4 Apr 2014

Differences on sanctions and conditionality casting a shadow over EU-Africa summit

By Karen Del Biondo

On 2-3rd April 80 delegations from the European Union and Africa gathered together for the 4th EU-Africa summit. The summit was meant to revive the 2007 Joint Africa-EU Strategy (JAES). The general assessment was that the JAES had failed to deliver, and that a revision of the strategy was needed to finally reach the objective of ‘moving beyond a donor-recipient relationship’.

Once again, the summit was preceded by a discussion on the participation of the Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. When Brussels denied a visa to his wife Grace Mugabe, who is on the EU sanctions list, Mugabe decided to stay away from the summit, and called on other African leaders to do the same. The call was largely ignored by the other African leaders, with the notable exception of President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, who sent a ministerial delegation to replace him declaring that ‘time must pass wherein we are looked as subjects, we are told who must come, who must not come’.

Although the discussion on Mugabe’s participation did not block the summit, the issue does indicate some major points of disagreement in the EU-Africa relationship. It should be reminded that the same question caused the second EU-Africa summit to be postponed from 2003 until December 2007. The main issue in the future, however, will most likely not be Zimbabwe. The suspension of the EU travel ban on Mugabe to allow him to participate in the summit had actually been meant as a signal of the desire to normalise relations with Zimbabwe.

Nonetheless, some recent issues have sparked a fear in Africa that the EU is stepping up conditionality and sanctions, despite rhetoric of ‘a partnership of equals’. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a particularly sensitive topic. Indeed, another notable absence was that of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was not invited as there is an ICC arrest warrant against him. Many African states, including the 34 that are party to the ICC, find that heads of states should be immune from indictment by the ICC. 

The question of immunity of heads of state became even more important when Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were sworn in as President and Vice-President of Kenya in 2013. A few years earlier, the ICC had summoned Kenyatta and Ruto, together with four others, in relation to the violence that took place after the December 2007 elections in Kenya. In September 2013, the AU held an extra-ordinary summit on the ICC, during which it expressed itself against charges against serving AU Heads of State. After the summit, the AU sent a delegation to New York to convince the members of the UN Security Council to defer the Kenyan cases. The fact that the European members of the Security Council (UK, France, Luxembourg) did not support this bid, is seen by some African countries as a lack of solidarity. 

The discussion on the ICC reflects a wider criticism that the EU’s sanctions policy is characterised by double standards. There is a widespread belief in Africa that the ICC particularly targets Africans, given that all the cases that are currently investigated are African. The fact that Egypt was invited to the 2014 summit, despite being suspended from the AU, is another example of double standards. While the EU may insist that it is an EU-Africa rather than an EU-AU summit, it is remarkable that suspended AU member Guinea-Bissau is not on the list of attendants, while interim president Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central African Republic was invited to a special meeting on the crisis in her country.

Furthermore, the issue of gay rights may prove to be a thorny issue in the future. The recent adoption of legislation instituting long-term imprisonments for homosexuality in Uganda, Nigeria and Ethiopia has provoked strong protest in Europe. EU member states Denmark and the Netherlands have already suspended aid in Uganda as a reaction to the anti-gay legislation, while the EU is reconsidering its own aid package in this country. In this light, African states fear additional conditionalities in support of gay rights. This fear may not be completely ungrounded: at the occasion of a joint meeting with MPs from the European and Pan-African Parliament, President of the European Parliament Martin Shulz called to cut aid to countries with anti-gay laws. Shulz is widely tipped to become the next president of the European Commission.

These outstanding issues are more symptomatic of a donor-recipient relationship than of a partnership based on shared values. When they pop up in discussions on the strategy, the participants have to acknowledge that ‘we do not agree on everything’. It is however crucial that the EU and Africa engage in an open and transparent dialogue, including on sensitive issues like the ICC and gay rights. 

Karen Del Biondo is Postdoctoral fellow at the Freie Universität Berlin
This is a guest post; views may not represent that of ECDPM
Photo Courtesy of The Council of the European Union


Post a Comment