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EU-Africa summit must go beyond promises

THERE was a conference in Berlin, Germany recently to discuss current relations between Africa and the European Union (EU) in the run-up to the EU-Africa summit in Lisbon, Portuga

l next month.

The conference was attended by European and African bureaucrats, former ministers and MPs, opposition party leaders, academics, diplomats and journalists. I was one of the participants. The conference was organised by the Frederick Naumann Foundation in partnership with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

At the 1884 Berlin Conference, European powers divided Africa among themselves and accelerated colonialism which was to define the unequal relations between the two continents for hundreds of years to come.

During the Scramble for Africa, European states staked claims to virtually the entire continent at several meetings held in Berlin, London, Paris and other Western capitals.

In partitioning the continent without much knowledge of its history, Europeans destroyed African monarchies, kingdoms, chiefdoms and culture. Nearly half of the new frontiers imposed on Africa were geometric lines — lines of latitude and longitude which left chaotic contours and thousands of cultural groups fractured.

Against this background, the conference held in Berlin early this month debated how to redefine relations between Europe and Africa for mutual benefit.

Under the main topic, From Object to Subject: Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe’s Relations, participants discussed how to transform relations between the continents now interlinked by history, geography, language, culture, trade, and transport and communication routes to ensure shared benefits.

It was clear at the conference Europe wants to restore its grip on Africa to regain access to its natural riches, including precious minerals and energy resources, particularly in view of Chinese and American encroachment onto the continent. China’s advance into Africa was mentioned by many participants. The US was also mentioned as a force moving onto Africa, with special reference to its newly established Africa Command Force.

Just like Europe, the US and China are not strangers to Africa. The US was entangled in Cold War proxy conflicts and diplomacy all over the continent, while China was involved largely in supporting the African liberation movements.

However, it now appears that three powers, the EU as a bloc, the US and China are involved in a new scramble for Africa for resources, especially oil.

Now we have the EU-Africa summit; the US-Africa Business summit and Sino-Africa summit — all clearly designed to secure spheres of influence for the major powers.

The US imports a lot of oil from Nigeria, while China gets significant supplies from Sudan. South Africa, Angola, DRC and Zimbabwe have a lot of minerals and are thus strategically and geopolitically important to the EU, US and China. Other swathes of Africa are also full of natural resources that are a major source of attraction to global powers.

At the recent Berlin meeting there was a general consensus among African participants that faced with such a demand for its resources, Africa must reposition itself and leverage its resources to get what it needs from Europe.

It was pointed out Africa mainly needs investment, technology, access to markets, favourable terms of trade, modern infrastructure and value addition in production to move forward. Africa also needs peace and security, it was said. This could be achieved by limiting the sale of arms by the EU and other countries to Africa, as well as strengthening state-building projects to reinforce state structures and institutions.

Participants said Africa has to bargain using its comparative advantages to get fair value for its resources because Europe does not hesitate to use its own advantages to secure its interests. Most participants said that aid and debt relief to Africa were not the answer to questions of underdevelopment, poverty and disease. Improved production, trade and economic growth are necessary to get the continent out of the economic backwaters.

There was also a reference to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Commission for Africa. The Blair Commission for Africa was established to provide impetus for development in Africa. Its objectives include the generation of new ideas for development and to deliver implementation of existing commitments to Africa.

The commission released a report in 2005 which was used by G8 leaders at their Gleneagles summit in Scotland pledging to double aid and make significant extensions of mulitateral debt relief. But the summit failed to deliver on what the commission had demanded on trade — including an end to agricultural export subsidies by rich nations.

The summit did, however, promise to implement 50 of the commission’s 90 less high-profile recommendations including: training 20 000 more African peacekeepers; tightening controls on the trade in small arms; working more closely with the African Union and its New Partnership for Africa’s Development; urge rich nations to ratify the UN Convention on Corruption; put in place measures to return cash looted by dictators from Western banks to the legitimate owners; and using export credits to clamp down on Western companies who pay bribes.

These issues came up for intense debate at the recent Berlin conference and it was agreed the forthcoming EU-Africa summit must go beyond promises and be action-oriented.

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