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African governments count the cost of a new Cold War

Moscow’s war on Ukraine is reshaping foreign policy in many African capitals as western European and Russian officials compete for attention

Officials at the European Union see their financial and political support for Ukraine is straining their ties with Africa on economic cooperation and diplomatic stances – but they are divided on how to respond.

Belatedly, the EU is supporting the African Union’s bid to become a permanent member of the Group of Twenty (G20). But it has failed to back African positions that would make an immediate material difference on the continent such as: debt restructuring; international vaccine distribution and patent waivers; and the reallocation of the IMF’s issue of US$650billion Special Drawing Rights reserve currency last year.

Instead European officials are focusing more on media messaging and spin around the effect of western sanctions against Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s recent visits to Congo-Brazzaville, Egypt, Ethiopia and Uganda to prepare the ground for a second Africa-Russia Summit next year drew international and comparisons to the ideological battles of the first Cold War 1945-1990* (Dispatches 26/7/22, President Macron and Foreign Minister Lavrov vie for influence in pan-African tours this week and AC Vol 63 No 16, Washington in summit race with Moscow).

The EU finds itself in an awkward position. Because it has failed to agree a new emergency budget – and there is no sign that treasuries across Europe want to increase contributions to the EU’s common budget – more support for Ukraine will be at the expense of programmes in Africa and other developing regions.

An internal memo circulated by the EU’s diplomatic department, the European External Action Service, and obtained by the British-based Devex news service, argues that the EU needs to become ‘more transactional’ in its approach.

‘The EU’s reputation as being a mediator, a peacemaker, is eroding due to the Union’s military assistance to Ukraine,’ the document adds. ‘In Africa, the EU is seen as fuelling the conflict, not as a peace facilitator.’

‘Many AUMS [AU member states] do not identify an interest in taking sides in what they perceive as an ‘East-West’ conflict,’ the report states.

EU officials insist that African countries will get the same amount of development assistance from the EU institutions as was agreed in their 2021-2027 country budget plans.

Yet if the war drags for the rest of this year and perhaps next, the bloc’s cash reserves will be stretched. The EU memo concludes that ‘it is clear that the longer the war will last, the less resources there will be.’

It argues that ‘….the willingness of Europeans (governments and taxpayers) to maintain higher levels of financial engagement in African countries will depend on working based on common values and a joint vision.’

And the argument, energetically pushed by Lavrov and his team,  that EU sanctions on Moscow should bear some responsibility for the food crisis could also complicate Europe’s efforts to buy more fertiliser from Morocco and South Africa to substitute for banned imports of Russian fertiliser. 

The EU has encouraged Morocco to step up its production of fertiliser to plug the gap, leaving the state-owned OCP (Office chérifien des phosphates) Group with a tricky geopolitical choice as other African states report their own fertiliser shortages (AC Vol 63 No 12, Sall cuts deal on food crisis ).

*The term Cold War (between western powers and the Soviet Union) was first coined by British writer George Orwell in an essay entitled ‘You and the Atom Bomb’ published in 1945.

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