What role does Africa have in the new reconfiguration of Europe?

It is difficult to predict the geopolitical transformations that will result from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For the time being, it appears to have strengthened the European Union, both in its commitment to democratic principles and in policy convergence and decision-making capacity. How it will affect Europeans’ relations with their southern neighbors is, however, less obvious.

To what extent can the lines that define the policies of the Union and its members towards Africa be modified? To what extent will the commitment to “our shared values ​​of freedom and democracy”, referring to the Ukrainian population, also constitute a central component in future relations with Africans?

Just one week before the attack launched by Vladimir Putin on Ukraine, the sixth Summit between the European Union and the African Union was held. In their final declaration, “A common vision for 2030”, both parties commit to establishing a “new alliance” that ensures both “our interests” and certain “common public goods”. These include the security and prosperity of citizens, the protection of human rights, gender equality, respect for democratic principles, preservation of the climate and the environment, sustainable economic growth or the fight against inequalities. .

What defines Africa’s alliances with other powers

The emphasis on these values ​​is what differentiates this alliance from those that African countries maintain with other powers. In the case of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which is now in its eighth edition, the discursive emphasis is on South-South cooperation, solidarity and friendship between governments and respect for sovereignty. The final declaration of the Russia-Africa Summit in October 2019 also emphasized the principles of respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, non-interference and the preservation of national identity.

The ability of African rulers to maintain this plurality of bilateral and multilateral relations, based on such varied principles, is remarkable. But the strategy of extraversion with which they seek external support is not new on the continent. With it they try to overcome the weakness of their internal political and economic bases. And compared to what happened during the colonial period or the Cold War, they seek to avoid total dependence on any of the great powers.

As for Europeans, there are those who denounce (such as Putin himself) that the effort to spread “their” values ​​constitutes an unacceptable form of interference in a world of sovereign nation-states. Other analysts point to the lack of resources provided to ensure the success of such ambitious goals. What we point out here is the contradiction between the search for equitable and democratic development in Africa, and the bulk of European policies towards the continent.

The economic policies, in particular, do not differ from those promoted by the rest of the powers, and are based on trade and investment in certain key sectors. Certainly international trade can bring prosperity to all parties involved, as the European Union’s own history shows. However it is not always so.

Almost 60 years have passed since the signing of the first convention on trade and cooperation between the European Economic Community and the former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. These preferential agreements have been periodically renewed. But African countries continue to rank at the bottom of the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Reports.

The few benefits of African exports

The reality is that the type of markets and products that Africa exports have very little potential to promote the prosperity of the majority of its inhabitants. 65% of the imports of the European Union are of raw materials and more than 40% only of energy sources. The extraction of minerals, hydrocarbons and other resources tends to require significant investments from foreign groups that operate in productive enclaves. These enclaves provide little benefit to the local population in the form of jobs or boosting other economic sectors.

The exception are countries with economic diversification or state structures capable of good resource management, such as Botswana, South Africa, São Tomé and Príncipe or Ghana. But in most countries rich in natural resources, the income generated by extractive activity does not finance policies of redistribution and productive investment, to the benefit of the majority of the population. Quite the contrary, what they cause is intense competition among political elites for control of the state, which can lead to political instability and even armed conflict.

As an entire literature on the rentier state and the resource curse explains, the effects of this type of political economy are profound, although they are conditioned by the particular histories and structures of each country or region.

But, in general terms, the relations of citizenship between the rulers and the ruled are undermined by the mutual dependency between African governments and foreign multinationals. These end up replacing national taxpayers as the main source of financing for the state, thus undermining the social contract that is the basis of the most democratic policies.

In this context, the differences between the different external actors in Africa are nuanced. Certainly, the European Union and its member countries are the largest donors of development aid. China is the main financier of infrastructure. Russia has become the largest supplier of weapons. The United States excels in all of these fields. And the governments and economic groups of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Japan or Israel have specialized in different areas of cooperation. However, the contribution of all of them to the undemocratic orders in Africa is based on economic and political relations of a very similar nature.

Risks and opportunities of the crisis in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has intensified European attention to Africa for several reasons. During the vote on the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly condemning the invasion of Ukraine, only 28 of the 54 African countries, just over half, voted in favor. This has shown that the renewed alliance with the Europeans does not imply an automatic alignment with them in crisis situations.

On the other hand, the need to ensure the flow of natural gas from Algeria or oil from the Gulf of Guinea, now that supplies from Russia are in danger, suggests that in the immediate future relations between Europeans and Africans will be based on the same logical than so far.

Finally, the contradiction between the open arms policy towards Ukrainian refugees and the much more miserly attitude received by Africans has not escaped many.

The current international crisis can be an opportunity to reconfigure relations between Europe and Africa on other bases. But there is a risk of further reinforcing the dynamics of global apartheid in which the protection of political freedoms and social rights is limited to European states at the cost of putting them at risk elsewhere.

The dilemmas facing European governments, in dire need of natural resources in competition with other global consumers, are complex. But understanding and acknowledging the profound implications their policies have for other populations should be a critical component of that renewed partnership with Africa.

Related articles

In video: they report ‘incredible’ meteorite that crossed the sky of Spain and Portugal,...

The images of a large sphere that crossed the sky of Spain and Portugal in the early hours of this May 19 (the night...

The Pro League is red hot! This is the table and the pending...

The first stage of Pro League is about to conclude and several teams are emerging as candidates to win it, where IDV, Aucas, Liga...

Food consumption collapses, but the tax burden on the final value increases

While consumption of basic products collapses, The burden of national taxes increases as a percentage of the total shelf value and the participation of...

Celebrate Aucas and Barcelona! Independiente del Valle and Liga de Quito tied and...

Liga de Quito visited Sangolquí to face Independiente del Valle in a match that ended 1-1. The first stage of Pro League is...