Amidst China retreat, EU Launches Investment Plan for Africa

In a push against China’s influence in Africa, European Union recently
concluded a two-day summit with Africa pledging US$ 170 billion aid package
to African countries. China has made significant inroads into the African
continent, however, with the beginning of the corona virus pandemic, there has
been a significant departure in China’s Africa policy. Amid the burgeoning
criticism related to the debt trap diplomacy, China has now been investing less
in the continent.
At the last Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) Meeting that took
place a few months back, President Xi Jinping pledged about US$ 40 billion
worth of investments for Africa, a third less than Beijing’s previous
commitments. Even with regard to the Chinese loans, there was a significant
drop in the number compared to the previous years. According to the data given
by John Hopkins University, Chinese loans amounted to US$ 7.6 billion in 2019
as compared to US$ 29.5 billion in 2016. Beijing has been nevertheless offering
assistance in the realm of other assistance programme such as the corona virus
vaccines. Notably, Corona vaccines have also been a sore point in the relations
between EU and Africa because of the bloc’s refusal to waive intellectual
property rights that would have allowed for cheaper production in African
In a bid to highlight the cooperative, anti-colonial narrative in the China-Africa
relationship, President Xi has underlined Europe’s colonial history with Africa
and in contrast noted that “over the past 65 years, China and Africa had forged
unbreakable fraternity in our struggle against imperialism and colonialism”. He
also refered to phrases like the “big family of Belt and Road cooperation”.
Europe, alarmed by China’s deepening engagements in Africa, is hoping to
reassert its influence on the continent through massive development
assistance, targeting particularly the telecommunication sector.
The assistance is a part of the Global Gateway Initiative (GGI) that was unveiled
by the EU last year as an alternative to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative
(BRI). This involves a range of projects such as green energy initiatives,
disaster relief and the improvement of the public health infrastructure. The
projects also aim to improve digital connectivity and build new transport links.
Telecommunications would also receive a special focus under the initiative and
EU proposes to build a US$ 6.8 billion high-speed satellite communication
network which will also include Africa.
European representatives have also been visiting the continent, for instance,
EU Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager recently visited Abuja where
she announced a substantial support for Nigeria’s digital economy and
emphasized a “human-centric, democratic governance framework” for
technology. Incidentally, the Nigerian government had imposed a national ban
on Twitter after the social media platform had deleted a tweet by President
Muhammadu Buhari threatening a violent crackdown on secessionists only to
revoke its later. On its part, China has maintained good relationship with African
dictatorships for the past 15 years. A number of authoritarian governments in
Africa limit or block internet use. While, EU leaders look to project democratic
values, such as freedom of expression and communications together with the
economic aid. Significantly, according to a report by Foundation for
Investigative Journalism, Nigerian government officials, including the
President’s Chief of Staff visited Beijing to learn more about the Great Firewall,
China’s nationwide cyber-censorship and surveillance – just before the ban was
The EU and US are increasingly alarmed by China’s aggressive investment in
the African continent. For the past two decades, Beijing has used its deep
pockets to fund massive infrastructure projects in the region. Differentiating
itself from China’s approach on the continent, EU will emphasise sustainability
and transparency in the projects that it plans to pursue in the area. They have
reiterated that they will not forgo principles such as labour, environmental and
anti-corruption standards in their projects unlike Chinese financing which has
no conditions attached.
As per plans laid out in the GGI, Brussels is also eyeing a secure international
submarine fibre cable connecting the EU with Africa along the Atlantic Ocean
coast. The new connections will foster the digital sovereignty of the two
continents by diversifying existing links and ensuring the highest infrastructure
and cyber security standards. This clearly depicts the growing unease of EU
with China’s expansion of digital connectivity with parts of Africa. On the other
hand, Chinese telecom provider Huawei Technologies is nearing completion of
a cable project linking Asia with Eastern Africa.
Charles Michel, President of the European Council, appealed to African leaders
to collaborate on the principles of “mutual respect and shared interests as
equals”. EU hopes to bring about consensus with the African Union leaders for
a “common future, as closest partners and neighbours”. This is a clear effort on
the part of the EU to provide the African continent an alternate to Chinese
coercive ‘support regime for African development’ which would involve ethical
investments and challenge China’s deep inroads in the continent.






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