China’s deep involvement in Africa in the past 10 years or so has not gone down well with the US and the European Union, with both world powers rethinking their strategies to reposition themselves and send a strong message to China that Africa and all its natural resources were still very much their ‘private property’.
China’s ‘neo-colonisation’ of Africa, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the burning threat of terrorism in the Sahel region and illegal immigration, among others, have also given the EU a solid platform it needed to begin strengthening its ‘faded’ institutional ties with African organisations.
Abdurrahim Siradag, a lecturer at International University of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who prior to receiving his PhD degree from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands in December 2012, conducted a study on a strategic partnership in the areas of peace and security between the EU and Africa.
Siradag, who touched on the previously unexplored aspects of security relations between the two continents, seems to say that EU’s economic interests have played a significant role in this new development.
Many African leaders, including die-hard dictators and the so-called social democrats, got fed-up with the West for forcing them to drink this ‘poison’ called good governance, in exchange for aid.
And this ‘poison’ is a full package that includes respect for human rights and democracy, economic transparency and freedom of the press.
Turning their back on Europe’s ‘eternal principles’ of good governance, they then looked to the East, saw and embraced communist and oppressive China, which told them categorically that the internal affairs of a country were not its business.
For China – a global economic giant with an appalling human rights record – when money talks, human rights and democracy shut up.
However, despite self-proclaiming themselves the champions of free society, democracy and human rights and looking down on China as a ‘less civilised’ world, the US and the EU have serious shortcomings in these areas, which include ill-treatiing refugees and asylum-seekers through racist policies, and supporting Africa’s modern-day dictatorial regimes.
Feeling the heat both from China’s domination of Africa and Islamist terrorists, two factors they see as constant threats to their interests in Africa, the EU then made a U-turn to unconditionally flirt once again with Africa – through the so-called Strategic Security Partnership (SSP).
Siradag says new global threats and challenges, such as immigration issues, climate change, international terrorism, conflicts, and the emerging global actors (US, China) in Africa have affected the EU’s current foreign and security policy towards Africa.
According to Siradag, the EU uses the (SSP) to contribute actively to top peace and security in order to protect its political and economic interests in Africa against any sort of damage.
Again, he says the fact that the EU expanded in 2004 to include 10 more states, implies that it is meant to take greater responsibility in the world.
“And finally, a number of EU countries foster their historical relations with African countries, while at the same time bearing in mind their own interests. This historical factor should not be neglected,” he wrote.
But unless Africa opens its eyes widely and trades carefully, the SSP is only going to further weaken it, while strengthening Europe even more.
Siradag warns: “Both parties have to arrive at a system whereby Africa is less dependent. Members of the African Union should set up a joint system of funding to support peace operations within the continent, without external aid.
“Furthermore, the members should strengthen the collaboration within the African Union. Weak and ineffective African organisations are doomed to remain passive in world politics and will be unable to resolve their own security problems.”
EU and China have always been at loggerheads on the issue of involvement in Africa, owning to their different approches.
However, another expert believes the EU’s and China’s policy approaches are not necessarily contradictory. Jin Ling, who collaborated previously with the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), says both sides can learn each other a lot about their aid to Africa.
“Both sides should shift perspective, put aside the perception of ‘competing models’ to study the points of overlap and thus open a new window for co-operation,” Ling advises, acknowledging the wide perception gap that exists between the two sides in her occasional paper published in March 2010.
Ling is a senior research fellow in the Department of EU Studies at the China Institute of International Studies.
Ling, a PhD in international politics, reiterated that EU aid policy has evolved over the years – from moving from benevolent paternalism to a laissez-faire approach that has in recent decades given way to the imposition of various conditionalities.
Ling emphasises that a practical and pragmatic way to advance cooperation between both sides through focusing initially on second track approaches could be the ultimate solution.
Photo: EU-South Africa Summit in Brussels, Belgium, President J Zuma with EU chiefs. Credit: European Union Council