Preparation of Finland’s Africa strategy launched together with stakeholders

Stakeholder consultations on Finland's Africa strategy started on Wednesday 30 September 2020. A public online event was attended by more than 300 people interested in the development of the relations between Africa and Finland. The event’s strong message was that the relations between Finland and Africa should be expanded to include not only development cooperation but also political and economic cooperation.

The event was opened by Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto. Minister Haavisto emphasised the need of a change of perspective in Finland's Africa relations: In its relations with sub-Saharan countries, Finland has strongly focused on development cooperation.

According to Haavisto, it is now important to develop political dialogue, reciprocity, and economic cooperation. Haavisto underlined that the Africa strategy must identify Finland’s interests, strengths and value base, but also explore shared interests and consult African experts and the African diaspora community. The key priorities of the strategy must be selected together with representatives of business life, the research community and civil society.

“Finnish people should diversify their picture of Africa: we need to bring the Africa debate to the 2020s,” Haavisto said.

Africa has potential for increasing economic cooperation

After the Foreign Minister, Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade Ville Skinnari contributed his views to the discussion on the development of the strategy. According to the Minister, Africa’s population growth, economic growth and growing middle class offer many opportunities for increasing economic cooperation.

Based on the latest statistics, Finland's annual exports to Africa amount to approximately EUR 1.5 billion. Skinnari said that closer cooperation in Finland, in the EU and with the global community would give Finland good preconditions for doubling its exports. He considers that Finland has potential especially in green economy and digitalisation.

African diaspora community supports establishment of partnerships

The views of the African diaspora in Finland to the development of the strategy were discussed by Chairperson of the Finnish-African Society Sarah Laaru. Laaru emphasised that the Africa strategy must be based on developing partnerships that benefit both parties.

In her speech, Laaru raised three important themes: trade and investments, cooperation in education, and the role of African diaspora. According to Laaru, Africa offers plenty of opportunities for Finnish companies with an interest in investing and creating long-term employment in such growing sectors as circular economy, renewable energy, education, technology and healthcare.

Representatives of companies, youth and researchers contributed their ideas to the process

There was also a panel discussion, which focused on the views of representatives of companies, youth and the research community. The panellists were Professor Liisa Laakso from the Nordic Africa Institute, Executive Vice President Kari Hietanen from Wärtsilä, UN Youth Delegate of Finland Yuri Birjulin, and State Secretary Johanna Sumuvuori from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Sumuvuori is responsible for the preparation of the Africa strategy. Discussion in the chat platform was active during the panel discussion. Speakers emphasised the mitigation of climate change and practical ways to increase cooperation between Finnish companies and African partners.

Professor Laakso underlined that the Africa strategy should bring intersectoral elements and long-term perspectives to Finland’s Africa policy. Laakso was of the opinion that Finland could try to develop a shared, coherent Africa policy also among the EU Member States to strengthen Europe’s geopolitical role in Africa. She stressed that international agreements and organisations should be defended and regional players should be strengthened.

Birjulin highlighted the necessity to strengthen African youth's role and participation. According to Birjulin, the Africa strategy should take into account the goals of the UN Security Council resolution 2250, entitled Youth, Peace and Security, and the objectives related to its implementation plan developed in Finland, for example in order to support young people’s skills, education and opportunities of participation. Birjulin was of the opinion that through promoting Finnish youth’s opportunities to visit Africa, it could be possible to shape the one-sided views of the continent held by Finns and to network with local actors.

Hietanen discussed the importance of Finnish companies and investments in the cooperation with Africa. He noted that because of the demographic change and urbanisation in Africa, infrastructure development will become needed. According to him, there is demand especially for Finnish digital solutions as well as expertise related to clean energy, technology and education.  The availability of funding is a challenge in Africa, which is why it is important to improve development finance and funding instruments.

Sumuvuori stressed that the strategy is being prepared intersectorally and in cooperation with stakeholders. She highlighted the fact that the strategy aims to find shared interests and to promote values and goals that are important for Finland, too, including the rules-based international system (RBIS), equality and climate change mitigation.

EU’s message to Finland's Africa strategy

The European Union’s message to the preparation of Finland’s Africa strategy was sent via a video connection by EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen. According to her, the EU Strategy for Africa and Member States’ national strategies, including Finland’s Africa strategy, support each other. The COVID-19 pandemic has reversed the direction of development in many African countries and this will have long-term effects on their economies, for example. She said that is therefore even more important than before to develop Africa strategies. Post-crisis reconstruction and the creation of sustainable growth requires resources and a strategic approach.

Work on the strategy continues

The next phase in the preparation of Finland's Africa strategy will take place in stakeholder workshops, where the goals and measures will be specified. The workshops will gather together actors in society to discuss matters around the same table. Separate consultations will be organised for the African diaspora and youth in Finland.