Observers hope discussions on thorny issues such as vaccine equity, security cooperation and infrastructure investment will yield results at the sixth European Union-African Union summit in Brussels on 17-18 february.
A joint article published on the eve of the summit by African Union (AU) President Macky Sall and his European Union (EU) counterpart, Charles Michel, talks about “respect and values”, a ” partnership for stability” and “prosperity” which has been “tested by the pandemic”.
It also addresses “the growing threat of inter-bloc conflict”, while concluding that “Africans and Europeans are rolling up our sleeves to work towards an exciting common future”.
“These summits are very demanding in terms of commitments, pledges and postures,” says Charles Chinedu Okeahlam, co-founder of investment group AGH Capital and former economic adviser to South Africa’s ANC government.
He expressed the hope that “something can come out” of even the “minor commitments”, which at least will be followed.
One of the hottest issues on the agenda is the EU’s announcement of the Africa-Europe Investment Package, the €300 billion global gateway.
Mark Malloch-Brown of the Open Society Foundations says there are high hopes the EU can at least “put its money where it talks”.
“Rush to Africa?
The competition is tough. Githinji Gitahi, CEO of Amref Health Africa, told RFI the investment program evokes a modern “scramble for Africa”, where the EU competes with other powers for influence on the continent. African.
Projects include China’s multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), former US President Barack Obama’s Power Africa project and the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor, a joint initiative launched by Japan and the United States. India in 2017 to counter the Chinese BRI.
Ultimately, “it’s Africa that has to decide where it wants to go. Africa has to have a voice on the table to say what we want to do,” says Githinji.
Critics of China’s BIS have focused on its lack of checks and balances. But for many African countries, China’s plans represent an opportunity.
“The traditional [World Bank/IMF] funding model is conditional,” says Githinji. It obliges African countries “to accelerate their democracy, when they think it is not yet the time”.
However, China’s “unconditional” loans mean high interest rates and in some cases countries are forced to give up assets if they cannot pay.
“It’s basically the enslavement of Africa,” says Githinji.
But as its national economy falters, China is scaling back its BRI projects and its investment in Africa is being reduced – just as the EU has announced its own investment plan.
“I think if the Europeans are serious, they have an opportunity,” Malloch-Brown said.
Much of Africa’s infrastructure was put in place in the past by Europeans, but it now needs to be maintained.
“The idea that China and others have come to invest should provide a catalyst for Europe to play a role. It would also provide a catalyst for African countries to join forces with European countries to try to meet this challenge” , said Chinedu Okeahlam.
Improving infrastructure is imperative for the distribution of vital goods and will help reduce the effects of future pandemics.
This raises the second main issue of the EU/AU meeting: the great inequality in access to vaccines, highlighted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“You have 12% of Africans vaccinated, while 71% of Europeans are vaccinated,” Malloch-Brown says.
“If we want to have a lasting health solution to Covid, we cannot let these inequalities remain.”
One point of contention is a push – led by India and South Africa – to exempt Covid vaccines from the legal protection they enjoy under “Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights” (Trips ), an agreement signed by members of the World Trade Organization in 1995.
A “travel waiver” would allow countries to produce generic drugs locally, greatly speeding up production.
“There is no need for pharmaceutical companies to rack up their returns in such a short time,” says Chinedu Okeahlam, who does not question the right of companies to maintain protection, but the “morality” of doing so.
France’s swing vote
Delegates at the summit will see French President Emmanuel Macron as “sort of a swing vote on this issue of travel waivers,” according to Malloch-Brown.
According to a press release from the European Parliament, Germany, Portugal, Estonia and Belgium would be “reserved” on the granting of the derogation.
Greece, France and Italy are “somewhat supportive”, but positions could change during the summit.
A more unified European position will put more pressure on pharmaceutical companies to give in.
But even if negotiations result in a travel waiver, it won’t solve the Covid problem, Githinji argues, although “it will set a precedent and a framework for future pandemics. And that’s why it matters.” .
“Thematic round tables” at the AU/EU summit:
- Growth financing
- Health systems and vaccine production
- Agriculture and sustainable development
- Education, culture and vocational training, migration and mobility
- Private sector support and economic integration
- Peace, security and governance
- Climate change and energy, digital and transport transition [connectivity and infrastructure]
At the end of the two-day summit, a joint declaration on what is called “a common vision for 2030” should be adopted by the participants.