Author: Giorgio Spagnol
Affiliated organization: Institut Européen des Relations internationales(IERI)
Type of publication: Article
Date of publication: July 17, 2017
Three times the size of Europe, Africa consists of 54 countries and is home to 3,000 ethnic groups and communities, 3,000 languages and countless religious faiths. Africa is the cradle of humankind.
Africa and Europe are distant 145 Km between Sicily and Tunisia and only 14 Km between Spain and Morocco. At the Berlin Conference in 1885, Africa was divided without considering history, tradition, culture and right to self-determination. Paternalism, humiliation and exploitation followed provoking conflicts and wars up to now.
Africa is a rich continent with land and agricultural resources able to feed all Africans. Poverty, hunger and malnutrition can therefore be overcome taking also in account that the continent has 15% of oil, 40% of gold, 80% of platinum global reserves.
Africa-Europe Strategic Partnership
Sixty years ago, the signing of the Rome Treaty (1957) paved the way for Europe to engage in development cooperation, starting with African countries. The Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES) , agreed in 2007, defines long-term policy orientations between the two continents, based on a shared vision and common principles. Within this framework, the African Union and the European Union work in partnership on a range of important issues.
But there are structural imbalances in the partnership. It is still difficult to address openly the issues on which both continents have diverging perspectives and there is still a deep-rooted mistrust between African and European leaders making it difficult to build the necessary political traction in the partnership. While policy declarations speak of an equal contractual partnership and joint decision-making and management, in reality the partnership has never been one of equals. The EU transfers aid money to Africa via its state bureaucracies and elites, and in return expects loyalty to the European agendas.
A Marshall Plan to find a path to peace and development in the cooperation between EU and AU could be a solution. Focus should be on fair trade, more private investment, more bottom-up economic development, more entrepreneurial spirit and more jobs and employment with African ownership and African solutions to African problems.
Trade between China and Africa increased by 700% during the 1990s, and China is currently Africa’s largest trading partner. The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was established in October 2000 as an official forum to strengthen the relationship.
There are an estimated 800 Chinese corporations doing business in Africa, most of which are private companies investing in the infrastructure, energy and banking sectors. Unconditional and low-rate credit lines (rates at 1.5% over 15 years to 20 years) have taken the place of the more restricted and conditional Western loans. Since 2000, more than $10bn in debt owed by African nations to China has been cancelled.
One-third of China’s oil supplies comes from the African continent, mainly from Angola. Investments of Chinese companies in the energy sector have reached high levels in recent years. In some cases, like in Nigeria and Angola, oil and gas exploration and production deals reached more than $2 billion. Many of those investments are mixed packages of aid and loan in exchange for infrastructure building and trade deals. The problem is that manpower is mainly Chinese with little involvement of African workers.
A Marshall Plan to find a path to peace and development in the cooperation between EU and AU could be a solution. Focus should be on fair trade, more private investment, more bottom-up economic development, more entrepreneurial spirit and more jobs and employment with African ownership and African solutions to African problems
An increasing number of African countries have recently shifted their source of supply from traditional providers such as Russia to China due in part to the competitive prices offered by Chinese suppliers. Arms sales by China to some African states have troubled Western critics who point out some buyers like Sudan are accused of war crimes.
In July 2017, China set up its first overseas military base in Djibouti in Africa.
China’s mutation from an economic power to a global security player has been widely documented, yet its security role in Africa is not yet well understood in EU and NATO circles. China’s more assertive stance in Asia may risk accentuating a number of latent tensions, and its “One Belt, One Road” initiative (a network of railways, roads, pipelines, and utility grids linking China and Central Asia, West Asia, and parts of South Asia) has clearly led to reactions.
There are an estimated 800 Chinese corporations doing business in Africa, most of which are private companies investing in the infrastructure, energy and banking sectors. Unconditional and low-rate credit lines (rates at 1.5% over 15 years to 20 years) have taken the place of the more restricted and conditional Western loans. Since 2000, more than $10bn in debt owed by African nations to China has been cancelled
Last but not least, the African Union’s Headquarters in Addis Ababa, a 100 meter tall, 20 story skyscraper built by the Chinese government in 2012, has a plaque saying: “Gift from Chinese to African people”.
Africa-United States relationship
In the battle for influence in Africa policy, experts say, United States is losing.
The United States economic influence has been waning in Africa driven by a decrease in crude oil exports from the continent that began in 2011. The United States is positioning itself poorly for the future by not fostering a strong relationship with the continent now. But if the United States does not prioritize this rapidly growing bloc of countries soon, it will be too late: Africa will have moved on to others partners who will. By relying only on a security posture, experts say United States capacity to curb famine and conflict and promote development will be severely limited.
This bloc of countries should not be overlooked because how Africa develops will shape global events in the future. Over the next 32 years Nigeria will surpass the United States as the third most populous country in the world. More than 40% of sub-Saharan Africa still lives in poverty, presenting its own set of economic, humanitarian and security challenges for both Africa and global players such as the United States.
While China badly needs Africa to get raw materials and energy, the continent is currently representing just a strategic interest for the United States. Will there be a confrontation between the two giants for Africa? Probably not: for the time being they have different interests. Nevertheless the United States should change its African policy.
Africa, United States, China and others
These days, Africa is variously referred to in positive terms such as emerging, rising and hopeful. This positive view of Africa is justified as Africa is the host of some fast growing economies. This growth is not just due to rising commodity prices but is also driven by a more vibrant private sector supported by an improved business climate. There have also been some improvements in governance and economic management. The information technology revolution has become an important aspect of the new Africa, particularly in terms of mobile technologies. As a result of these developments, Africa’s middle class is now growing, and the continent is becoming a major market for consumer goods. Africa could be on the path to claiming the 21st century.
Notably, China and India are investing in the continent, while Russia, Brazil, Turkey, Iran and many others have augmented their engagement with Africa both diplomatically and commercially. The increased interest in Africa by these new actors has been due to the realization that Africa has much to offer. In many respects, the United States has been slow to seize the opportunities availed by the new Africa. While the American private sector has begun to take advantage of some of these opportunities, the scope of engagement by American businesses is still small in scale. Likewise, the United States government’s engagement has not changed much. But Africa matters to the United States, a reality that will only grow more important as the continent’s economies and governance structures continue to transform. Africa matters for United States for key issues such as national security, China, energy, trade and investment, and U.S. development assistance.
The global strategic “competition” between Western (including NATO and the EU) and Chinese values is a political reality that is now extended to the field of security, not precluding NATO and China to work towards the same objectives. African peace-building is the shared goal. Ultimately, African nations will decide which political model suits them best. As a result of constructive interaction in many parts of Africa, NATO and China may gain strategic and tactical benefits: strategic, in the sense of finding common objectives and mutually reinforcing efforts that include dialogue; tactical, in the sense of working alongside and learning from each other.
Africa in Europe’s eyes
As already stressed the African population will double in size by 2050: one in four citizens on earth will be African. Each year, Africa needs to create 18 million jobs, while only 3 million are provided right now. Enough reasons for African and European leaders to be worried, and to make commitments to increase investments in the transformation of African economies.
Most African countries are showing signs of progress but reforms need to move faster. Failure to do so will create major problems of insecurity and migration on the African continent, also affecting Europe. Against this worrying background, several European leaders have put Africa at the centre of their foreign policy concerns. The EU also demonstrated its commitment to support Africa with a major investment plan of more than € 40 billion.
Notably, China and India are investing in the continent, while Russia, Brazil, Turkey, Iran and many others have augmented their engagement with Africa both diplomatically and commercially. The increased interest in Africa by these new actors has been due to the realization that Africa has much to offer
But this longer-term perspective was overshadowed by short-term measures to curb migration, which dominated the discussions between both continents. Several EU member states just want to obtain a strong and fast commitment from Africa to accept the return of economic migrants. Possibly on a voluntary basis but, if needed, even by force.
The international media focused almost exclusively on the migration issue, as a follow up of the detention camps in Libya. In this case, European and African leaders demonstrated vigour by agreeing on immediate action to evacuate thousands of African migrants from the Libyan detention camps. More efforts will hopefully be deployed to dismantle criminal networks.
Africa and Europe are traditional neighbours. People from these two continents have been interacting for at least the past 500 years through various forms including the slave trade, missionary work, colonisation and recent flows of both Africans and Europeans moving from and going to each direction for work, education and settlement among many other reasons. The interactions between Africa and Europe have not been always peaceful. In fact, the last 500 years have been characterised by the desire for Europe to conquer, dominate and take over resources of Africa as part of its quest for global domination.
After the African independence, Europe is still trying to dominate Africa through culture, language, religion, finance and technology. There is no doubt that Africa is yet again at the receiving end of the Europe-Africa “partnership”. By defining and imposing political models for managing African countries, Europe seems determined to maintain the way the Africa-Europe “partnership” is currently structured.
It is clear that in recent years Africa has undergone significant economic, socio-political and technological transformations, a process which is likely to accelerate over the coming decades. While it would be an overstatement to proclaim that the future will be African, there are strong indications that the global importance of the continent is set to rise and not only as a source of risk factors spilling over from poverty and instability.
In Africa, the European Union is currently perceived both as the home of former colonial masters and as the greatest supporter of free trade and liberal democracy. It is now high time for Europe to definitely drop the colonial legacy and appear and act as a reliable promoter of freedom and democracy.
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