UP EXPERT OPINION: Low African vote for EU’s sanctions call casts doubt on alliance

Posted on March 07, 2022

A few weeks after the sixth European Union (EU) - African Union (AU) summit, Professor Adekeye Adebajo reflects on the strength of multilateral partnership as tensions in Europe are at a high. 


Sides are at odds as continent stresses aid and trade, and the Europeans security and migration

Amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine the EU sought to win as many of Africa’s 54 votes — nearly a third of the 193-strong UN General Assembly membership — as possible, to sanction Moscow’s actions.

The EU accounts for 36% of Africa’s external trade, and is the continent’s largest investor at €261bn. EU countries may also be forced to look to Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Ghana to replace Russia’s provision of 40% of their gas supplies.   

The sixth joint EU-AU summit was held in Brussels three weeks ago, attended by 40 African and 27 European leaders. They agreed to prioritise the 2018 AU-EU memorandum of understanding on peace, security and governance that has sought to address the root causes of conflicts, combat instability and terrorism, and strengthen African-led peace operations.

On climate change, the rich world’s annual $100bn pledge to poorer countries between 2020 and 2025 remains unfulfilled. Migration has become a major concern for the European side — particularly Hungary, Poland, and Greece — with 72,425 African migrants having entered the EU in 2021. African governments, in stark contrast, see migrants as a vital source of remittances. Both sides therefore agreed to disagree in Brussels.

At the summit the EU announced a Є150bn Africa-European investment package to support particularly the business, health and education sectors. A specific Erasmus+ programme will promote collaboration between African and European universities.

Brussels made no binding commitments on debt annulment for African countries, beyond supporting debt suspension and the IMF’s special drawing rights, from which African leaders have called for $100bn to be set aside for the continent. The EU’s proposed $171bn global gateway investment package aims to support infrastructure, transport and energy, and is clearly designed to counter China’s global Belt & Road Initiative.

More equal

The Brussels summit further pledged to ensure “fair and equitable” access to Covid-19 vaccines, with only 10% of Africans vaccinated compared with 62% of Europeans. The EU reaffirmed its commitment to making 450-million vaccine doses available to African countries by June at a cost of Є425m. This issue has caused much consternation across Africa, with President Cyril Ramaphosa having accused the Europeans of practising “vaccine apartheid”. The EU’s failure to support African calls for a waiver on vaccine patents has also stirred some tension.

Before the recent Brussels summit, five other Africa-EU meetings had been held. The first intercontinental summit took place in Cairo in April 2000 between the then Organisation of African Unity and the EU. This process culminated in the joint Africa-EU strategy in December 2007 that was adopted at a second Africa-EU summit in Lisbon. The strategy sought to make the partnership more equal. The third Africa-EU summit was held in Tripoli in November 2010, during which the 2011-2013 action plan was adopted.

The fourth Africa-EU summit took place in Brussels in April 2014, highlighting peace and security; democracy and human rights; human development; sustainable and inclusive development, growth, and continental integration; and global and emerging issues.

The fifth summit was convened in Abidjan in November 2017, as European leaders worried about irregular African migration across the Mediterranean. Serious divergences remain between both sides, with African governments continuing to stress aid and trade, while the Europeans have prioritised security and migration. 

At the recent EU-AU summit in Brussels both sides reiterated their commitment to a rules-based international order centred on the UN. During last week’s UN General Assembly vote only half of the African members (27 out of 54) voted with the EU to sanction Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, raising serious questions about how “strategic” this partnership really is.

Professor Adekeye Adebajo is professor and senior research fellow at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship.

This article first appeared in the Business Day on 6 March 2022. 

- Author Professor Adekeye Adebajo

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