Parole, Parole, Parole… (Another EU-Africa Summit, Another Wasted Opportunity)
By: Katarzyna Sidło, Political Economist at CASE
Towards the end of last week (29–30 November 2017), African Union (AU) and European Union (EU) leaders met in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire to attend the 5th EU-AU Summit and work on “defin[ing] the future direction for cooperation between the two continents.” Ostentatiously, the main focus of the event was to be placed on youth, or more precisely, on “Investing in Youth for a Sustainable Future.” However, it soon became clear that it is mobility and migration that is the top priority for both sides.
Prompted by the publication of much-quoted report on slave markets and the general scale of human trafficking that is taking place in Libya released by CNN earlier in November, the African and European leaders agreed on repatriating back to their home countries around 3,800 African migrants detained in Tripoli. As welcome as such a decision is, the number agreed on is not nearly enough; according to Moussa Faki Mahamat, President of the Commission of the African Union, the estimated number of African migrants stuck in Libya is between 400,000 and 700,000. Moreover, it is not fully clear how “voluntary” these repatriations will be and, crucially, who will pay for them.
The most impressive fact about this deal is that it was made at all, for no other tangible solutions were announced regarding the three other priorities outlined in the joint EU-AU declaration, “peace and security,” “economic opportunities for youth,” and “cooperation on governance.” Admittedly, a rather clear message has been sent to both young people and NGOs and civil society organizations, but that message was “keep out.” As reported by the European NGO Confederation for Relief and Development (CONCORD), Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW), and others, civil society organizations were unexpectedly banned from speaking at the Summit. In a joint statement, the EU and AU Steering Committee of Civil Society Organizations strongly ‘condemn[ed] and reject[ed] the censorship’ of the CSOs as ‘a sad precedent’ showcasing reduction of space for civil society, especially in Africa.
The move should probably be understood as a clumsy nod of the EU leaders towards some of their more authoritarian African colleagues. What would be worrying is if this was a new EU strategy aimed at remaining an influential player on the African continent. For while the EU is still the largest aid donor to African countries, contributing USD 20 billion each year, and remains its biggest trade partner (total value of EU-Africa trade in 2016 amounted to nearly EUR 262 billion), China is emerging as a major player on the continent. Indeed, the second China-Africa Investment Forum (CAIF) took place in Morocco directly before the EU-AU Summit. According to the Chinese Press Agency Xinhua, over 10,000 Chinese companies operate on the African continent and China-Africa trade rose over 20-fold between 2000 and 2014, reaching approximately USD 220 billion (declining to roughly USD 170 billion in 2015). Moreover, Chinese financing, usually coming in the form of credits and loans — and without any preconditions — amounted to USD 94.4 billion between 2000 and 2015. All this has not been unnoticed by the African countries’ citizens as well; according to a AfroBarometer, China is perceived as the second-greatest power (23%) exerting influence in their homelands, right after the former colonial countries (28%), with and close to two-thirds (63%) seeing Chinese influence as “very” or “somewhat” positive.
While experts, including CASE analysts, have long argued that the EU must revise its stance of conditionality towards its partners (as well as prospective members) and focus on priorities that are crucial to all parties involved, compromising the values of democracy is not the right way to go forward. Such an approach will surely backfire at one point or another, both in the partner countries in question and at home, as the EU drifts away from what is supposed to be a core and non-negotiable issue.
A much more prudent strategy would involve focusing on the economic development of African countries. However, this needs to be done by way of forming partnerships, making smart investments, and supporting exchange of knowledge and experiences. The announced plan to raise EUR 44 billion in private money by 2020 for investment in African in five core investment areas (sustainable energy, Micro, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises [MSMEs], sustainable agriculture, sustainable cities, and digital development) can be a good start. But without support of the right institutions, civil society amongst them, such efforts will continue to come to naught.