European Union Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, has described Europe-Africa relations as “a partnership of equals” and his African Union counterpart, Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma, spoke of “complementary comparative advantages” that will keep Africa and Europe locked together for decades to come. Both spoke at the 4th European Union-Africa summit that took place recently in Brussels, Belgium. However, the pretension of equality sent many, particularly the African delegates sniggering. It certainly wasn’t a meeting of equals.
Nevertheless, the summit did produce a result that confounded earlier low expectations. A 63-clause declaration outlined agreements on “security, migration, trade and development”. The specifics include a 28 billion euros pledge by the European Union for project finance in Africa in the period 2014-20. Tagged “strategic intelligence”, the fund is meant to “win private finance for big and sustainable projects” in Africa. The significance of this suggestion is better appreciated in the context of “troubled economic times” in some member states of the EU.
On security, the Europeans backed and even gave money to get the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises going this year and for the much bigger and longer term African Standby Force. Germany, for one, 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”. A new EU intervention force, Eurofor RCA, to be headed by a French army general, will be deployed in crisis-torn Central African Republic whose transitional president Catherine Samba-Panzawas at the summit.
The summit also agreed on a “workable ban” on conflict minerals though African delegates would have preferred that foreign companies set up processing and manufacturing operations on the continent which would have been the surest way to stop minerals from being taken out African countries experiencing crises. This concern was expressed by Dlamini-Zuma when the summiteers were discussing how to boost Africa’s agriculture. “Let the processing not happen elsewhere”, she said.
The high note of the summit was sounded by the AU Commission Chair, Dlamini-Zuma who advocated the “skilling-up” of Africa’s youth. “Africa could be the only continent with a young labour force by 2050”, she said. “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.” This is food for thought for Europe and its governments.
As impressive as the turn-out was, the summit was not without controversy. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe did not attend because his wife, Grace did not get an invitation. Protest demonstrations greeted Rwanda’s Paul Kagame as he arrived for the summit. His country is this week marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide that wiped out 20 percent of its population in 1994. It has been dubbed the world’s “swiftest genocide” ever. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Brey refused to break bread with Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo even though the two sat at the same Lusophone table.