 14km from each other, speak the same languages and have known each other for more than a hundred years. This facilitates win-win negotiations between equals.'

Africa’s unique assets



GRAND INGA (DR Congo) = 44  electo-nuclear reactors

As early as 2035, Africa can boast as many professionals (f/m) - in their prime of life - as China, on more than 50% of the global solar production capacity, on 35% of the global production capacity of "green" hydrogen, on 60% of the global

agricultural area, on the world's second lung (the DRC rain forest), on nascent democracies and climate-strategic rare metals. Upon completion of the GRAND INGA in DRCongo this hydropower project will generate as much "green" electricity as 44 electro-nuclear reactors (as many as the whole of France) without nuclear waste or without decommissioning costs.

Africa 2050: 25% world population (Europe 7%).

"Effect" or "cause"

Corruption, inequalities, forced migration, lack of governance are a consequence of the lack of inclusive, sustainable economic growth, not its cause. This is what the Belgian Oxford professor Stefan Derkon writes in Gambling on Development. To date, Africa makes virtually nothing, certainly not exportable products. The only skill its educated middle-class lacks is experience with modern manufacturing processes and technologies. To acquire this competence, African governments, like all other countries in the world, seek to attract experienced private investors. Only a long-term immersion in the practices of advanced international companies has an effect. Temporary support by foreign experts or to start-ups in business incubators is not. Even the EU is counting on for profit entrepreneurs to cough up 85% of the €150 billion for the realisation of the African part of its famous "Global Gateway" strategy.

“Europe dégage!”

In times of the current polycrisis "Climate – Energy – War in Europe – Ageing of the West – Demographic explosion Africa", an important educated African civil society (1) is aware of its assets but (2) also of the need to learn from industrialised countries. A non-insignificant part of African youth goes beyond the above-mentioned pragmatic vision of 900 highly educated engineers and agronomists. "Europe dégage" that is what they write on the walls in Africa’s capitals.

Paternalistic Europe should be aware that half of African countries did NOT sign the UN motion condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

This new Africa, endowed with a strong outspokenness, is aware that it can choose between East and West.

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