Truth and Trust Making in Troubled Times: Let’s talk about the EU and Africa

Mayke Kaag is a senior researcher at the ASCL working in the field of Africa's global connections. She is Professor in the Anthropology of Islam in Africa and its Diaspora at the University of Amsterdam.



Many European policymakers and diplomats have asked themselves lately why African governments and citizens no longer seem to want to deal with European partners, but instead turn to Russian, Chinese, Brazilian and other non-Western collaborators. What happened? What happened in African offices, streets, and minds that has thus far escaped their attention? They may try to find the answer in aggressive outreach and no-strings-attached policies by China, sly manoeuvering by Russian military leaders, and Arab religious diplomacy, which, according to some European narratives, must have corrupted African minds. While these strategies may be part of the explanation (and of course, African strategies play an important role, too), it is also worthwhile to look at EU policies and debates and how these may influence trust making on the African continent.  

Fostering trust
Seen from Africa, European support of the Ukrainian war, including how Ukrainian refugees are being received in Europe, is a bitter pill to swallow. Seen from Africa, big words during EU migration deliberations about supporting development in Africa, but in the end using most of the funds for re-enforcing European border controls, is not the type of action that will create goodwill and trust. Seen from Africa, migration deals with corrupt regimes do not help to install positive ideas in African citizens.

Seen from Africa, Western countries - France in particular - supporting Mahamat Déby as interim president in Chad after the death of his father while ignoring the violation of the constitution that this entails, does not make Chadian populations particularly trustful of European narratives of the importance of democracy and civil and human rights.*

Seen from Africa, unilateral EU legislation that requires exporters of products like coffee, cacao, and palm oil to provide verifiable proof that these have not been grown on recently deforested land, does not look like an effort to contribute to a global alliance against the climate crisis, but rather like one-sidedly raising import barriers and forcing developing countries into implementing costly traceability measures. Without consultation with the relevant stakeholders, such initiatives - as laudable as they may be from an environmental perspective - clearly do not foster trust in the EU’s willingness to devise solutions together.

Consistent ethics
As I have outlined in my inaugural address last year, in our interconnected and globalised world, trust making is a complex endeavour that requires complex strategies of trust making towards various audiences. Statements expressed in EU forums with the aim to install trust in voters back home (‘less migrants!’) or in partners within the EU (‘strong border controls!’) will also reach other audiences, including in Africa, who will take these differently. Words spoken in one setting have repercussions in others. So, for all those wondering politicians: align your messages better, or do not be surprised when you meet with Africans’ distrust despite all your eloquence on solidarity, democracy, and human rights. What is more, in this so-called ‘post-truth’ era characterised by intense clashes between different ‘truths’ that are built on alternative facts, for people to trust your ‘truth’ it is all the more important that you show yourself trustworthy. And in this - which in the current historical moment may seem contradictory at first sight - consistent ethics may help better than populism.

* Kaag, M., in press. ‘Faith-Based Organizations, Society and the State in Chad’. In: M. Glatzer, Manuel, P., and Gustafson, C.A. Faith-Based Organizations and Social Welfare: Associational Life and Religion in Contemporary Africa and Latin America. London/New York: Palgrave MacMillan: Palgrave Series in Religion, Politics and Policy.

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Photo credits
Top photo: Dakar, Loes Oudenhuijsen 
Photo Mayke Kaag: Kirsten van Santen


Europe-Africa relations
European Union
Russia-Africa relations
alternative truths
human rights
Mahamat Déby
Climate Change


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Organization/ affiliation: 
Ghana Netherlands Business & Culture Council

Hierbij een goed artikel wat onlangs is verschenen in de Standaard ( ) waarin expliciet de traditionele waarden worden benoemd:

‘Traditionele waarden’ vormen evenzeer een centraal element van de Russische buitenland­politiek, en Rusland werpt zich op als beschermer van traditionele Afrikaanse waarden, in tegenstelling tot het ‘perverse en decadente’ Westen. Een treffend voorbeeld hiervan zijn lgbti-rechten. Westerse landen proberen actief lgbti-rechten te beschermen in hun buitenlands beleid, bijvoorbeeld in reactie op homofobe wetten of wetsvoorstellen in landen als Oeganda, Kenia of Ghana. Veel Afrikanen ervaren die westerse inspanningen als manifest neokolonialisme.