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Vol 55 No 7

Published 4th April 2014

Some partners are more equal than others

The Brussels summit confounds low expectations to produce agreements on security and migration but fails again on trade

Evoking 'a partnership between equals', José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, celebrated progress on security, migration, trade and development at the end of the fourth European Union-Africa summit on 2-3 April in Brussels. However, in a year replete with African summits in China, India and the United States, Barroso's remarks reminded some delegates of George Orwell's dictum and one quipped that 'some partners are more equal than others'. Contrary to talk of its inexorable demise, the Euro-African relationship was growing stronger, Barroso insisted. His African Union counterpart, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, widely praised for her skilful co-chairing of the summit, spoke of the 'complementary comparative advantages' that will keep Africa and Europe locked together for decades to come.

More diplomatic Eurocrats turned down the volume on political matters and extolled the business and security side of relations. The summit produced a 63-clause declaration, as well as special provisions for continental cooperation on migration and mobility set out over the next three years. Peace and security were the key issues. European officials gave strong backing and some money for the campaign to push ahead with the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises this year as well as for the much bigger and longer term African Standby Force (AC Vol 55 No 3, South Africa’s volunteer force). Germany is financing a Continental Early Warning System at the AU headquarters in Ethiopia. The EU will continue with its Common Security and Defence Policy missions and operations such as those in Central African Republic, Congo-Kinshasa, Mali, Niger and Somalia. The new African initiatives are to replace such missions, with bigger countries such as Nigeria and South Africa taking the lead.

Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud arrived with a massive delegation, partly to reassure Brussels officials after a raft of security and corruption crises in Mogadishu this year, and partly from recognition, noted one Somali journalist in Brussels, that the EU has been of far more help than the Arab League, to which Somalia belongs. Building on its anti-piracy Operation Atalanta off the Somalia coast, the EU wants to extend this framework for regional maritime cooperation to protect some of the world's busiest shipping lanes in the Horn of Africa and the Gulf of Guinea (AC Vol 50 No 25, Operation Atalanta in Pirate Alley). Many of the security plans are to back up trade relations, which were to the fore at the Business Forum on 31 March-1 April. That was buzzing with African, including Zimbabwean, delegations. The big push was for ‘blending’: that is, using public finance to bring in private sector investment.

Strategic intelligence
Barroso said Europe still sends 40% or about 20 billion euros (US$27.43 bn.) of its development aid to Africa, despite troubled economic times in southern Europe and a worsening confrontation with Russia to the east. The European Commission is to provide €28 bn. for project finance in 2014-20, drawing largely on the European Development Fund. The plan is to use it as a way to win private finance for big and sustainable projects, in what Barroso calls 'strategic intelligence'.

Although the summit declaration formalised the EU-AU agreement on more 'responsible mineral sourcing' and a workable ban on conflict minerals, the bigger question on the African side was about how to get foreign companies to set up processing and manufacturing operations. On agriculture, Dlamini-Zuma said, 'we should not make the same mistakes as with mining – letting the processing happen elsewhere'.

The run-up to the summit was marked by debate over which presidents were not coming, such as South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe (enraged that his wife, Grace Mugabe, was denied an invitation) and invalids such as Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Côte d’Ivoire’s Alassane Dramane Ouattara.Given the mass policing, road blocks and security lockdown – Brussels veterans say the most intense ever – the number of heads of state and government who did make it was impressive.

Africa Confidential thronged the red carpet to see a relaxed-looking Paul Kagame, smiling Ali Ben Bongo Ondimba and fit-looking Denis Sassou-Nguesso arrive from Rwanda, Gabon and Congo-Brazzaville respectively. Cameroon’s Paul Biya looked at ease along with other leaders meeting Belgian King Philippe I at the royal palace. Kagame carefully avoided the demonstrations by Rwandan and other activists.

The AU message concentrated on people: 'Our population pyramids are in reverse, the African population standing on its base, the European population standing on its head', Dlamini-Zuma said in her closing remarks. 'Africa could be the only continent with a young labour force by 2050. If we concentrate on skilling-up our people, they will not have to come [into Europe] through Lampedusa or the desert… and [more will stay at home, where they] will drive development in Africa.'

Star turns
The European star turns were French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who stood together to announce that, in Hollande’s words, just as France and Germany were central to driving forward European policy they could also 'drive the alliance with Africa'. Fresh from announcing a new government led by Prime Minister Manuel Valls and including his ex-partner Ségolène Royal, Hollande pointed to CAR, where he emphasised German logistical support for the African intervention force. Similar support from other states, such as Britain (represented by Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary William Hague) and Luxembourg, was not mentioned. France remains the key military player in the EU’s growing interventions: CAR (the new Eurofor, Misca and Sangaris) – where only non-EU Georgia is also providing frontline troops to Eurofor – Mali, Somalia (EU Navfor) and Libya (EUBAM Libya).

CAR was high on the summit agenda, with transitional President Catherine Samba-Panza in attendance and Senegalese-born French Major General Philippe Pontiès outlining details of the new EU force that he will command, Eurofor RCA, to be deployed in Bangui. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was in Brussels for the High-Level Meeting on CAR on 2 April, which was told that just 20% of the humanitarian aid committed so far had been delivered.

Another notable, if predictable, absentee was Sudan’s President Omer Hassan Ahmed el Beshir, wanted by the International Criminal Court on genocide charges in Darfur. Another ICC target, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, looked relaxed, despite a spat with Brussels over a visa for his head of security, Edward Mbugua. Many delegates were critical of the tight monitoring of delegations and the short-term visas for political and business leaders. 'The Europeans do themselves no favours, it’s much easier to spend time in the US and China,' commented an African business leader.

Not everyone was happy to see each other. Spanish media focused on a clash between Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey. They had been seated together on the Lusophone table at the banquet on 2 April summit dinner but Rajoy declined to break bread with Obiang and was moved.

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