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European University Institute - Florence School of Transnational Governance

Sir Mo Ibrahim discusses resetting Africa-Europe relations in La Pira Lecture

On 16 May 2024, the Florence School of Transnational Governance (STG) hosted the 3rd Distinguished Giorgio La Pira Lecture, delivered by Sir Mohammed Ibrahim, Founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

30 May 2024 | Event

STG_2024_la pira

The 2024 Distinguished Giorgio La Pira Lecture focused on fostering dialogue between Europe and Africa. Held at Palazzo Buontalenti in collaboration with Fondazione CR Firenze, the lecture featured an address by Sir Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born British entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Ahead of the lecture, Ibrahim sat down with Fabrizio Tassinari, Executive Director of the Florence STG, to discuss the widening rift between Africa and Europe. Watch the full interview here.

In these discussions, Ibrahim tackled critical issues such as economic growth, climate change, and governance, highlighting the necessity for a complete paradigm shift in Africa-Europe relations. He argued for moving beyond historical ties to form partnerships based on shared geography and complementary demographics.

Speaking of democracy, Ibrahim remarked on the Western perception of democracy as an abstract concept, emphasising that it should be a tool to deliver tangible benefits:

“Governments need to deliver to people. Participation or democracy, our rights, etc., is one aspect. But there are other aspects too which are important because people cannot eat democracy. You cannot have it for dinner. So development is very important. Education is important. Health is important. Financial management and transparency are too. There are a lot of other issues. [..] Sometimes in the West, we just are laser-focused on the issue of democracy. Do people go to vote every year or not? Excuse me, that's not enough. Really, we need to look at the whole basket of deliverables, and that is really important."

Ibrahim also addressed the complexities of citizen participation in the face of rampant corruption. He noted: “[For] many people, especially in the West, democracy meant that every four years people stand in queues to go and cast their votes. And then we have an election and we have a winner and all is fine and we congratulate the winner and say democracy is there. I think that is a little bit shallow”. He also emphasised the importance of transparency and institutional integrity, noting, "The issue really is participation, the space for civil society, the space for opposition, etc. And that's what we need to focus on really."

On climate change, he underscored the critical need for energy development in Africa, which is disproportionately affected by climate change despite contributing little to it. "We have 600 million people in Africa without power. If you don't have power, you don't have life. You don't have jobs, you don't have education, you don't have health, you don't have anything. You cannot do development if you don't have life. Europeans cannot live one day without power. Imagine no power around. You cannot live... So that has to be dealt with because that power means development. We need to understand that. And people should not create a false trade-off between green and development, climate and development. We need both. “

Ibrahim further elaborated on the necessity of resetting Africa-Europe relations, highlighting the drift between the continents. Europe faces rising populism and anti-migration sentiments, while Africa is increasingly aligning with global powers like China and India. This shift necessitates a change from historically grounded relationships to ones based on shared geography and demographics. He argued for moving beyond the aid posture, urging for equitable, business-minded partnerships that respect African agency. "Do not take Africa for granted," Ibrahim advised, stressing the need for genuine, accountable collaborations.

The lecture series, a collaboration between Fondazione CR Firenze and the European University Institute (EUI), honours Giorgio La Pira, former mayor of Florence and a visionary advocate for peace and dialogue. This year's event also included opening remarks from George Papaconstantinou, Acting Director of the STG, followed by introductory speeches from EUI President Professor Patrizia Nanz, STG Executive Director Fabrizio Tassinari, Maria Oliva Scaramuzzi, Vice-President of the Fondazione CR Firenze and Kenneth Amaeshi, Professor of Sustainable Finance and Governance at the Florence STG.

The lecture was followed by a panel discussion with STG students and fellows who shared their perspectives on Africa's future and its relations with Europe.

Reflecting on La Pira's legacy, Maria Oliva Scaramuzzi highlighted the enduring power of dialogue as a means to foster unity and peace: "Giorgio La Pira had already worked towards that objective in October 1955 when he convened, at the height of the Cold War, mayors from worldwide capitals. His idea was to foster unity among cities as a building block for peace among nations."

For more information about the lecture and to watch the interview with Sir Mohammed Ibrahim, visit our YouTube channel.

Last update: 30 May 2024

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