Speech by Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström on Africa Day
Minister for Foreign Affairs Tobias Billström gave a speech on 25 May on the occasion of Africa Day.
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Dear friends and partners,
I am very pleased to see so many of you again, and honoured to celebrate Africa Day together. I thank Ambassador Sele and all African Heads of Mission in Stockholm for extending this invitation to me.
Our relation with African countries is something I, and the whole Swedish Government, attach great importance to. When serving as Minister for Migration, my first trip outside of the EU was to Libya, in November 2006, for a meeting with African colleagues on migration and development. Also in my current capacity, I look forward to visiting your home countries, hearing the perspectives of African partners.
As we today celebrate the diversity of Africa, we commemorate the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity 60 years ago. Rooted in the struggle for independence, freedom and a peaceful continent, this day is an opportunity to reflect on the past, the present, and the future.
Last year’s Summit of the EU and the African Union marked a milestone, as our leaders agreed on renewing our partnership with a joint vision. This is a partnership for solidarity, peace and security, sustainable economic development and prosperity for our citizens – bringing our two continents together. This underscores the fact that we are equal partners, with reciprocal commitments based on mutual respect and shared values.
Sweden is a longstanding friend and partner to many African countries, including on your road to independence and democracy. In solidarity, and out of conviction that every country and its citizens should have the right to live in freedom, Sweden provided support to liberation movements in countries such as the former Rhodesia, South Africa and Guinea-Bissau. Following independence, Swedish support continued. For example, through longstanding development cooperation with many of your countries.
Our commitment to Africa has continued to grow and develop ever since. While recalling our historic ties, I would also like to reflect on the present. Today, Sweden has embassies in 18 African countries. 22 African countries have embassies in Stockholm. Our relations are broader than ever.
As you know, the African Union has designated 2023 as the Year for accelerating the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area. Sweden is one of the main supporters of technical assistance, contributing to expanding intra-African trade and inclusive economic growth. Across the continent, Swedish businesses provide state-of-the-art solutions in support of a green, sustainable transition. This includes environmentally-friendly transport solutions by Volvo and Scania, digital services by Ericsson and the largest solar power project in Sub-Saharan Africa, in Angola, which is co-financed by Sweden. African entrepreneurs, such as Kenyan M-Pesa –established long before our own Swish – inspire Swedish counterparts.
Trade between Sweden and African countries has increased by around 35 per cent in the last 5 years, trade with some African countries now exceeds pre-pandemic levels. People-to-people ties build new bridges, as more than 1 500 university students from African countries studied in Sweden in the last year.
I hope this exchange will increase even more. Sweden is a major partner in development cooperation for many African countries, making a substantial difference in the daily lives of citizens across the continent. Last year, Sweden provided more than SEK 2.5 billion in humanitarian assistance as a response to crises in Africa.
These are just a few examples, and a clear testament to our commitment to Africa.
Together with the EU and other Member States, we deliver on our commitments and remain a leading partner on investments, trade, development cooperation and security. We need to listen to and learn from each other. A dialogue in which we address issues of key concern, and try to find common solutions. A partnership built on mutual interests and shared responsibility. That is our goal.
Earlier this month, we celebrated Europe Day. Just like Africa Day, this is a day to commemorate the struggle for freedom and unity. A day to celebrate peace. Right now, this peace is under threat. We have an aggressor on our doorstep, seeking to expand its territory by dominating others. By trying to impose a ‘sphere of influence’ in its neighbourhood and beyond, Russia actively attempts to deny Sweden the right to make its own choices. Through threats and warfare, Russia is trying to dictate the path of others. As sovereign states, none of us can accept this. Sweden, just like African countries and all countries, has the right to choose its own policies, including on security and defence.
Just as Sweden stood in solidarity with your countries in your struggle for independence and democracy, we should all stand with Ukraine today.
What happens in Ukraine might seem geographically distant for many of you, but Russia’s war of aggression impacts all of us. Russia threatens not only our security, but the very principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty. They disrupt global value chains and food, energy and finance systems – with dire consequences, not least for Africa.
Together we must safeguard a world order based on respect for the UN Charter. And allow me to be clear; just as we condemn Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine and express grief over the killing of civilians, we deplore the senseless violence that innocent citizens face in some parts of Africa. The ruthless killings of more than 500 civilians in Moura, with the involvement of the so-called Wagner group and Boko Haram’s kidnapping of young schoolgirls are just as despicable, horrific and brutal as the killings of civilians or abductions of children by Russia in Ukraine. We take a principled stance in defence of international law, regardless of the geographical context.
Recalling those who have made major contributions in support of a free and independent Africa, I would like to end by quoting Nelson Mandela:
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
May these words guide us all. I look forward to continuing our dialogue on how, together, we can strengthen the relations between Sweden and African countries, and how, as partners, we can contribute to protecting the freedom of others. As we look to the future, our common challenges call for common solutions. Building on the strong partnership between Sweden and Africa, I am confident we can jointly find new ways forward to the benefit of us all.
Thank you very much.