Positive development in Africa is also good for Sweden

Aid and trade. A new Africa is emerging and many countries are achieving robust growth rates. The proportion of people living in extreme poverty has declined and the authoritarian regimes are in retreat. Our aim is to strengthen and expand our relations with Africa. And to this end, we are travelling to South Africa this week to take part in the World Economic Forum on Africa, write five Swedish government ministers.

This week, world leaders in business, politics, research and civil society will gather in Cape Town, South Africa, for the World Economic Forum on Africa. With five ministers taking part, we are sending a clear signal of Sweden's interest in the positive developments in Africa and our desire to strengthen and expand our relations. The WEF will focus on the conditions for sustaining Africa's strong growth and development. We will discuss how politicians and the business community can help to strengthen the conditions for sound and sustainable economic development while emphasising the importance of democracy and political reform. To boost growth and reduce poverty Africa needs to continue to promote trade. It also needs to continue structural reforms and investments in infrastructure, health and education, but also to choose policies focusing on democracy, human rights and gender equality.

The global financial and debt crisis is now in its fifth year. The weak global economy is affecting Sweden's open and export-oriented economy. Europe, the United States and Japan are struggling with weak growth and weakened public finances. Meanwhile, as most African countries experience robust economic growth, we see a new Africa emerging.

In many African countries, growth rates are high, averaging five per cent over the past fifteen years throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The IMF expects that more than 15 countries will grow by more than 6 per cent this year. Seven African countries are expected to grow faster than China. Sweden's trade with Africa has increased and will grow rapidly in the years ahead.

Although famine, dictatorships and lack of freedom are part of the everyday lives of millions of Africans, the proportion of extremely poor people has fallen. Several social indicators also suggest that development in many countries is headed in the right direction even if the path to sustainable development remains long.

At the same time, financial flows to the region need to increase - the lack of investment is huge. Major investments are needed in sectors such as infrastructure and agricultural transformation. In recent years, a factor contributing to the strong growth rate has been technological development and the explosive growth in mobile telephony. This has made it easier for people to obtain information on such diverse issues as access to health care and the latest agricultural commodity prices. Mobile banking systems have been launched in a number of African countries, where poor people can open a savings account and get access to loans by applying with a mobile phone.

Stronger growth is also partly the result of economic policy. Average public debt in Africa is about 35 per cent of GDP. This is partly due to debt relief, but the deficits have also been limited, amounting this year to an average of about 2 per cent. In many areas, important structural reforms are being implemented to boost competition that will enable faster growth. Technological advances have also contributed to this positive development.

To a great extent, Africa's future is in the hands of its young and growing population. According to UN estimates, Africa's population will double by 2050. By then, almost one in five people on Earth will be living on the African continent. Creating education and employment opportunities for this large, young population will be a challenge. If this is not possible, there is a risk that the demographic imbalance will create political and social unrest. At the same time, the potential cannot be exaggerated.

Other countries, not least China and other BRIC countries, are placing more and more focus on the African continent. For us it is goes without saying that Sweden and the EU should be at the forefront of this development, in terms of trade and aid. A democratic and economically stronger Africa is good for Sweden. There are good prospects for continued positive development.

It is in Sweden's interests to support and act on these positive prospects. Sweden enjoys historical and multifaceted ties with many African countries. This provides a solid foundation for stronger and broader cooperation in the future.

The examples of cooperation between Sweden and African countries are many. Historical connections with Africa need to be developed, broadened and strengthened in order to consolidate Swedish influence and create sustainable relations.

Sweden continues to play an active role as a donor. Total development assistance amounts to one per cent of Sweden's gross national income, a goal which will remain in place in the future. Between 2006 and 2012 development assistance increased from SEK 28 billion to almost SEK 36 billion. Direct development assistance to Africa, alongside Sweden's growing support for multilateral organisations, has increased from SEK 6.5 billion to SEK 8 billion during the same period.

Democratic development, the empowerment of women and respect for human rights is the road African countries must choose. The Swedish Government supports this choice through our development assistance policy. And even if some progress has been made in the fight against dictatorship, corruption and the lack of freedom, there is still far to travel before all of the continent's dictatorships are replaced with stable democracies.

Sweden is a credible partner in many African countries - one that stands up for its principles, values and interests, but also serves as an example. This allows us to take wider responsibility for moving the EU's position forward in its policy on Africa. This benefits Sweden; it promotes the pursuit of peace, freedom and reconciliation around the world and can facilitate democratic and sustainable development.

Our relations with African countries are predicated on an Africa in change. A key assumption is that democracy, investment, free trade and value-driven development assistance are central to development. An important aim of the Swedish Government's policy and of our trip is to broaden contacts between Sweden and countries in Africa and to promote Swedish and African interests and cooperation for mutual benefit. Foreign and security policy, trade policy and aid policy engagement are all intertwined into an increasingly integrated whole. In this way, we can also go some way towards helping Africa take on a full and active role in international political and economic cooperation.

Sweden and the EU should jointly strengthen, renew and modernise our relations and expectations of cooperation with a changing Africa. The Swedish Government will continue to be a long-term partner with African countries for growth, democracy and sustainable development. We look forward to deepening our understanding and gaining a broader perspective through our participation in the World Economic Forum on Africa. The theme of the Forum is Delivering on Africa's Promise'. It is African actors alone who can ensure that the development continues. Africa is changing. It is clearly in Sweden's interest to continue as a partner and player.

Anders Borg, Minister for Finance
Carl Bildt, Minister for Foreign Affairs
Gunilla Carlsson, Minister for International Development Cooperation
Ewa Björling, Minister for Trade
Birgitta Ohlsson, Minister for EU Affairs