Europe-Africa relations strained by pandemic tensions

African leaders gathered in Brussels, Belgium, this week to meet their European counterparts for the sixth edition of the African Union-European Union summit. The two-day gathering, which started yesterday, comes amid heightened tensions between Africa and Europe, largely due to Europe’s responses to the coronavirus pandemic, including the discriminatory travel bans imposed by the EU on South Africa and its neighbours. after the initial identification by South African researchers of the omicron variant, as well as what several African Union leaders have called it “vaccine apartheid”.

The summit also comes as established and rising global powers increasingly take notice of Africa’s geopolitical importance. The 2021 visits to the continent by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan capped a year that also saw a relaunched edition of the Franco-African Summit, the eighth Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, or FOCAC, and the Third Turkey-Africa Partnership Summit. Earlier this year, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi followed FOCAC with a visit to East Africa, where he announced Beijing’s intention to appoint a special envoy for the Horn of Africa. Japan, Russia and the United States have also announced plans for summits with continental leaders to be held this year, although dates are yet to be determined.

It was against the backdrop of this growing competition for African hearts and minds that the EU launched “Global Gateway”, a €300 billion infrastructure investment program at the end of last year. , widely seen as a rival to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, though EU officials insist otherwise. For EU leaders, including European Council President Charles Michel and in particular von der Leyen, Global Gateway exemplifies the kind of The ‘geopolitical commission’ von der Leyen argues that the EU needs. Thus, senior EU officials, bloc leaders and European commentators have enthusiastically welcomed the rollout of the initiative with great fanfare, extolling the merits 150 billion euros of investment funds would be affected for African countries. In public briefings as well as my own private discussions with Africa-EU relations analysts and EU officials, particularly those based in Africa, there is a widely shared enthusiasm for what they consider as a major European deliverable against competition from Beijing and Washington.

But while this enthusiasm for advancing relations is palpable on the European side, it was barely perceptible among African leaders before the summit, and even during its proceedings. To begin with, many AU member states view the summit as a largely Francophone affair, given that France, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, coordinated pre-summit talks primarily with leaders of French-speaking African countries, including Sall. French President Emmanuel Macron did not help matters with his announcement on the eve of the summit which French and European troops will be withdrawn from Mali, which overshadowed the procedure. There is also lingering resentment over the EU’s approach to coronavirus vaccines, including its massive purchases and refusal to give up intellectual property rights for vaccine production, which combined to prevent African countries from buying vaccines and producing them for themselves. Finally, Europe’s lukewarm budget support for African countries for debt relief and aid during the pandemic, and its role in the collective failure to raise $100 billion in annual funding to support efforts. climate mitigation and adaptation initiatives of developing countries at the 2021 UN climate change conference, further undermined the confidence of African leaders and citizens in the EU as a partner.

“Most of the time there is a gap in the interpretation of priorities between the AU and the EU, which means that the so-called ‘partnership of equals’ is a misnomer”, Toni Haastrup, a senior lecturer at the University of Stirling, Scotland, who specializes in Africa-EU relations, told me. In a briefing for WPR this week, Haastrup stressed the need for Europe to tailor its engagement with Africa to the needs and action of Africans. As an example, she pointed to the misalignment on the issue of vaccines, where the EU prefers to promote COVAX and other vaccine sharing initiatives while African leaders insist on removing patents on production. “If the EU wants a partnership, why not let the Africans produce [vaccines], as did Europe? she asked rhetorically, adding: “It’s almost as if the EU is allergic to partnership!”

Olumide Abimbola, executive director of the Africa Policy Research Institute, echoed Hastruup’s point on misaligned goals, but on Global Gateway, which he described as a half-hearted set of investments that does not much to assuage feelings of mistrust and frustration among Africans. “It is unclear what the €150 billion investment package is,” he said, noting that the initiative appears to be a combination of new EU funds, reallocation of funds already committed by EU member states, funds from Europe’s development financial institutions and money that EU members could potentially commit. For Abimbola, the lack of clarity about the source and structure of these funds lends credence to the belief that Global Gateway is primarily a public relations ploy to sell Europe as a competitor to China, rather than becoming a partner of Africa. “This idea that the EU feels it can get away with this kind of announcement is seen as insulting to many Africans, and is at the root of the frustration that many African citizens and leaders feel and express” , he added.

It should be noted that certain aspects of Global Gateway are receiving a more positive reception, such as the emphasis on digital connectivity and transformation, which the EU has identified as one of the pillars of its investment program for the future. ‘Africa. In particular, there is a widely shared consensus on both sides on the importance of an African digital single market. Nanjira Sambuli, a member of the technology and international affairs program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told me that focusing on organizing and supporting at the continental level – through the AU and the Smart Africa initiative, for example, could align Africa’s digital interests with access to vast EU capabilities, while staying out of the technology competition between China and the US

At the same time, it notes the challenges ahead. “Africa does not have a strong record of digital policy-making at the continental level,” she said, while noting that the AU struggles to function as a bloc as does the EU, despite several joint AU-EU strategic plans and partnerships. “All these initiatives, now accompanied by an EU financial kitty, face a curious political challenge: Africa is not a country,” she added.

For Europe, the challenge is simpler, albeit deeper: Africans increasingly believe that their immediate and long-term interests lie elsewhere, and this belief is unlikely to be undermined by a set of random EU investments not accompanied by fundamental changes in relations between the two continents.

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Civil society monitoring

A group of over 60 South African civil society groups wrote an open letter to Moderna, calling on the pharmaceutical giant to withdraw the mRNA vaccine patents it has filed in the country. The coalition’s letter, addressed to Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel and co-founder Noubar Afeyan, says patents “pose long-term barriers to increasing the supply of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines. and the diversification of local production on the continent”.

Scientists at Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines in Cape Town are racing against time to create locally produced vaccines based on available data on the composition of the Moderna vaccine.

Cultural watch

Beninese singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo is one of Africa’s most acclaimed and celebrated musical voices. After releasing more than 10 albums and winning four Grammy Awards during her illustrious career, the 61-year-old singer continues to reinvent herself with new generations of music fans with contemporary sounds and beats.

In recent years, she has worked with an array of young continental music stars, including fellow countrywoman Zeynab Habib, Zambian maestro Sampa the Great, South African Ami Faku and Nigerian superstar Yemi Alade. She’s back on the charts now thanks to a new hit featuring Burna Boy, titled “Do Yourself”, a snippet from her long-awaited album Mother Nature, due out in June.

Kidjo sat down with The New Yorker’s Julian Lucas for an in-depth discussion of her musical origins, the importance of multilingualism in her music, and the diasporic bridge building she is renowned for.

Top reads on the web

Radio has a rich history as a weapon of the liberation struggle in Southern Africa. Last week marked the 11th edition of World Radio Day, proclaimed by UNESCO Member States in 2011 and adopted the following year by the United Nations General Assembly as an international day to be commemorated on February 13 every year.

Despite the global proliferation of other forms of media, including television and the Internet, radio remains the most widely used form of mass communication in Africa. Martha Evans writes in The Conversation about the medium’s important role in liberation struggles in the ‘frontline states’ of southern Africa in the latter part of the 20th century.

The Capital of Karl Marx in Kiswahili. More than a decade ago, Joachim Mwami, a retired sociology professor at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, began translating Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital” into Kiswahili, a language spoken by more than 100 million people, mainly in the East and the Centre. Africa. Mwami sat down for a chat with Loren Balhorn of ROAPE about his experience translating the book and the need for Marxist literature in contemporary Tanzanian society.

Chris O. Ogunmodede is associate editor of World Politics Review. His coverage of African politics, international relations and security has appeared in War on The Rocks, Mail & Guardian, The Republic, Africa is a Country and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @Illustrious_Cee.