William Ruto, the president of Kenya, called on Tuesday for a "reciprocal" and "balanced" relation between the African continent and the European Union.
In a speech before the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Ruto made the case for a "fundamental" overhaul of the financial institutions that have governed the global economy since the end of World War II, saying they had fuelled a cycle of "indebtedness and dependence" and were therefore no longer "fit for purpose."
"The East-versus-West divide is untenable and counterproductive, working against the interests of all of us," Ruto told lawmakers.
"Climate change has introduced a new dimension into this complex equation. While it poses an existential threat, climate change has also emerged as a levelling force, equalising us all in the face of a shared global challenge transcending all divides."
Ruto, who became Kenya's president in September last year, has adopted a foreign policy aimed at improving relations with Western countries after his predecessors pursued a "Look East" approach to deepen ties with China.
The shift is welcomed in Brussels, which intends to mobilise up to €150 billion in infrastructure projects to counteract Beijing's influence in the region.
But, Ruto warned, his willingness to cooperate should not be understood as a carte blanche to exploit Kenya's natural resources, including raw materials, for the sole benefit of wealthy nations. Africa, he said, "still carries the scars of colonialism, which remain visible in the economic and institutional dependencies that continue to hinder progress."
During his 30-minute intervention, the president repeatedly raised the alarm about the harsh financing conditions faced by African countries, in which investors, worried about unexpected circumstances and political instability, demand steep premiums to protect themselves against risks. This pattern, he argued, has led to "prohibitive high costs of capital" that prevent the continent from tapping into its potential and further exacerbate the North-South economic divide.
If access to finance were to improve, he said, Africa could one day become a "green powerhouse" that helps the world wean itself off fossil fuels and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Ruto also encouraged EU governments and companies to invest in Africa's fast-growing youth and "create a vibrant, self-sustaining economy" that can slow down migratory flows, a pressing concern for the bloc.
"As we navigate a new era of global interdependence, this needs to evolve into a reciprocal relationship. A shift towards a more balanced and equitable global partnership with a deliberate transfer of technologies and intentional flow of capital to the Global South," Ruto said. "This also means a seat at the table to look for solutions that work for all of us in a spirit of cooperation and mutual understanding."