"EuropAfrique", the (sur)real relationship between the EU and Sub-Saharan Africa


LOMÉ, Togo – On November 21st, Emmanuel Macron organized a debate in the French National Assembly entitled: “Renewed partnerships between France and Africa”. The room, however, was almost empty

. Catherine Colonna, Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, was then introduced by the thunderous laughter of the President of the Assembly, Yaël Braun-Pivet. Colonna, with predictable embarrassment, began her speech by saying that: "[...] France's relationship with Africa is a priority of our foreign policy [...]". France has greatly influenced Europe's decisions regarding the African continent. But in the last period Africa’s patience has grown tired of Europe's (in)decisions.

An article in Le Mondafrique (LM) November 25th confirmed that General Abdourahman Tchiani, head of the military junta in Niger, just decided to reopen the migratory channels. According to LM, the government recently repealed the law “2015-36” that criminalized migrant traffickers. A law badly wanted by the EU itself. “This news should cause concern for Brussels – claims Le Mondafrique – the support for the Nigerien socialist regime overthrown in July was based above all on the will of the Nigerien authorities to fight against the flow of migrants”. The EU's ambiguous position regarding the different coups d'état in Sub-Saharan Africa therefore seems to transform anti-Frenchism into anti-Europeanism in some African states.

During the last annual "EU DAY" organized in May by the numerous delegations (and at some parties of the European embassies ) in Africa, many participants were surprised by how much the speeches of the various European ambassadors were filled with long passages on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Officials such as Emanuela Del Re, the EU's special envoy for the Sahel, do not have the opportunity to exploit their potential. The role played by Del Re is also one of the most difficult in relation to the "EuropAfrique". In fact, the European five-star official seems close to leaving her position. The last time we met in Togo I perceived how her office was losing respect both in Europe and in the Sahel.

It was also strange to see how Del Re, the "EU special envoy", was unable for various reasons to meet the Togolese president, Faure Gnassingbé, during her last visit in March. In April, however, Mario Giro, "Italy's special envoy", succeeded. Del Re wanted to discuss the complex situation in the Sahel, Giro wanted Togo’s help regarding Rome's candidacy for Expo 2030 (Togo had already helped Milan for Expo 2015). To make things even more confusing, after that meeting and due to some honest mistakes published in the local press, some Togolese now believe that Mario Giro is the mayor of Rome. Poor Roberto Gualtieri (Rome’s actual mayor).

In the Sahel, the European embassies’ dynamics are also (too) confusing. Spain and Holland have decided to stay in Mali; Denmark, like other European states, left after a daring arm wrestling with Colonel Assimi Goita’s junta. Germany has been confused for some time: on the one hand Berlin wanted to leave, but on the other there was serious interest in the country's mineral potential (lithium, especially). It is not easy to follow all these changes. Belgium does not want to lose diplomats in Mali and Niger. Thus, instead of appointing ambassadors, Bruxelles has “Chargé d'affaires” (CDAs) such as Patrick Deboeck (tired of living in the Sahel) and Erik De Maeyer. The third and last CDA of all Belgian embassies in the world is in Congo-Brazzaville. In Niger, however, the recent arm wrestling between Macron and Tchiani has lasted (too) long. In the middle there was the former French ambassador to Niger, Sylvain Itté, stuck in the embassy for several weeks after a year of intense work in the country. The battle ended on the 27th of September and saw Itté finally flying toward Paris. Tchiani won.

Among some Italian Farnesina officials, however, there is a certain resentment towards Emilia Gatto, former Italian ambassador to Niger. According to some internal sources, the telegrams that Gatto sent to Rome before the coup d'état of July 26 were not of a …"satisfactory" nature. They didn't explain the imminent imploding situation well enough. Gatto, who returned to Italy on holiday before the coup, returned briefly to the Nigerian capital, Niamey, and then flew as ambassador to Seoul. African analysts struggle to find a logical link between the two continental contexts. But it is also true that her predecessor, Marco Prencipe, is now consul in Osaka, Japan. Senegal is evaluating the Farnesina's recent choice: Caterina Bertolini, an ambassador with a good reputation but considered to be an expert on Latin America and the Caribbean who has never lived in Africa. In Burkina Faso, the farewell ceremony for Ambassador Andrea Romussi was organized in September. Although he received the medal of Officer of the Order of Stallions (the highest honor in Burkina Faso), Romussi's years on Burkinabe territory were ... "complex", to put it mildly.

At the Farnesina there is a lot of confusion regarding Africa. There are fewer and fewer experts in this sector or they prefer to work elsewhere: foundations, NGOs, UN, etc. Some Italian diplomats argue that the Sub-Saharan Africa department needed to be revolutionized some time ago. There are those who want the immediate replacement of the director, Giuseppe Mistretta, who has instead just written another book. In my last visit to Italy I noticed that some authors publish books on modern-day Africa without visiting in recent years (some believe that Ethiopia is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa that has never been colonized by Europeans, forgetting Liberia governed in recent years by the former AC Milan player, George Weah).

The United States, also very confused in Africa, said "bye bye" to the French leaving Niger. The Biden administration will maintain the American base in Agadez (in the north) with many drones and hundreds of soldiers. In 2015 I took the migrant route to Agadez. What surprised me the most was not the fatigue, the beatings, the shouts, or the insults that migrants suffer during their journey. It is the money that almost every passenger, on every bus (about five a day between Niamey and Agadez), every day, for years, is forced to pay at checkpoints. Once I was invited to dinner by a nice Italian couple. Both humanitarian workers for a “Western” NGOs. The husband told me that he appreciated my articles for the Italian daily “AVVENIRE” but he read them with great embarrassment. Disappointed and surprised at the same time, he confessed that the Nigerien security forces asking migrants for money had been trained by his own organization.

The recent closed-door meetings with cell phones outside the room so as not to be heard and recorded will therefore not help to avoid the embarrassment of this EU. An institution that in Africa is seen as a fairly big ATM machine capable of eject out money. In fact, maybe not even that anymore. Hundreds of millions of Euros (too) often go to (very) questionable projects. Sometimes African governments refuse EU money only for reasons of bureaucracy: "They don't want to study and fill in all those (often hypocritical) requirements that are requested in European contracts", told me a European diplomat in West Africa. Moreover, the entire African continent is courted by the whole world. After the corruption scandals that hit the European Parliament a year ago, many African leaders have only one thought: "We are tired of being told by the EU how we should live our lives."

For many, the so-called "European Union" is made up of countries and officials who are almost always divided on everything. Some employees work from home in Europe although they are assigned to delegations in Africa. Others have simply been forgotten in Africa. Many don't even care about the country they work in. Luckily there are several officials (some are dear friends) who, within the various delegations, work with honesty and sacrifice, trying to overcome all the most obvious obstacles. But during the mandate of a European ambassador to West Africa, a large part of the local delegation was unable to work due to the ambassador's "turbulent" romantic relationship with one of her employees. The latter was also married to one of his colleagues (within the delegation) with whom he had children. A period of tragic professionalism left the authorities of the African country in question speechless or with tears in their eyes for the laughters. Maud Arnold, Josep Borrell's collaborator, "is not up to her role", are the comments coming from her colleagues. For some African governments and for the EU leaders themselves, many of their delegations in Africa make little sense.

The eyes of the continent are also focused on Jérémie Robert (43 years old and former consul of New York), Macron's new "Monsieur Afrique". Considered "competent in some respects but too ambitious in others", Jérémie is married to Shinuna Karume-Robert, nephew of Abeid Karume, first president of Zanzibar. Last year, Mr and Mrs Robert attended the sumptuous dinner dance at the American Friends of the Louvre. Shinuna Karume (owner of the luxurious Kasha Boutique Hotel) even danced with Christopher "Kip" Forbes, vice president of the publishing group of the same name. Finally, Salvador Pinto da França. For years, as EU ambassador (of dual nationality, Portuguese and French) in Niger, was accused by European and African officials of "only following the instructions coming from Paris" without considering the opinions of the rest of the Union. Do we perhaps need a “European Cassidy Hutchinson” to better understand what is happening between the EU and Africa? Due to this web of (sur)real dynamics that the media struggle to explain, “EuropAfrique” is struggling.

Matteo Fraschini Koffi (journalist/writer) - November 28th, 2023


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Matteo Fraschini Koffi - Giornalista Freelance