Monday, 7 April 2014

Africa leaders in Belgium for EU meet

Vice President Edward Ssekandi (L) bids farewell to President Museveni at Entebbe airport on Tuesday before the President set off to Brussels, Belgium to attend the 4th EU-Africa summit .

With helicopters circling overhead, snipers on rooftops, sirens baring through the streets, and military police manning fortifications, European and African leaders kicked off a two-day summit here seeking to renew a valuable relationship under threat from new suitors.
A stronger show of force was underway thousands of miles away in the Central African Republic where the European Union launched a military operation to end the political instability in the country that the UN warns threatens to spiral into religious extremism and potential violence.
Details of the size of the EU force deployed to CAR were not immediately available but officials in Brussels said it had a short-term mandate with a view to handing over to a peacekeeping force from the African Union or the UN.
“The launch of this operation demonstrates the EU’s determination to take full part in international efforts to restore stability and security in Bangui and right across the Central African Republic,” Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy and security in-charge, said.
The military operation in CAR is only the latest in a growing list of EU interventions in Africa, following a French-led intervention in Mali, counter-piracy operations in the Horn of Africa and the NATO-led attacks in Libya that dislodged Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
The attack on Gaddafi, who had hosted the last EU-Africa summit only a year before his death, sparked renewed claims of African nationalism and calls for “African solutions to African problems”. However, such solutions have been slow in coming and, the EU has grown increasingly more visible in its military engagements, although Brussels is keen to present its activities as partnerships with the African Union.
The EU has contributed more than Euros 1.2 billion to peace-building efforts across the continent through the Africa Peace Facility since 2004 and sees gunboat and helicopter diplomacy as key to maintaining close relations.
Amidst growing interest in Africa from China, America and other emerging economies, the EU has put on a charm offensive, seeking to overcome its colonial legacy and emerge as Africa’s “partner”, perhaps the most popular word in the bureaucratic corridors in Brussels.
“There are things on which Europe needs Africa,” Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, said Wednesday during the opening of the summit, pointing to climate change and migration.
Manuel Barroso, his counterpart from the European Commission, was more saccharine, speaking of “a partnership based on mutual respect, a partnership of equals”, but tough discussions lie ahead.
Migration – in particular the EU’s treatment of illegal migrants seeking economic refuge on the continent – has emerged as a potential sore point, with Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary general, and Human Rights Watch calling for more humane treatment of those who undertake the often perilous pilgrimages from poverty.
Access to markets for trade also remains controversial. The EU has set October as the deadline for a deal on the controversial Economic Partnerships Agreement between it and Africa but civil society activists, who turned out in the spring sunshine in Brussels to demonstrate outside the summit venue, show that agreement and consensus are yet to be achieved.
Trade between the two continents grew by 46 per cent between 2007 and 2012 and the EU remains a key import and export partner. However, Africa continues to export raw materials while importing manufactured goods as well as food from Europe.
“Opening up markets to the EU will not help us if we are still exporting stones and importing cars,” an African diplomat in Brussels said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak on behalf of his country. “We have to figure out how to manufacture goods and export finished products before we can talk about being partners with anybody.”
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan: “We expect that at the end of this summit, the relationship between EU and Africa will be enhanced and become stronger and stronger in terms of our economic development and also in terms of our commitment to maintain peace and human security in Africa.

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