Investment plan

EU investment plan for Africa shows confidence as China pulls out of continent

The European Union recently concluded a two-day summit with Africa and pledged $170 billion in aid to African countries in a bid to thwart Chinese influence.

Beijing has made major inroads in Africa, however, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a significant shift in China’s African policy.

Amid growing criticism over debt-trap diplomacy, China is now investing less in the continent, Hong Kong Post reported.

At the last meeting of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held a few months ago, President Xi Jinping pledged about $40 billion in investments for Africa, a third of less than Beijing’s previous commitments.

Even with regard to Chinese loans, there has been a significant drop in the number compared to previous years.

According to data provided by Johns Hopkins University, Chinese lending stood at US$7.6 billion in 2019, up from US$29.5 billion in 2016.

Beijing has nevertheless offered assistance in the area of ​​other assistance programs such as COVID-19

vaccines. Notably, COVID-19 vaccines have also been a sore point in EU-Africa relations due to the bloc’s refusal to relinquish intellectual property rights that would have enabled cheaper production in African countries.

In a bid to shed light on the cooperative and anti-colonial narrative in China-Africa relations, President Xi highlighted Europe’s colonial history with Africa.

In contrast, he noted that “over the past 65 years, China and Africa have forged unwavering brotherhood in our struggle against imperialism and colonialism.”

He also referred to expressions such as the “big family of Belt and Road cooperation.”

Europe, alarmed by China’s deepening engagement in Africa, hopes to reassert its influence on the continent through massive development aid, targeting in particular the telecommunications sector.

The aid is part of the Global Gateway Initiative (GGI) which was unveiled by the EU last year as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

This involves a range of projects such as green energy initiatives, disaster relief, and improving public health infrastructure.

The projects also aim to improve digital connectivity and build new transport links.

Telecommunications would also receive special attention under the initiative and the EU is proposing to build a $6.8 billion high-speed satellite communications network that will also include Africa.

European representatives have also visited the continent. For example, EU Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager recently visited Abuja, where she announced substantial support for Nigeria’s digital economy and emphasized a “governance framework human-centered democracy” for technology.

Incidentally, the Nigerian government imposed a nationwide ban on Twitter after the social media platform deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari threatening a violent crackdown on secessionists only to later revoke it.

For its part, China has maintained good relations with African dictatorships for 15 years.

A number of authoritarian governments in Africa limit or block internet use.

As EU leaders seek to project democratic values, such as freedom of expression and communication, as well as economic aid.

Significantly, according to a report by the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, Nigerian government officials, including the president’s chief of staff, traveled to Beijing to learn about the Great Firewall, cyber censorship and nationwide surveillance in China – just before the ban was imposed.

Both the EU and the US are increasingly alarmed by China’s aggressive investments in the African continent.

Over the past two decades, Beijing has used its deep pockets to finance massive infrastructure projects in the region.

Differentiating from China’s approach to the continent, the EU will emphasize sustainability and transparency in the projects it plans to pursue in the region.

They reiterated that they would not waive principles such as labor, environmental and anti-corruption standards in their projects unlike Chinese funding which comes with no strings attached.

In line with plans set out in the GGI, Brussels is also considering a secure international undersea fiber cable linking the EU to Africa along the Atlantic Ocean coast.

The new connections will promote the digital sovereignty of the two continents by diversifying existing links and guaranteeing the highest infrastructure and cybersecurity standards.

This clearly illustrates the EU’s growing unease with China’s expanding digital connectivity with parts of Africa.

On the other hand, Chinese telecommunications provider Huawei Technologies is about to complete a cable project linking Asia to East Africa.

Charles Michel, President of the European Council, called on African leaders to work together on the principles of “mutual respect and shared interests on an equal footing”.

The EU hopes to reach a consensus with the leaders of the African Union for a “common future, as partners and closest neighbours”.

This is a clear effort by the EU to provide the African continent with an alternative to China’s coercive ‘African Development Support Regime’ that would involve ethical investments and challenge China’s deep inroads into the continent.

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