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confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 16th February 2023

How will the AU summiteers respond to foreign suitors?

Blue Lines

African leaders face a newish challenge as they gather for the African Union's summit from 17-20 February in Addis Ababa. Amid geopolitical rivalries, the continent is in demand, thanks to its reserves of resources needed for the green energy transition and its growing demographic weight.

Since January, a stream of high-level emissaries from Beijing, Moscow, Washington, and Brussels have launched pan-African diplomatic tours. Their offers differ markedly: the common claim is their respect for African sovereignty, and not forcing leaders to pick sides.

China measures its influence by its position as Africa's biggest single trading partner and its infrastructure investment. The EU proffers an uneasy combination of migration control, investment and conditional aid. Russia, despite offering the least investment, is winning influence via arms sales, security agreements and military aid, most recently via the Wagner mercenary group. The United States offer is of some US$55 billion in aid over the next three years (despite some double counting) and at least $15bn of investment deals inked at the US-African leaders' summit last December.

Less clear is whether the AU can coordinate a united response to this onslaught of interest. The AU welcomes invitations to join the G20 and the UN Security Council but it has failed so far to secure substantive agreements to alleviate the region's debt crises and capital shortages.