Europe is fighting hard to be relevant to Africa, its nearest continental neighbour. Today (Feb. 10) is the Africa Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia and AU headquarters. And it’s drawn European Council president Charles Michel – he’s been in Addis since Sunday – for some two dozen bilateral meetings with African heads of state and government. (Note: Mr Michel hasn’t actually been invited to address the summit.)
It’s part of the attempt, launched by former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as the Africa-Europe Alliance in 2018, to develop ties with Africa that go beyond the legacy of colonialism, the aid relationship and the constant drumbeat about migration.
Ursula von der Leyen’s European Commission is entirely on board with that. A couple dozen European commissioners will be despatched to Addis on Feb. 27 to meet their African counterparts. In May, Kigali will have an AU-EU ministerial meeting, ahead of October’s Brussels summit with African leaders.
For the past five years, the EU has spent billions of euros on Africa, mainly to try and ensure that Africans don’t leave Africa and head for Europe. But in December, Ms von der Leyen suggested that the approach is tainted by post-colonial connotations and it’s far better to focus on opportunities for trade and investment in Africa.
What might Europe do that China and Russia are not already up to in Africa? (Note: Mr Michel’s interlocutors in Addis Ababa will be meeting in the AU’s gleaming new headquarters that was built for them by China.)
There’s the vision thing.
The EU wants to promote the 18-year-old AU as an embryonic version of itself and as a model of multilateralism.
But the AU is hardly like even the European Coal and Steel Community. For one, it has launched continent-wide free trade talks but they are not easy and success is not assured. Donald Trump’s America, incidentally, is trying to lure individual African countries – most recently, Kenya – to focus only on bilateral trade agreements.
Second, it’s not even clear if the AU can keep its promise to deliver a continental passport by the end of the year, allowing visa-free travel between its 55 member countries. At present, Africans make far fewer intra-continental trips than Europeans, Asians and Americans.
Third and finally, the AU, unlike the EU, is faced with shooting wars and conflicts, not least, Yemen, Libya, and the Sahel. The theme of this year’s summit is “Silencing the Guns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development”.
Here, courtesy of Politico is a comparison – in figures – of the AU and EU:
Member countries: AU — 55. EU — 27.
Official languages: AU — 4 (English, French, Arabic and Portuguese.) EU — 24.
Commissioners: AU — 8. EU — 26.
Who runs the show? If the EU has France and Germany, the AU has the big five: South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and Angola.