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EU-Africa Summit 2014: Of protocol, platitudes and promises…

Current Affairs

EU-Africa Summit 2014: Of protocol, platitudes and promises…

For the EU, the importance of Africa’s economies became ever clearer. These were markets on their doorsteps – markets that represented the remarkable potential of a rapidly emerging middle class hungry for the consumer goods that the EU could supply.

And Africa also represented economies that could supply the raw resources to keep their factories operating. The problem though was that increasingly, the emerging economies of China, India, Brazil and others were eating what was, historically, Europe’s lunch.

But the EU made little mention of this uncomfortable reality at the summit. Rather, the Europeans focussed on the assistance they have provided to sub-Saharan Africa. The EU stated, for example, that, thanks to their aid, 3.4 million Africans received education and training between 2007 and 2013. And 600 research projects in 46 African countries were financed, to the tune of €178m, in the fields of food security, climate change, health and energy.

The EU was anxious to reiterate that Europe remains Africa’s biggest development partner. The Europeans claim that from 2007 to 2013, the EU collectively, and its member states independently, provided more than  €140 billion in aid to support Africa’s development. In 2012, despite adverse economic developments at home, EU member states committed over €18.5bn of ODA, representing 45% of global ODA to Africa. 

And the EU insists, trade between the two continents continues to grow. Between 2007 and 2012, EU imports from Africa increased by 46%. In 2012, the EU imported African goods worth €187bn.

Nevertheless, if hydrocarbons are stripped out of the statistics, the picture looks a lot less positive, and as the EU itself admits, the $187bn figure is less than 10% of the total EU imports originating from outside the EU. Yet African imports from the EU amounted to more than €150bn in 2012, or 34% of Africa’s total imports.

These facts undoubtedly underpin the EU’s interest in ensuring that Africa’s peace and stability is maintained. It would be unfair to suggest that the EU has no humanitarian concerns in this regard, but the fact remains that it is in their interest to safeguard their markets.

The EU (alongside the UN which was represented in Brussels by the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon) has been supportive of Africa’s own efforts, at regional and continental levels, to develop its own capacity to manage, resolve and prevent crises.

Through the African Peace Facility (APF), the EU has contributed more than €1.2bn since 2004 to help finance many ongoing Africa-led Peace Support Operations – €575m has been committed to AMISOM in Somalia; €50m to MISCA in the Central African Republic (CAR); and €2m for the Regional Cooperation Initiative against the Lord’s Resistance Army. In addition, more than €440m was provided by the EU to six completed missions in Sudan, the Comoros, CAR and Mali. 

Since being established in 2009, the APF’s Early Response Mechanism has allowed the EU to support 21 African-led actions in the area of conflict prevention such as first stages of mediation activities, fact-finding missions and planning of Peace Support Operations. Last year the EU was particularly busy in this regard. In 2013, the APF financed seven initiatives in the Sahel region, Sudan and South Sudan, DRCongo, Mali, CAR and Somalia, amounting to the expenditure of €6.7m.

With regard to the situation in the CAR, Major General Philippe Pontiès, the operation commander for the EU military in that country, gave a press briefing during the Brussels summit.

He acknowledged before the first EU troops arrived, many “question marks” remained. The EU is dispatching a mission of around 500 troops for six months to go to the CAR’s capital Bangui, and its surrounding areas including the airport. The idea is to secure several districts in and around Bangui, including the main roads in and out of those areas, allowing people to return home, and ensure the supply of humanitarian supplies. These “pilot districts” can then be replicated on a larger scale when the full UN force arrives in September. To achieve that, EU troops will need to be “highly visible,” Pontiès said. 

Significantly, Chad’s President Idriss Déby, who was attending the EU-Africa event, chose the last day of the Brussels summit to announce that the 850 Chadian troops that were in CAR would be withdrawn. This followed allegations that they had fired indiscriminately on civilians in a Bangui market, killing at least 32.

Looking ahead, many are foreseeing more conflicts erupting and expanding as water and food insecurity afflicts Africa. That is certainly the opinion of the World Bank president Jim Yong Kim who, speaking in Washington DC, suggested that one way to counter global warming was to develop climate-smart agriculture.

He predicted that tension over resources would result from inaction over global warming. “Fights over water and food are going to be the most significant direct impacts of climate change in the next five to 10 years. There’s just no question about it,” he warned.

Given that the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published less than a week before the Brussels summit drew a connection between climate change, food scarcity, and conflict, Africa is clearly at great risk as its ability to feed its people will be heavily compromised.

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