Why Europe’s eyes are on Africa
The European Union is not widely known for unveiling bold new initiatives, but this week could be an exception when it launches its new Global Gateway project, widely seen as a counterpart to the gigantic Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. of the road to China.
This week’s big announcement, the culmination of the Europe-Africa summit which begins on Thursday, will see the Brussels club launch the first regional Global Gateway plan mobilizing up to 300 billion euros for public and private infrastructure around the world. by 2027. This money is earmarked for Africa, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen intending to proclaim the EU-27 as the continent’s “most trusted” global partner.
Spending is focused on renewable energy, natural disaster risk reduction, digital connectivity, transport, coronavirus and broader medical vaccine production, and education.
This highlights how the African continent of 1.2 billion people has become a foreign policy super-priority for Brussels and the EU-27. In recent years there has been a clear European movement towards the continent, increasingly based on investment rather than aid.
Brussels wants to encourage Africa as a champion of the EU’s multilateral rules-based approach to the global order, seeing the EU as a counterweight on the continent to other leading global powers like the China with the power politics they are perceived to offer.
While this important European pivot is led from Brussels, individual EU nations are also stepping up their engagement with the continent.
Take the example of France, whose president, Emmanuel Macron, last year hosted the first France-Africa summit in recent times.
French influence over its former colonies continues today through political, security, economic and cultural ties in Francophone Africa. Building on this legacy, Macron announced major plans to renew the historic relationship in the face of growing interest in the continent from other countries.
Outside the EU, the UK is another key European power that also focuses on Africa. For London, the continent has taken on new importance with Brexit as British officials seek to cement ties with key non-EU countries after leaving the EU in 2020.
Yet it is not just the EU that is paying close attention to the continent given its long-term, post-pandemic growth potential. Several major powers such as the United States and China, as well as other states such as Turkey and some Gulf countries, are also paying more attention to Africa, giving countries more diplomatic options than by the past.
It is China that has invested the most time and money in Africa over the past decades, a point that is illustrated by the fact that its senior leaders (the President, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs) are said to have made around 80 visits to over 40 countries there in the last decade alone.
Beijing aims to better connect its Belt and Road Initiative more and more with the mainland’s development. As a result, trade and investment between the two powers has increased dramatically, with some 40 African countries joining Belt and Road, and Beijing a frequent host of China-Africa summits.
Under Joe Biden, the United States is also stepping up its interest in the continent, even as the new administration in Washington knows it is playing catch-up with China. The Biden team seeks to energize US politics through the US Prosper Africa initiative which aims to dramatically increase two-way trade and investment.
While the resurgence of foreign attention on Africa often reflects economic calculations, broader geopolitical considerations are also at play. From the new European plan to the continent to the great power play underway between the United States and China, international interest in the continent only looks set to grow in the 2020s given its growing strategic importance.
• Andrew Hammond is a partner at LSE Ideas at the London School of Economics