For the time being, Europe can only watch with consternation from the sidelines as states in the Sahel and West Africa tumble like dominoes through military coups and fall out of the already rudimentary sphere of influence of the West. At their most recent meeting in Toledo, Spain, the EU foreign ministers eloquently stated the “epidemic of the coup” – nowhere else, of course, with such powerlessness and helplessness as the former colonial masters in Paris.
Françafrique, the French-speaking ex-colonies, France melts away under the sun. The fact that Sahel states such as Mali and Burkina Faso have entered into a political flirtation and an economic deal with Russia and its currently headless Wagner Group must alarm geopolitical strategists in Brussels and Washington alike. Under the aegis of France, the EU has invested heavily in political prestige and military power to protect the Sahel states from Islamic terrorism and prevent them from disintegration. Now the generals are surrendering themselves to the Russian neo-imperialists for a short-term advantage, without any decisive improvement in the security situation.
Caught in the cycle of misery
It is easy to imagine how the flirtation ends: after the looting, the mercenaries will leave. They are left behind by ailing military regimes and a population betrayed of their hopes, begging for help from the West – or even China. Or people who, disillusioned with the false promises, set out on a journey. Most of them are still drawn to the neighbouring region. More and more, however, will take on the hardships to make their way to the Mediterranean or the Atlantic to reach the supposed paradise of Europe. A population explosion, the projected doubling of the population in Africa, will only increase the pressure.
Africa, the much-vaunted continent of the future, once again seems to be trapped in a cycle of misery: politically unstable, exploited by elites, tending to relapse into autocracy. Politically, it is increasingly a continent of gloom, economically still a continent with almost inexhaustible potential, but plagued by droughts and sometimes home-made natural disasters. Where has the spirit of optimism of the 1990s gone? What about model democracies like Uganda or South Africa?
Under the pull of a “strongman” like Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, some have developed into despotisms that keep the media, minorities and the opposition under their thumb. Family clans such as the now overthrown Bongos in Gabon or military leaders dominate large parts of Africa. In the multi-ethnic state of Ethiopia, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Abiy Ahmed, who was chosen as a signal to Africa, has unexpectedly mutated into a warlord in a civil war with Tigray alongside Eritrea’s sudden ally. Nigeria, the continent’s largest democracy, has defeated a highly controversial election. And in the “rainbow nation” of South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s legacy is tattering.
An EU Special Envoy for Africa
The snapshot is sobering, not to say depressing. It will be up to the West, the EU and the US, to take on a kind of role model function. Last but not least, this requires money and staying power. China and Russia will not set a democratic example anywhere. They don’t care about democratic values and human rights, only about their interests.
There was no lack of attempts for a European Africa policy. Only: One litter has not been among them so far. The migration pact with autocratic Tunisia was the last failure. Since then, more migrants than ever have come from the Maghreb state. The fact that the issue of migration is burning under the nails has long been recognized by the Europeans – especially the Italians. And that comprehensive cooperation with Africa is needed. However, there has always been a lack of implementation. As a first step, it is high time for the EU to appoint a representative for Africa. An agreement on a common strategy would be the second. The time for going it alone is over. France and Macron should have learned this lesson.
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