More than 40 African leaders were welcomed to Brussels by the EU on Thursday. This was in an effort to assert its power on a continent where Russia and China have made substantial investments and many felt let down due to Europe’s COVID-19 vaccins rollout.
The European Union will offer several support packages at the summit to improve health, education and stability for Africa. It will also pledge half of a new investment drive of 300 billion euros ($340.9 million) to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The meeting takes place at the same time France and its allies in fighting Islamist militants of Mali have announced on Thursday that they will begin military withdrawal from the country.
European and other wealthy countries were heavily criticised for their hoarding of protective equipment and later vaccinations during the pandemic. Some African leaders feared that the slow pace at which donations came in could lead to “vaccine Apartheid”.
Only 11% of Africans had been fully vaccinated against coronavirus by February 1, a far lower rate than those living in more developed countries.
Julius Maada Bio from Sierra Leone challenged Europeans to not forget there are people on the other side of COVID-19. This has security implications.
After the Omicron variant was discovered late last year, Europe’s ban on South Africa travel was met with dismay.
Cyril Ramaphosa, South African President, said that he would bring up the topic of intellectual property rights for COVID treatments and vaccines with other African leaders. These rights are sought by many developing countries, but they face resistance from rich nations, such as the EU.
Avoiding difficult issues
Tensions are deeper over other issues between continents with colonial connections, such as migration flows and erosion of democracy in many African countries that have seen recent coups d’etats, like Mali.
Frank Mattheis from the United Nations University is an expert on regional studies and said that the summit would focus on areas where cooperation looks promising and avoid the more difficult issues.
The European Commission has announced this week that it and the Gates Foundation will invest over 100 million euros in Africa over the next five year to establish a regulator for African medicine to improve the continent’s production of vaccines and drugs.
After the pandemic exposed the region’s dependence on imported vaccines, the race to establish the African Medicines Agency is underway.
Africa is home to just over 5% and 1% respectively of all medicines and vaccines. EU claims it will support Africa to produce 60% of the vaccines it requires by 2040.
The EU’s Global Gateway scheme will mobilize 150 billion euros over the next seven-years to finance the AMA.
Separately the European Investment Bank announced Thursday that it will make 500 million euros available to African countries for cheap loans to improve their healthcare systems. The bank stated that the credit line would mobilize 1 billion euros for private and public investments.
W. Gyude Moore is a senior policy analyst with the Center for Global Development and welcomed the investment promise. He expressed his hope that it would lead to a partnership of true equals.
“But there is a long history of unfulfilled promises like this when it comes to the EU and Africa, so the African Union, while cautiously optimistic, will remain sceptical until this pledge is converted into projects on the ground.” ($1 = 0.8800 euros)