In his recent whirlwind tour of West Africa where he travelled to Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, interspersed with a visit to the US, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi found time to visit the Gamal Abdel-Nasser University in Guinea where he unveiled a statue of the late Egyptian president.
Since the 1970s, when the university was named in Nasser’s honour, and even before, Egypt has played a fundamental role in Africa. Today, it is bolstering its leadership role in Africa once more.
Egypt is destined to take on this role, and the reasons for it are manifold. Not only is Egypt the axis of stability in the region, it is also endowed with a majestic history, a mighty military establishment, a kaleidoscope of experienced professionals, and a cultural wealth like no other on the African continent.
This leadership role also stems from the realisation that Africa is key to Egypt and vice versa. The Nile, Egypt’s backbone, joins Egypt to its fellow African nations for one thing.
As other countries such as China, Israel, India and Brazil eye Africa’s prospects and venture onto the continent with their full weight behind them, Egypt must intensify its presence in Africa through collaboration, investment and diplomacy.
Over recent years, the Egyptian role in Africa has become somewhat blurred. This occurred after late president Anwar Al-Sadat’s peace treaty with Israel, during former president Hosni Mubarak’s tenure, especially after the assassination attempt in Ethiopia, and more importantly after the 25 January Revolution, when the focus was on domestic challenges in Egypt more than anything else.
In 2013, after the ousting of ex-president Mohamed Morsi, Egypt was suspended from the African Union (AU).
So where is Egypt now and what will it take to revive Egypt’s leadership in Africa? As influential as Egypt is, it neither interferes in other countries’ business nor plays a partisan role in their affairs.
Egypt aids in ending conflicts rather than in instigating them. It has no ulterior motive to overthrow a given regime, nor does it side with one faction against another.
It can, however, be a catalyst that dampens crises and negotiates between adversaries. It stands firm in its belief in right and wrong, and it guides countries and steers them towards the right path.
Today, the important role that Egypt plays in support of the African countries is more pronounced than ever. The Africa 2018 Forum in Sharm El-Sheikh where over 1,000 African businessmen and policy-makers convened recently attests to that. It was the perfect platform to foster new partnerships and encourage joint ventures between Egypt and other African nations.
At the forum, President Al-Sisi called for urgency in tackling Africa’s needs. According to the magazine New Africa’s reporting on the forum, Egypt will establish “a risk insurance fund to encourage Egyptian entrepreneurs to invest in other African countries… A guarantee fund dedicated to investing in infrastructure, information technology and high-end digitisation of African economies, was also announced.”
In March this year, Egypt also assumed the chairmanship of the AU, and it is expected that it will use this responsibility in curbing illegal immigration and human trafficking and in concentrating on security and peacekeeping, all key factors towards ensuring Africa’s security and development.
According to the website Xinuanet.com, “Egypt has undertaken a number of important initiatives to restore its role in Africa, including training for peacekeepers and military personnel, increasing security and intelligence cooperation.”
President Al-Sisi is earnestly taking on such responsibilities as his latest visits prove. In his efforts to strengthen Egypt’s role in Africa and cement ties with other African nations during his tenure as AU chairman, he has travelled to Africa more than any previous Egyptian leader.
His trips to Africa account for 35 per cent of all his travels abroad, all of them intended to develop better relations and more solid ties.
Egypt is also opening new doors to trade and business with Africa. The Egyptian Arab Contractors Company has acquired seven road projects in Uganda and Cameroon with an estimated value of $400 million.
Tanzania has awarded the Stiegler’s Gorge Dam project to Arab Contractors at a value of $3.6 billion. As they are given the green light to proceed, Arab Contractors and other Egyptian businesses will continue to compete on further infrastructure projects mutually benefiting Africa and Egypt.
In a further attempt to communicate with fellow Africans, the Egyptian State Information Serviced (SIS) has also launched a new portal in six languages, three of them African and including Swahili, Hausa and Amharic.
Egypt has been chosen to host the Africa Cup of Nations for 2019, another opportunity for it to shine. The last time Egypt hosted the event was in 2006, while in 2010 no African country voted for Egypt’s bid despite the late actor Omar Sharif’s moving speech in support of Egypt.
In 2019, 16 of the 17 delegates voted in favour of Egypt’s hosting the 2019 African Cup of Nations.
Even after 2019 when it passes the AU leadership torch to another African country, Egypt will continue to capitalise on its involvement in Africa and lead the continent towards the safe haven it so justly deserves.
*The writer is a political analyst.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 April, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Egypt’s leadership in Africa