Africa Strategy: closer cooperation between Africa and the Netherlands


The Netherlands seeks to further strengthen its relations with the continent of Africa. The Africa Strategy 2023-2032 (In Dutch, translations will follow) sets out how. But what does the Netherlands’ cooperation with African countries look like now? In the following interviews, three Dutch ambassadors stationed in Africa talk about special partnerships and major opportunities.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Why do we need an Africa Strategy?

Africa in the world

Africa is a large and diverse continent and is increasingly taking a strong position of its own in the world. With 54 countries and a surface area of 30 million square kilometres, it is as large as Europe, the United States and China put together.

The world is changing in many ways. More and more countries are showing their teeth economically and politically. And challenges such as security threats, climate change and migration are growing ever more complex. As a consequence, it is important for the Netherlands and the European Union (EU) to strengthen our relationship with Africa. That is why the Netherlands has developed an Africa Strategy.

What is the Dutch Africa Strategy?

The Africa Strategy sets out how we will seek over the next 10 years to advance the mutual interests of Africa, Europe and the Netherlands. We will focus on partnerships more than we have in the past. That is essential if we are to work together to enhance our security, reduce poverty and improve respect for human rights.

The EU is Africa’s main trade partner and investor, and seeks to offer an alternative to China and Russia. There are also great opportunities for Africa to invest in Europe.

Ambassadors on cooperation between Africa and the Netherlands

We spoke to Dutch ambassadors in three African countries: Ethiopia, Algeria and Mozambique. What opportunities do they see for the relationship between Africa and the Netherlands?

Elsbeth Akkerman, ambassador to Mozambique

‘Mozambique is becoming a bigger player on the world stage,’ says ambassador Elsbeth Akkerman. ‘For instance, as a non-permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations (UN). At the same time, Mozambique is a country with many unused and underused opportunities. For instance, the country’s strategic geographical position on the Indian Ocean. This makes it a gateway to other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. You could compare its position to that of the Netherlands and the port of Rotterdam, which is linked to other countries in Europe. But in Mozambique, that favourable position is still underdeveloped. The same applies to the country’s vast fertile lands. Since Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975, it has been a country in development.’

Mozambique’s strategic geographical position is similar to that of the Netherlands.

‘We have been working with Mozambique for nearly 50 years, since its independence. Particularly in fields in which the Netherlands has expertise, such as water. This includes safe drinking water and protection against flooding and coastal erosion. We are supporting Mozambique’s efforts to supply homes and schools with water and providing maintenance training for water companies, to make our investments sustainable. We are also helping Mozambique with agriculture, healthcare and efforts to reduce HIV infections. That is also important for the rest of the world.’

The success of our partnership lies in the time we take for dialogue with each other.

At the same time, we can learn from the people of Mozambique. ‘Mozambicans are incredibly resilient and supportive of each other. When faced with adversity, they set to work, as individuals and with their neighbours and their community. When cyclone Freddy battered the country twice last March, causing major damage and flooding, neighbours and private boat owners were the first to come to the rescue. Public authorities are not always able or present to provide the kind of assistance we can often count on in the Netherlands. In Mozambique, it’s really the people taking action themselves.’

And ultimately the partnership with and for these people is the heart of our collaboration. ‘The Netherlands is a serious and reliable partner for Mozambique. We invest together in non-political activities, but by doing so we also create scope for dialogue on other themes, such as human rights. The success of our partnership - now and in the future - lies in the time we take for dialogue with each other. That is at the heart of the Africa Strategy.’

Enlarge image Ambassadeur Elsbeth Akkerman
Ambassador Elsbeth Akkerman with women’s rights activists in Pemba. The Netherlands invests in equal opportunities, women’s rights and the fight against gender-related violence.

Henk Jan Bakker, ambassador to Ethiopia

‘Ethiopia has an ancient culture that goes back thousands of years, and it’s still one of the most influential countries in Africa,’ said ambassador Henk Jan Bakker. ‘The African Union is based in its capital city Addis Ababa, and international organisations and companies have offices here. Ethiopia and the Netherlands have a common interest in floriculture. This is an enormous sector in Ethiopia. The 90 Dutch companies that are active in the sector here are directly responsible for at least 35,000 jobs. Ten per cent of Ethiopian exports go to the Netherlands. We also have an aid relationship. Ethiopia is the Netherlands’ largest aid recipient. We help Ethiopia with healthcare, food security and water management. The aid relationship is not a relationship of dependency. Ethiopians don’t take orders from anyone. Influence and favours are not for sale.’

Political enemies become friends.

‘The relationship between our countries has changed as a result of developments in Ethiopia. Until 2018 the political situation and the economy were stable. But the country was suffering under an authoritarian regime. Since Abiy Ahmed took office as prime minister, there has been a shift from a state-led economy to a market economy and political reforms have been implemented. The conflict in the Tigray Region and periods of COVID-19 and drought have slowed – but not stopped – reforms. The country’s durable stability is enhanced by legitimacy. The Netherlands is contributing to this through the NIMD, the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy. The NIMD trains young politicians in resolving disputes and conflicts peacefully, through dialogue and consensus. And with success. Political enemies have become friends. Two of the participants even got married.’

Ethiopians don’t get discouraged. We can learn from that.

‘I see a resilience and flexibility in this country that I find moving, again and again. Conflict, COVID-19 or drought: whatever challenges they face, Ethiopians don’t get discouraged. We can learn from that; how would the Netherlands react to those kinds of shocks? In early 2020, for example, the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to hit the flower sector hard. But after a two-month dip it recovered, because the national air carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, continued flying and replaced passengers with cargo to keep exports flowing.’

Enlarge image Ambassadeur Henk Jan Bakker
Ambassador Henk Jan Bakker took part in World Cleanup Day in 2021, for cleaner rivers in Ethiopia.

Janna van der Velde, ambassador to Algeria

‘Algeria is the largest country in Africa, but it’s relatively unknown in the Netherlands,’ said ambassador Janna van der Velde. ‘It’s a beautiful country with a population of 45 million and a large percentage of young people. Algeria is in a complex region of Africa, with tensions in neighbouring countries Mali and Libya and migration flows from other African nations. It lies between Europe and the Sahel region. Algeria fought hard for its independence, which it gained in 1962. The country treasures its autonomy and sovereignty.’

Algeria has great potential for solar energy and green hydrogen.

‘In the Netherlands we know Algeria primarily as a gas and oil producer, but it has great potential in the areas of solar energy and green hydrogen. The sun is very powerful here and there is plenty of room. Together we are exploring options for moving forward towards renewable energy, for example with solar energy projects and expertise on hydrogen. We’re also working together in agriculture: for example, Dutch companies are involved in the modernisation of dairy farming, potato cultivation in the desert and the development of water-, energy- and space-efficient horticulture.’

The Algerian population has found many ways to live in a hot, dry climate.

‘There’s a lot we can learn from Algeria. Over time the Algerian population has discovered many ways to live in a hot, dry climate, from innovative irrigation systems to building techniques that provide protection against extreme heat. Dutch seed producers are very interested in working with Algerian partners to develop climate-resistant seed varieties by pooling Dutch and Algerian expertise. This is precisely what you see in the Africa Strategy: we want to form equal partnerships to seek solutions together for the challenges of today and tomorrow.’

Comparing our different perspectives leads to very interesting conversations.

‘Algeria is situated relatively close to Europe, but also has close contacts with the Arab world and other African countries. Algeria’s worldview can teach us a great deal about these regions. And comparing our different perspectives leads to very interesting conversations.’

Enlarge image Ambassadeur Janna van der Velde
Janna van der Velde plants a tree to mark the completion of a reforestation project.