European Union and Africa Remain Worlds Apart

If Africa received a dollar every time “partnerships” was mentioned at the just-concluded EU-Africa Summit in Brussels, a lot of the continent’s foreign debt would be wiped out.

From Left: African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana  Dlamini-Zuma, African Union and Mauritania President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, European Union Council president Herman Van Rompuy, and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso give a joint press conference on the second day of 4th EU-Africa summit on April 3, 2014 at the EU headquarters in Brussels. Photo/AFP

From Left: African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, African Union and Mauritania President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, European Union Council president Herman Van Rompuy, and EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barosso give a joint press conference on the second day of 4th EU-Africa summit on April 3, 2014 at the EU headquarters in Brussels. Photo/AFP

Such is the effort Europe is putting in re-aligning its relationship with Africa that it has gone to great lengths to argue that the two continents are partners and neighbours, sharing a long history.

“Our partnership of equals has come of age,” Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council announced grandly at a press conference at the end of the summit. He had declared, in equally grand terms at the start, that “the days of the donor-recipient relationship are gone.”

It is a long relationship and invaluable to both sides but it is also occasionally fraught with disagreements, the unresolved sense of colonial injustice and increasingly threatened by interest in Africa from China, Japan, India and other emerging economies, as well as the United States.

“We have made real progress in partnership of equals,” Manuel Barroso, the head of the EU Commission, added, standing next to him and adding to the charm offensive.

But the officials then went on to reel off figures that show how much this is a partnership of unequals. There will be, in total, 28 billion Euros made available to Africa by the EU between 2014 and 2016. The money will go towards aid, trade, investment as well as peace and security programmes in Africa.

“Africa is Europe’s top priority when we talk about development assistance because Africa is our near neighbour,” Barroso added. “We are keeping up the generosity level for 2014-2020.”

Both European officials read from prepared texts and stayed to the script and the message of partnership, announcing promises of money while arguing that the donor-recipient relationship is over.

Their African counterparts, Abdel Aziz the chairperson of the African Union and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairperson of the African Commission, gave off-the-cuff remarks. And it showed.

Mr Aziz made a few polite remarks about partnership but Ms Dlamini-Zuma’s rambling speech was more revealing. Come see our wild animals, lie on our beautiful beaches, enjoy our sunny weather and invest in our agriculture, she said, to brutally summarise her pitch.

It was, to her credit, more of a pitch for investment than a plea for aid. It, however, showed how long Africa has been in a recipient mode, how far it has to go to strip itself of the yoke of expectation of external assistance, and how it had failed to draw any significant concessions out of the summit on the issues that matter.

Take, for instance, the matter of illicit financial transfers from Africa to Europe. In 2011 Africa received €34.3 billion in aid, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Yet The Africa Report magazine noted in a story released ahead of the summit that in the same year €43.7 billion was funnelled out of Africa to the rest of the world, including into tax havens in the EU.

A lot of this is money stolen by corrupt African leaders and their cronies, or filtered out by tax-dodging and tax-avoiding multinational corporations.

Nigeria’s attempt to recover the billions of dollars stolen by the late dictator General Sani Abacha and salted away in Switzerland and other tax havens abroad is one of the few notable attempts.

Closing these loopholes would, at least in theory, take away the need for Africa to receive aid overnight and the EU has promised reforms to bring more transparency to its tax havens.

The pressure for this reform, however, is mostly driven by the US and European tax authorities going after their tax dodgers, not the AU and African leaders going after their thieves.

There is a good reason for it: Many of the African leaders who travel to these summits are behind these illicit transfers and their hosts often choose to look away.

The case of Nguema

As he stepped out of his Mercedes Benz limousine, onto the red carpet, past the battery of photographers and television crews into the summit venue, there was nothing remarkable about Teodore Obiang Nguema.

Inside the venue, he politely took his seat, a familiar routine for a man who has been president of Equatorial Guinea for 35 years  — long before the European Union was formed.

Not only is Nguema Africa’s longest-serving leader after Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Ben Ali of Tunisia who were swept away by the Arab Spring, he is also widely believed to be one of the most corrupt and despotic.

With its small population and large oil wealth, Equatorial Guinea has a per capita income of about $35,000, which would put it among first-world countries.

Yet most of its residents are dirt-poor and the country only produces 100-kilowatt hours of electricity. By comparison Bulgaria — one of Europe’s poorest countries — produces 46,653kwh.

Mr Nguema and his family appropriate most of the money. His son Obiang, who is a Cabinet minister in Equatorial Guinea, earns a monthly salary of under $7,000 yet he is widely believed to have spent more than $300 million between 2004 and 2011 on luxury homes, super cars, yachts, jewellery and the fast life in Europe and America while authorities in those countries looked away.

It is unlikely that Obiang, who recently held the revolving leadership of the African Union, or his peers would push for a clampdown on illicit transfers from the continent, despite the obvious benefits.

Africans in the diaspora

Faced by corrupt and dysfunctional regimes at home, many Africans are voting with their feet, braving desert treks and perilous sea journeys, to seek economic opportunities in Europe.

Remittances from Africans in the Diaspora are now bigger than aid and trade revenues in most African countries but the AU delegation failed to wring out any major concessions on free movement of labour at the summit.

Mr Romuy announced that the delegations had agreed on a five-point action point on migration. While he did not offer any details, officials familiar with the plan say it focuses primarily on stemming the flow of illegal migrants and improving detection and deterrence efforts at illegal border crossings, compared to the points-based system used in relation to other countries.

While a lot of the news coverage focuses on African migrants, most of the asylum seekers in Europe are not from the continent. In 2013 most of the asylum applicants to the EU came from Syria, Russia, Afghanistan, Serbia, Pakistan and Kosovo, in that order.

In her comments, Ms Dlamini-Zuma indicated that the solution to migration lay within the countries of origin, not in those they seek to travel to.

“If we concentrate on skilling our young people they would not have to come through Lampedusa,” she said, referring to a notorious illegal crossing point into Europe on the Mediterranean Sea. “They will come through the airports and they will be welcomed.”

Negotiations over a trade pact between Europe and Africa will continue outside the summit with only months before an October deadline drawn by the EU.

Trade between the two continents grew by 46 per cent between 2007 and 2012 and both blocs are keen on a deal although Africa remains, largely, an exporter of raw materials (primarily oil and gas from Libya, Nigeria, Algeria and Angola) to the EU and an importer of finished products.

The biggest outcome from the summit, however, is one that would have been missed by many and which was only mentioned in passing by Mr Romuy at the closing press conference when he announced that the EU is involved in nine military operations across Africa.

At the start of the summit the EU had announced a new military operation to the Central African Republic, adding to on-going operations in Mali, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, DR Congo, the Comoros and against the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa.

Many of these are conducted in conjunction with African countries through the African Peace Facility and with the support and approval of the United Nations.

The summit resolved to commit another €800 million to the facility over the next three years suggesting more EU involvement, not less.

Mr Barroso pointed out that the EU only intervenes at the request of the AU or African states.

“We feel there must be an African solution to African problems at the end of the day but we will be in there with our solidarity,” he said.

It was a useful proviso but one that revealed the most. For all the bravado and talk of African solutions to African problems seen, most recently, in the mobilisation against the International Criminal Court last year, Africa’s problems still require European, American and Chinese solutions.

It might be a partnership but the EU-Africa arrangement has a long way to go before it becomes one of equals.

– The EastAfrican