The EU hosted more than 40 African leaders in Brussels on Thursday in a bid to reassert its influence on a continent where China and Russia have made large investments and where many have felt let down by the rollout of European vaccines against the virus. COVID-19.
The European Union will offer several support programs at the summit to strengthen health, education and stability in Africa, and will pledge half of a new investment campaign of 300 billion euros (340.9 billion euros). dollars) launched to compete with China’s Belt and Road initiative.
But the meeting also comes just as France and its allies fighting Islamist militants in Mali announced on Thursday that they would begin their military withdrawal from the country.
Europe and other wealthy countries have been heavily criticized for hoarding protective gear and later vaccines during the pandemic, with some African leaders saying slow donations could lead to “vaccine apartheid”.
At the start of February, only 11% of Africans were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus – far fewer than in the world’s wealthiest regions.
Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio has challenged Europeans to remember that there are ‘human beings on the other side’ in Africa who have been left behind in the unequal global response to COVID -19, adding that this has security implications.
Europe has also been appalled by travel bans to South Africa after the Omicron variant was detected late last year.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has said he and other African leaders will raise the issue of intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines and treatments. Many developing countries want these rights removed, but face opposition from wealthy countries, including many EU countries.
Avoid thorny issues
Tensions are rising over other issues between two continents with colonial ties, including migration flows and the erosion of democracy in several African countries, some of which have recently experienced coups, including Mali.
Frank Mattheis, an expert in area studies at the United Nations University, said the summit would seek to highlight areas where cooperation shows promise and avoid thorny issues.
The European Commission announced this week that the EU and the Gates Foundation will invest more than €100 million over the next five years to help set up an African medicines regulator to boost the production of medicines and vaccines on the continent.
The race to establish the African Medicines Agency (AMA) comes after the pandemic exposed the region’s reliance on imported vaccines.
Just over 5% of medicines and 1% of vaccines consumed by Africa’s population of 1.2 billion are produced locally. The EU says it will provide support to help Africa produce 60% of the vaccines it needs by 2040.
Part of AMA’s funding will come from €150 billion to be mobilized for Africa over the next seven years under the EU’s Global Gateway programme.
Separately, the European Investment Bank announced on Thursday that it would provide 500 million euros in cheap loans to African countries to strengthen health systems. This line of credit should mobilize a total of 1 billion euros of private and public investments, the bank said.
W. Gyude Moore, senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Development, welcomed the investment pledge and said he hoped it would launch a partnership of true equals.
“But there is a long history of broken promises like this when it comes to the EU and Africa, so the African Union, while cautiously optimistic, will remain skeptical until this commitment is converted. in projects on the ground”. ($1 = 0.8800 euros)