Europe in Africa: Suspending Missions in Mali & CAR and Skepticism Over EU’s ‘Global Gateway’ Initiative

Written by | Tuesday, December 21st, 2021

SECURITY —- The European Union has suspended its military mission in Central African Republic (CAR) after Russian mercenaries began taking control of EU-trained soldiers while dozens of EU instructors have already gone home. “The temporary suspension of our operations aims to avoid any overlapping with these mercenaries and ensure they do not use the Central African soldiers we have trained,” general Jacques Langlade de Montgros, the commander of the EU mission recently told the media. Meanwhile, Germany would not rule out transferring its military mission in Mali to another country if the danger is too great, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said Sunday (19 December). Germany has around 1,500 soldiers in Mali as part of the United Nations’ Minusma peacekeeping mission and the EU’s mission to train Malian soldiers.
“The safety of our soldiers is my first priority,” Lambrecht said, referring to the Bundeswehr’s mission to train Malian forces. “We now have to check whether it is possible to train Malian soldiers just as well, or even better, in another location that is safer for our soldiers,” said the Social Democrat minister, who took office earlier this month as part of Olaf Scholz’s new government. The Minusma website has reported of series of deaths of peacekeepers following attacks. She had already stated her intention to review all foreign missions being undertaken by the Germany army and added parliamentary mandates for military missions should be “debated more in parliament and the objective of missions constantly re-examined”. France, on its part, has begun to withdraw troops from its northernmost Malian bases, which include the closure of its army bases in Kidal, Tessalit and Timbuktu, by the end of the year, part of plans to reorganise its forces deployed in the restive Sahel region under “Operation Barkhane”. The decision came amid mounting political instability in Mali, where Colonel Assimi Goita carried out two coups in less than a year before being sworn in as the country’s interim president.

ECONOMICS & TRADE —- When the bloc launched its “Global Gateway” initiative on 1 December, it was pitched as a greener and more transparent alternative to China’s “Belt and Road”. The Global Gateway, a €300 billion infrastructure spending plan, is the EU’s contribution to narrowing the global investment gap worldwide that also aims to boost EU’s supply chains and trade across the world. It’s no coincidence that the European Commission announced the initiative the day after a major China-Africa summit ended in Dakar, Senegal, highlighting the contrast in approach. Africa could certainly use the investment that also aspires to support a green and digital transition around the world. While the African Development Bank (ADB) estimates the continent’s infrastructure needs at €115–150 billion a year, African experts are skeptical of the EU offer.
While China has built bridges, roads and dams during its 20-year-engagement with Africa, they say, the EU has brought more red tape and a lecture. “Who listens and understands the context in which African countries are operating is going to be the better development partner,” says Ovigwe Eguegu, a Nigerian policy adviser at consultancy Development Reimagined, adding that “the EU is the one that doesn’t listen. … In a way, the EU coming up with the global gateway is acknowledging that China got development in Africa right.” According to Faten Aggad, a former advisor to the African Union’s high representative on Africa-EU negotiations, “China’s financing is through loans but at least it’s on the table. As things are, China will certainly remain a much more attractive partner. The EU will need to up its offer if it’s to be truly relevant.” A latest survey by Afrobarometer, a pan-African, independent, non-partisan research network that measures public attitudes on economic, political, and social matters on the continent, has shown that 59% of respondents think China’s economic and political influence is mostly positive – compared with 46% for former colonial powers.

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