Europe and Africa stake out strategies, yet results seem dubious
The 6th European Union (EU) – African Union (AU) summit took place in Brussels in an environment of wanting to perform and implement everything that the covid-19 pandemic has been postponing. The expectations before this summit held on the 17 and 18 February were high, and the list of intentions expressed by the leaders and heads of state were many at an event which was swarming with international media.
It is quite visible that things are not going according to what had been outlined, particularly in recent years. This is quite obvious, especially on the part of African countries. Promises made were many, the kind of relationship between the blocks has evolved, however, it has not been enough. The disappointment is undisguised, and this has already been translated into practice in recent years, as other countries and regions have taken advantage of it. Take, for example, Russia, some countries in the Middle East, and even the United States, where influence in the most varied areas has grown. In relation to China, the situation is different, given that its intervention in the African continent has been accentuated since the beginning of the century. In fact, according to data recently released by the Chinese customs agency, trade between Africa and China reached a new record in 2021. The value of trade between the two increased by 35% from 2020 to USD$254 billion last year, mainly due to an increase in Chinese exports of products linked to the pandemic.
A deeper and renewed partnership?
Notwithstanding all these issues, this summit was an opportunity to re-establish the foundations of a deeper and renewed partnership between the EU and the AU. From the outset, the EU asserted that it would mobilise around €150Bn euros to implement an investment plan in Africa. In a context that is still pandemic, leaders of the two organisations support international solidarity in relation to pandemics and major health crises must be organised in a comprehensive, multisectoral and inclusive way. And this issue was quite clear, because although the summit was even canceled in 2020 due to the covid-19 pandemic, aid to African countries in order to overcome this crisis further was far from desirable.
In addition to health, another priority is peace and security. Africa and Europe defined these two key elements, and the two blocs must face all threats together, particularly Africa, as conflicts of a terrorist nature have been growing exponentially.
Climate change and financing
Obviously, everything related to climate issues cannot be ignored either, not forgetting that African countries need once and for all to be on the train of development and progress.
On the EU side, the main protagonists, Charles Michel (President of the European Council), Emmanuel Macron (French President-in-Office of the European Council) and Ursula von der Leyen (President of the European Commission) had as their main immediate goal, the acceleration of the vaccination campaign in each of the African countries. On the African side, special relevance to Senegalese President Macky Sall (current new president of the AU) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda’s president and long-time president of NEPAD – New Partnership’s for Africa Development), who among other hot topics set out public health, security, energy transition and different problems associated with economic development (particularly financing issues) as top priorities.
Initially, the “batteries” were aimed at the conflict in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, with Macron expressing particular praise for the role played by Rwanda in the fight against insurgents in that country. In fact, the first interventions by the leaders of the two blocs fundamentally focused on strengthening collaboration in matters of peace, security and the fight against terrorism. Unfortunately, this matter, like the two days of the summit to a large extent, was overshadowed by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. This conflict in Eastern Europe gained the international “stage” in such a way that all other issues were relegated to a secondary role.
Macky Sall, however, decided to immediately emphasise the importance of financing African economies, which suffered greatly from the impact of the pandemic, consequently increasing their national debts.
On more controversial issues, such as energy and climate change, the Senegalese head of state called for “more climate justice and an accompaniment for a transition period that allows Africa to contribute to reducing global warming and, at the same time, being able to provide electricity to the 600 million Africans who live without electricity”, recalling that the African continent is responsible for less than 4% of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.
Awaiting concrete results
The President of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, was straight to the point, arguing what several entities and individuals have been defending for a long time: Africa is awaiting concrete results from this new partnership between Europeans and Africans, he said, and reinforced this, stressing that past relationships need to be revitalized. In other words, it is necessary to move from theory to practice.
On the last day, in addition to the so-called thematic roundtables, which had already taken place on the 1st day, the long-awaited joint declaration of the summit was issued. Firstly, the EU pledged to supply at least 450 million vaccines to Africa by mid-year and mobilize 425 million euros to increase the pace of vaccination on the continent.
In addition, the EU intends to contribute to the fight against misinformation on health issues. A negative note, however, regarding the European refusal to accept the lifting of the intellectual property of vaccines against Covid-19. This matter remained pending, and apparently caused some friction among some leaders. Despite this “annoyance”, we welcome the commitment established, with the announcement that six African countries (South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal and Tunisia) will get the necessary technology to produce mRNA vaccines in Africa.
On the economic chapter, the final declaration calls for “voluntary and ambitious contributions” from European countries, which can redistribute their Special Drawing Rights (SDR) to Africans – convertible bonds created by the International Monetary Fund and allocated to its member states, which can spend them without going into debt.
Still on economic issues, it was confirmed that the EU will invest at least 150 billion euros in Africa through the Global Gateway. This amount is intended to finance, for example, green energy (Europe will support African countries’ climate resilience), enhance natural resources, improve digital connectivity (most decisions have been made previously), health, education, infrastructure and promoting strategic transport corridors. The two sides also commit to increasing regional and continental economic integration, in particular through the African Continental Free Trade Area.
Emphasis is also given to the commitments assumed in the scientific areas. Nevertheless, the migration issue gained an extra importance. Priority was given to efforts for effective improvements in exchange, readmission and reintegration. Asylum systems will be strengthened with a view to providing adequate reception and protection for those entitled to asylum. But leaders have tried to focus on the root of the problem, with measures to empower youth and women.
Other major achievement was the paradigm shift on security and stability issues. Without abandoning the support of the European military forces, the leaders of the two continents are betting on the reinforcement of capacities and equipment to intensify the autonomous operations carried out by the African forces.
Finally, the “commitment to multilateralism” is underlined at the end of the declaration, with the aim of reducing global inequalities, increasing solidarity, combating and mitigating climate change and improving the provision of “global public goods”.
The final outcome: it can be said that good intentions persist, apparently maintaining an engagement between the two organisations, which is salutary, however it is quite clear that Africans have reasonable arguments when they ask Europeans to “move from words to deeds”.