Almost all heads of government from the EU and the African Union gathered in Brussels in February - for the first time in five years. Photo: GovernmentZA. Source: Flickr.

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African leaders disappointed after summit in Brussels

From 17 to 18 February 2022, EU and African Union heads of government met in Brussels. Despite statements that the meeting represented the start of an equal partnership between Africa and the EU, several African leaders believe that the high ambitions remained empty words and are not reflected in reality.

The summit in February was originally intended to be held in 2020, but had to be postponed due to covid-19. When the heads of government could finally gather, the goals were soaring and the agenda is packed. A number of high-profile issues such as access to covid vaccine, sustainable investment, migration and peace and security would be resolved within two days. Among other things, the EU hopes to be both an investor and a trading partner for AU member states.

- When Africa sets course for the future, the EU wants to be the partner that helps them there, said European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen during the meeting.

To achieve this goal, an investment package for sustainable development of EUR 150 billion was presented, which Utvecklingsmagasinet earlier has reported om. The Heads of Government also decided that the EU should distribute 450 million vaccine doses to Africa. AU chairman and also Senegalese president Macky Sall, like von Der Leyen, expressed ambitions for expanded and deepened cooperation.

- This is a fresh start in our partnership, Sall stated on one press conference during the meeting.

The meeting has also generated great interest from civil society. The organization ONE, which consists of young activists working to fight poverty, collected more than 20 ahead of the meeting in Brussels signatures to pressure world leaders to implement concrete measures against inequality and the corona pandemic.

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During the two days in Brussels, Africa is mentioned as Europe's “Sister continent” and cooperation as a "partnership between equals". Despite this reports African Business that the meeting led to disappointment among, among others, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, due to the EU's refusal to release the patents for covid vaccine. AU chairman Macky Sall's demand to use fossil energy to strengthen Africa's economic growth has also remained unanswered. Although the aforementioned investments from the EU are welcome, according to Sall, they are not sufficient.

- We need money. We need real resources to finance energy conversion, education, infrastructure and create opportunities for our young people, expressed Sall.

Senegalese President and President of the African Union Macky Sall. Photo: Monusco Photos. Source: Flickr.

Migration policy was another topic discussed during the summit. Shala Islam from Center for Global Development believes that the EU is spending billions on strengthening its external border and preventing illegal migration, while offering few options for legal migration for citizens of African countries. Even more were presented during the meeting in Brussels measures to reduce immigration to the EU from Africa and instead stimulate return.

Many of the summit participants believe that the relationship between the EU and the AU has for too long been characterized by postcolonial power structures, reports Al Jazeera. The EU's position as a donor and the AU's as a recipient have created a balance of power, which the AU's leaders hope to address in the near future. The EU's attempt to address the balance of power has, according to African Business not impressed by the AU's heads of government.

At the end of the meeting, a joint document was published in which the heads of government emphasize the importance of equal cooperation, far-reaching investments and a common agenda for peace and security. What the partnership will look like in the future remains to be seen, however several leaders seems to agree that they traveled home from Brussels with less than hoped for. 

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