The European-African summit: Joining the dots

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 16 Feb 2022

Development and security are key issues for this week’s AU-EU summit, and the conflict over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is central to both.

Joining the dots

The two-day African Union (AU)-European Union (EU) summit opens in Brussels on 17 February with an agenda that includes green transition, sustainable growth, improving health, education and job creation, managing undocumented migration, and combating militant groups.

The summit will aim to produce a clear plan for the disbursement of over 130 billion euros earmarked by the EU for projects in African states. There is, too, the possibility of additional allocations being agreed on a bilateral level.

Agreement on the general outline of initiatives will be much easier than agreeing details of specific country projects given the latter will require mechanisms to oversee the monitoring of disbursement and spending, a process that has an inevitable political component.

While EU sources insist there will be no political conditionality involved, they add that there will be “certain requirements”, including financial transparency, good governance, and compatibility with joint EU-AU interests.

“For example, we understand the expansion of Chinese interests across the continent and do not expect our African partners to compromise their relations with Beijing. But we will expect them to strike a balance between China’s political agenda and the EU’s political and economic cooperation scheme,” said one Cairo-based European diplomat.

A second Cairo-based European diplomat expressed concern over the Russian presence, especially via private security companies, in parts of Africa, particularly in the Sahel and Sahara.

“EU member states might have conflicting agendas in Africa, but at the end of the day they have concerns, which are shared by the US, over the growing economic, political, and security presence of Russia and China in many parts of the world, not least Africa,” says Ayman Abdel-Wahab, a senior political analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

Following a meeting between the presidents of Russia and China on 4 February, the two leaders issued a statement reflecting their joint strategic vision on expanding Moscow’s and Beijing’s influence. Both China and Russia, they said, will continue to work to strengthen their economic and security presence around the globe.

“They are already doing this in Africa, and it is a source of worry for EU member states, especially those, like France, with a longstanding presence on the continent,” says Abdel-Wahab.

France, as this year’s president of the EU, has worked closely with Senegal, the current chair of the AU, and other leading African nations, to prepare for the summit. Sources involved in the preparations say the summit’s priority will be to promote stability and development across Africa, a goal that EU states see as incompatible with Russian and Chinese attempts to impose their hegemony on Africa.

The same sources add that the programmes and pledges that will be announced during the summit have already been the subject of intensive consultations, and will exclude any mention of managing foreign interventions in the affairs of African states, or the political conflicts through which some African states are passing.

The summit convenes against a backdrop of increased political tensions in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and the Sahara, and between Algeria and Morocco, and Sudan and Ethiopia, and at a time when Libya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Mozambique are experiencing internal political and military conflicts.

European and African diplomatic sources say these issues will be addressed in sideline talks, not in summit meetings. According to African diplomatic sources, the situations in Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, and Somalia are all likely to be addressed on the fringes of the summit.

These, and other matters of relevance to the security and stability of Africa, were raised earlier this month during the regular summit of the AU in the Addis Ababa headquarters of the pan-African organisation, though no plan of action was agreed.

Meanwhile, Egyptian government sources say Egypt will use the summit as an opportunity to highlight the interconnectivity of stability and development. “For example, when we talk about the need to find a fair and final resolution for the conflict that Egypt and Sudan have with Ethiopia over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam what we are really talking about is stability and development,” said one.

The three Nile states have failed for more than a decade to reach a legally binding agreement on the filling and management of the mega dam Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile, source of the vast majority of Egypt’s already inadequate supply of water.

“The intransigence of Ethiopia and the failure of the international community to bring it back to the negotiating table with the intention of reaching an agreement sooner rather than later threatens to undermine development, and also stability in Egypt and Sudan,” the same source said.

According to Abdel-Wahab, the connection of water, development, and stability has to be addressed, not just in relation to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) but also with a view to managing water resources across Africa.

“When it comes to GERD in particular, the AU and other organisations that are supposed to mediate international relations have been ineffective,” says Abdel-Wahab. Ethiopia, he adds, has been able to promote the narrative that without GERD it will be deprived of development, while Egypt and Sudan still need to convince the world that without a fair deal between the three riparian countries all three will see their development, stability, and security compromised.

Egyptian government officials also argue that optimising the use of water resources is central to tacking the impacts of climate change and global warming.

Later this year, Egypt will chair the International Conference on Climate Change, COP27. According to Alain Holleville, France’s special envoy for the preparation of the AU-EU summit who was in Cairo this week for talks with Egyptian officials, climate change will be a key focus of the Brussels summit, and as chair of COP27 Egypt will play a major role in directing this focus. Holleville added that given its weight in the continent, Egypt’s contribution to the AU-EU summit will be consequential on many files.

“Egypt needs to be very proactive across all African security and development issues,” says Abdel-Wahab. He argues that, at a time when Africa is the subject of growing attention on the part of international powers, without a significant and active Egyptian role Cairo’s views on the future of the continent are in danger of being overlooked.

Meanwhile, during the past two weeks President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has held talks with Senegalese President Macky Sall, who was in Cairo on an official visit, and with French President Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the One Ocean Summit.

Putting Egypt’s views on Africa’s future on the table during international discussions was one of the main reasons behind Cairo’s enthusiasm for the launch of the AU-EU cooperation mechanism when it hosted the first ever summit of the two organisations in Cairo in the summer of 2000, say Egyptian diplomats.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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