EU ‘can offer #Africa a different kind of partnership’

| November 25, 2019

The European Union’s strong links with Africa are under strain as first China and now Russia are significantly amping up their investment on the continent. This week, Russia hosted its first-ever summit with Africa, drawing 43 African heads of state to Sochi. Moscow allegedly signed $12.5 billion in deals at the conference, though the lion’s share of these were memorandums of understanding to sell Russian weapons to African leaders.

This new Great Game is unlikely to die down in the near future, as Africa is currently one of the most promising investment destinations in the world. The continent boasts six of the world’s fastest growing economies, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted that Africa’s growth prospects over the next five years will be among the strongest in the world.

Beijing and Moscow are gambling on drawing African countries into their orbits with perks from flashy infrastructure projects to Kremlin-connected mercenaries. The EU can best counter rising Russian and Chinese influence in Africa by offering African countries a different, more equal, kind of partnership.

Russia and China offer quick cash, but at a price

 China’s check book has been open in Africa for a while. Since 2016, Chinese investment in the continent has surpassed that of the US and the EU. Massive infrastructure projects funded by Beijing—from the Mombasa-Nairobi railway to the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa—have popped up around the continent. Critics have suggested that this funding is leaving African capitals mired in unsustainable debt, but China’s unconditional aid still has its appeal. Autocratic leaders, in particular, have sought out Chinese cash for their vanity projects—before he was ousted, Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe received $48 million from Xi Jinping to build a new parliament complex in Harare.

Putin, meanwhile, is setting itself apart by promising African countries—including those under US sanctions—“no strings attached” deals, including for military cooperation and hardware. At the recent Sochi summit, African leaders tested Kalashnikov assault rifles and milled around near stacks of grenade launchers—even newly-minted Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Abiy Ahmed was spotted checking out model tanks.

It’s pretty clear that Moscow is looking after its own interests with this charm offensive—both by securing a lucrative market for its weaponry and by projecting its power and influence to the West’s detriment. The EU nevertheless needs to take note of what makes Russia’s overtures so appealing—and modify its own partnerships with Africa accordingly. As policy analyst and former Liberian cabinet minister W. Gyude Moore noted, “[The Russians] are really, really savvy at positioning themselves as not the U.S., not the EU—as treating you as equals, responding to your needs as they are and not imposing their own ideas of what your country should do”.

Partnership with Senegal: a model for EU-Africa relations

The EU is already investing a significant amount in Africa. In fact, European companies already account for one-third of the continent’s foreign direct investment (FDI), and the EU gives Africa roughly €20bn annually of development aid. The EU should use its considerable influence through development aid and FDI to support local, sustainable development projects in Africa. Such initiatives should go beyond photo-ops and offer long-term quantitative solutions for improving the livelihoods of Africans by generating sustainable economic growth, jobs and mitigating climate change—which is hitting Africa harder than nearly anywhere else in the world.

To improve the economic prospects of African nations, the EU should invest in African entrepreneurs and initiatives that support integrating its youth and women into the workforce. Senegal, with whom the EU signed a €27.5m co-operation package earlier this month to “increase access to electricity and renewable energies, and boost support to civil society”, is a perfect example of a country that has adopted such policies.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, reelected earlier this year for a second term, has introduced reforms to allow companies to set up in 48 hours, increased the ease of doing business, and pushed for greater women’s involvement in entrepreneurship. He also collected $50m in direct investment to help promising entrepreneurs. As a result of his policies, Senegal boasts one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, with a GDP growth rate of around 7% a year and has seen a 400% increase in women’s income in the past few years.

The new EU funds are likely to kickstart this job creation and economic development still further, as Senegal will receive some €20 million earmarked at creating lasting employment “in the most disadvantaged rural areas” while supporting Senegal’s renewable energy sector. Dakar has already made the promotion of renewable energy a clear priority—and a key step in its ambitious goals of achieving middle-income status by 2035 and universal access to electricity by 2025.

Last year, Macky Sall inaugurated the largest solar power plant in West Africa. Since then, three new solar plants have started up operations in Senegal, and two more are under development. West Africa’s largest wind farm, which will add 158.7 MW to the country’s grid, should be completed next year. This remarkable progress in bringing renewable capacity online means that Dakar looks set to hit its target of 15% renewable energy by 2025, and has hopes of reaching 25% renewable energy by 2030—an objective which may be fulfilled even further now thanks to the influx of European funding.

The EU’s added value: promoting long-term growth

The case of Senegal, in which European Union funds are supporting policy priorities and initiatives already laid out by the Sall administration, offers a perfect example of how the EU can offer Africa an appealing alternative to China’s cash and Russia’s rifles. Beijing’s willingness to foot the bill for glitzy railways and power plants that produce more electricity than African countries actually need, as well as Moscow’s readiness to fork over military hardware to anyone willing to pay for it, might seem tempting at first blush. Brussels’s job is to make a convincing case that genuine partnerships and strategically allocated EU funds will provide more long-term stability and growth.

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