The sixth summit bringing together the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU) takes place on February 17th and 18th in Brussels and is an opportunity to reshape relations between the two continents – writes Vlad Olteanu, EU affairs consultant.
President Macron, who is hosting the summit as acting President of the Council of the European Union, is looking for an opportunity for “reforging an economic and financial new deal with Africa” in order to “build investments in local African economies and build a shared future.”
Even though these objectives are full of good intentions, they are facing different and numerous challenges within the African continent and beyond it (given the growing importance of raw material rich African countries’ play on the global politics scene). We will focus, in the below lines on a particular, yet very important, challenge.
One of the main issues that is, today, creating a major concern, is the situation in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, where Jihadist’s insurgents are creating panic, fear and violence, sufficiently enough to make international alliances moving forward to fight these groups.
As they intend to create a new “Islamic State”, France, in particular, sees this geopolitical situation as a threat for the economic development of the region. France is deeply involved in this part of Africa and, therefore, is worried of the possible creation of an arch of jihadists violence from the Sahel , through Eastern Africa and finally down to the Southern Africa region .
In this equation , Zimbabwe a country under EU sanctions since 2002 is positioning itself as a main partner in fighting the Jihadists.
The importance of Zimbabwe in this context is tremendous. Not only are the Zimbabwean Defence forces considered as one of the best in Africa , but the country has recently become a member of the African Union Peace and Security Council which plays a key role (in cooperation with the South African Development Community (SADC)) in ensuring military stability to the region (by enacting the regional SAMIM military force in Mozambique).
The situation on the ground in Cabo Delgado has made more than 670.000 refugees and Zimbabwe contributed 304 men to the common SAMIM military force ( 1495 soldiers come from South Africa and smaller contingents come from Botswana and Lesotho amongst others). The country, which was under USA and EU led sanctions for 20 years now, currently has its status under review in Washington and in Brussels, reportedly 24 EU Member States (including France) are in favour of lifting the current sanctions and 3 EU Member States are either hostile or hesitant probably due to a certain remaining British influence on some EU member states.
The sanctions are under discussion in the EU Council, led by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Mr. Josep Borrell, reportedly in favour of lifting the sanctions. By the end of February, a final EU Council decision regarding lifting the sanctions against Zimbabwe can be taken. The EU-Africa summit will certainly be a platform for a broader discussion in this sense.
Even though the EU is probably not the biggest fan of President Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe, pragmatism and strategic positioning should play a major role in this situation. ,The EU acknowledged that President Mnangagwa and his government have recently made major openings regarding certain important issues , such as the agriculture reform, the freedom of the press and most importantly on human rights recognition and enforcement (the President fired his State Minister of Interior for his role in the violent repression of recent local provincial elections in late 2021).
The upcoming Zimbabwean Presidential election is also a key event explaining why President Mnangagwa is starting to get a positive approval by the European Union. The reforms that he started are perceived as positive and a majority of EU Member States believe that lifting the sanctions would also give him a better margin of manoeuver on the internal political front.The European Union ir right to fear that other candidates might altogether freeze the reforms and would probably be more skeptical in addressing the Cabo Delgado issue in addition to being possibly promoters of punitive actions against the Zimbabwean civil society.
The EU-Africa summit will help clarify the position of the European Union and make the case for President Mnangagwa as long as the European Union sees his deep commitment to continue the fight to appease the Cabo Delgado region and efficiently address the Jihadists threat in that region and beyond. This is yet another case were politics can play a crucial role in enabling both enduring security and savvy economics to a whole region of Africa. Or deny it.