About three months ago, on February 27th, 2020 European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrived in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where the African Union (AU) headquarters are located. The AU in 2002 replaced the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which had been established in 1963, just like the European Union (EU) in 1993 took over from the European Economic Community (EEC), founded in 1957.
Von der Leyen went to meet former Prime Minister of Chad Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairman of the Commission since March 14th 2017. It was already the former German Minister of Defense’s second visit in Ethiopia. Roughly one week after taking up her current position on December 1st, 2019, von der Leyen had chosen Africa for her very first trip outside of Europe. This time the large delegation from Brussels consisted of 20 commissioners, including Dutch diplomat Frans Timmermans, the Commission’s Vice President. Its main goal was to forge a new strategic partnership with the 55-country organization.
The US made a similar effort in 2018, though that concentrated more on how Washington could counter the rising influence of China, which basically has managed to push America’s ally Taiwan out of Africa, and Russia’s ambitions in that part of the world. On this occasion, the Africans had a clear message for Brussels: they appreciate the interest shown by the Europeans and are happy to strengthen ties with Europe, but want to deal with their issues on their own. Empty phrases like “The dimension of the European delegation makes us understand how deep our partnership is” and the heavily repeated slogan “African solutions to African problems” marked the event.
One big topic should have been the large amount of economic refugees from Africa that desperately try to enter certain member states of the EU. The more so as the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled on January 21st that so-called climate refugees can’t be sent back home. It also clarified that those individuals seeking asylum status are not even required to prove that they would face imminent harm if returned to their countries. That means opening the floodgates for even more uncontrolled migration, based on personal perceptions about the effects of supposed climate change. This of course includes Africans, though unsurprisingly the EU is reluctant to work on the basis of aid in exchange for tougher controls. In any case, to curb the ongoing population explosion in Africa remains the key for everything else.
How can sustainable agriculture be discussed when in 2020 there are 265 million people facing acute hunger and due to the coronavirus pandemic another 130 million could go hungry soon? Digitalization sounds utopic when often even the most basic infrastructure is missing.
Interestingly, one area where Africa asked Europe for concrete help was in building roads and rail networks. That’s a precondition for the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA), which entered into force on May 30th, 2019, to ever fully come to life. Ironically, Peking is usually criticized for doing just that, as second intentions are assumed.
As expected, the hosts didn’t come down their high horse. International criminal justice, sexual orientation and identity, death penalty, centrality of the African Union in certain crises are basically not negotiable. Mr. Faki Mahamat stated that “These differences are normal, given our cultural, sociological and even “spiritual diversity” and that only the recognition and acceptance of these differences by the Europeans will make cooperation possible.
The remarks irked senior EU officials, who rightly felt there is a lack of recognition that without funding from Brussles, the whole AU would simply collapse. In 2019 alone, the EU allocated 320 million euros to AU projects, roughly half of the body’s total budget. Unfortunately, that’s just a tiny part of fundamental misconceptions by African governments, might they be blunt dictatorships, shaky constructs or real democracies.
The continuing unwillingness to admit maladies like tribalism, often intertwined with nepotism; endemic corruption; ineradicable superstition; lack of press freedom; random police brutality; insistence on harmful cultural practices and above all hyper-sensibility and irrational solidarity when faced with criticism from abroad underscore the many differences that continue to mar intercontinental relations. In that sense, the mostly unjustified blaming of former colonial powers for present domestic miseries as well as blatant racism against whites and other minorities are not really as different story.
Especially, as there are many discouraging examples of what is wrong with a continent so blessed with natural resources: Zimbabwe, in colonial times known as Rhodesia and the “breadbasket of Africa”, was totally ruined by President Robert Mugabe during his 35-year rule. South Africa will basically have achieved Third World status 30 years after the end of apartheid. Uganda has been fighting against the Lord’s Resistance Army, a heterodox Christian rebel group, since 1987.
Sudan’s history is one of Arab genocide against Christian and animistic Blacks. That led to the independence of South Sudan in July 2011. But Africa’s youngest nation faces a deepening humanitarian crisis caused by over four million displaced citizens. Nigeria, the planet’s scam paradise, has been struggling with the extremely violent Moslem sect Boko Haram for more than ten years. Liberia, independent since 1847, still counts as one of the world’s poorest countries. Chad, oil-rich but bitterly poor, can easily be considered a failed state. The UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), present since 1999, has utterly failed to deter armed groups and rogue government forces from terrorizing the population.
Other cases include Burkina Faso’s fast destabilization due to increased jihadist activity; the Central African Republic as a source, transit, and destination country for children and adults subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking, and Somalia’s 30-year old civil war.
Even the richest country, former Spanish colony Equatorial Guinea, has an appalling political record: Dictator Teodoro Obiang, Africa’s longest serving ruler, assumed power in 1979. He is definitely not willing to combat the worst desert locust outbreak in decades that is affecting Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.
It sounds very nice, and above all fair, that any strategic partnership will be done on Africa’s terms. The problem is that the Black Continent still has to prove to the world, not only Europe, that it has the capacity to do so.