East Africa

African, European leaders meet to ‘reset’ relationship


Summary

  • African leaders say financing economies weighed down by the Covid-19 pandemic and debts, and vaccine access, are all critical issues to future engagement with Europe.
  • Other global powers like China, Japan, India, the US, and Russia continue to woo Africa with goodies, investments, trade and co-operation deals across sectors.
  • But trapped in debt with no extra fiscal space to shore up economies amid the ongoing pandemic, African leaders have their own priorities and are looking for resources to move towards recovery.
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By JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE


African leaders will meet their European counterparts at a summit to redefine their relationship, even as the continent feels the pain of recent negative policies from Europe.

The meeting, planned for February, will come weeks before the US-Africa summit set to be hosted by US President Joe Biden, and just months after the Forum on China–Africa Co-operation (FOCAC) summit that was held in Senegal in November.

African leaders say financing economies weighed down by the Covid-19 pandemic and debts, and vaccine access, are all critical issues to future engagement with Europe.

Even before they met on December 19 in a session hosted by European Council president Charles Michel to prepare the upcoming EU-AU Summit in Brussels on February 17 to 18 next year, several African leaders attended the three-day Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit.

Mr Michel emphasised that the new EU-AU alliance should be based on prosperity, peace and common values, and that the EU supports a holistic approach to strengthen African health systems and vaccine production.

Among the participants were President of Senegal Macky Sall, AU Commission president Moussa Faki, DRC President Félix Tshisekedi, President of Rwanda Paul Kagame, European Investment Bank president Werner Hoyer and OIF Secretary-General Louise Mushikiwabo.

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At the summit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged common development and prosperity, as well as to help address “the global injustice and victimisation of Africa in terms of access to vaccines”, in an attempt to leverage on the longstanding grudge over alleged bias in vaccine distribution that pitted Africa against the West.

Read: Turkey’s Erdogan pivots to Africa for trade

African governments continued to push for the waiver of intellectual property protection for Covid-19 vaccines to enable the continent to produce the much-needed doses to speed up inoculation.

The continent equally seeks to use engagements with the EU to secure a chunk of the bloc’s reserves at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, a move that could see more than $100 billion sent to cash-strapped governments on the continent.

Other global powers like China, Japan, India, the US, and Russia continue to woo Africa with goodies, investments, trade and co-operation deals across sectors.

Their actions appear to be the scramble for influence on the continent which is a critical source of natural resource reserves, and a consumer market for their products.

“To respond to the economic crisis and fragility of world economic architecture, the world is entering a period of uncertainty, competition between the West, Russia and the expansion of the Chinese influence in Africa,” said Eric Ndushabandi, a professor of political science at the University of Rwanda.

According to Mr Ndushabandi, individual Western powers like France are courting Africa as they eye multilateral response to terrorism in their zone of influence, in addition to expanding their influence and co-operation beyond the Francophone countries to East Africa.

But trapped in debt with no extra fiscal space to shore up economies amid the ongoing pandemic, African leaders have their own priorities and are looking for resources to move towards recovery.

The EU has offered to mobilise up to $340 billion worth of investments as part of its Global Gateway strategy between 2021 and 2027.

The bloc promises to support African health systems and vaccine production, and investments in areas such as climate and energy, transport, education and research.

EU indicates that the European Investment Bank and the co-operation agencies of France, Spain and Germany signed a $113.3 million credit line to support African small and medium businesses to recover from the pandemic and to take on growth opportunities from the African Continental Free Trade Area.

The bloc equally pledges to mobilise $2.7 billion in grants for sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition, it has pledged more than $1.1 billion to North Africa to support renewable energy and the production of hydrogen, which can help meet the EU’s projected demand for clean energy.

Infrastructure needs

“Europe’s calling card and offer to our partner countries to address infrastructure investment needs is financially, socially, and environmentally sustainable connectivity. No ‘white elephants’ and no ‘debt traps’, but projects that are sustainable and serve the needs of local populations,” the high representative and vice president of the EU Josep Borrell and Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen said in a joint statement.

In March 2020, the European Commission and the EEAS put forth the Joint Communication Towards a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa. It proposes to work together on key global trends that include partnerships for the green transition and energy access, digital transformation and sustainable growth and jobs.

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