EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell: bloc must support “African solutions for African problems” (Photo: Wikipedia)


Brussels remodels military efforts for next 'Cold War' - in Africa

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EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell: bloc must support “African solutions for African problems” (Photo: Wikipedia)

In Africa, the EU must support “African solutions for African problems,” the bloc’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell told delegates at last week’s Schuman Security and Defence Forum in Brussels. 

In the meantime, many defence pundits believe that a Cold war-style battle for influence is taking place across Africa. 

Last week, Kenyan president William Ruto became the first African leader in 15 years to be given a full state visit by US counterpart Joe Biden. In the two years since taking office, Ruto has also assiduously cultivated relations with Europe – EU and Germany officials in Nairobi say that Ruto is one of few African leaders to consistently have their ear. 

If Kenya has positioned itself to the West — though Ruto insists that he wants to strike a “delicate balance” of friendship with China as well — others have tacked towards Russia, China or the emirati states. 

The evidence of this battle for influence lies, at least in part, in the changing face of the defence and security missions operated by the EU across the continent. 

The big losses to Brussels have been the ending of the EU’s missions aimed at tackling Islamic terrorism in Mali and Niger at the behest of the military juntas in both countries. 

Borrell has admitted that these "represent a significant setback for EU foreign and security policy”. 

“We are drawing lessons from the setbacks experienced in the Sahel region by developing more flexible and accurate solutions. We have to learn from what is happening in [the] Sahel in order to engage better, more efficiently with our partners,” he told the Schuman Forum

Borrell attributed the collapse of these missions, which had previously been led by France, to the series of military coups d'états taking place in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.  

“At the same time, the growing presence of Russian mercenaries to assist these military regimes has resulted in more instability, more exactions against civilians, more plundering of natural resources, accompanied by massive anti EU disinformation campaigns,” said Borrell. 

The EU’s diplomatic corps was blindsided by the coups and then slow to react to well-financed and co-ordinated disinformation campaigns linked to the Wagner mercenary group and the Russian state

“The G5 Sahel group is in tatters,” said Nathalie Loiseau, chair of the European Parliament’s subcommittee on Security and Defence, at a hearing in February. “Is the EU going to stay in a purely symbolic role or are we going to leave,” she questioned. 

In total, the EU had spent €600m on civilian and military missions in the Sahel region. 

Elsewhere, Wagner forces operate as a proxy for the Russian state in a raft of African states including Libya, Central African Republic and Mozambique, and have been supplying weapons to the Rapid Support Forces, one of the two militia groups waging civil war in Sudan 

Some pundits believe that the EU should not meekly accept their new status and should build relationships with the military regimes in the Sahel. 

“Dialogue should be maintained but security co-operation based on governance,” added Élie Tenenbaum, director of the Security Studies Center at the French Institute of International Relations. 

“I don’t like coups and believe in elections. If we don’t engage others will,” says Ulf Laessing, director of the Regional Sahel Programme at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a centre-right think-tank, in Mali. 

The EU “should apply ‘strategic patience’ and invest in critical dialogue and targeted communication,” argues Sophie Desmidt of the European Centre for Development Policy Making, a thinktank. 

US drawback

Besides, while the EU has been shut out of the Sahel, it is not alone. Last week, the US agreed with the military junta in Niger to withdraw its contingent of 1,000 troops by mid-September. That has left Washington with Camp Lemonnier, the US base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, which is home to more than 5,000 deployed service members, and to the US Africa Command. 

The Djiboutian government has also had close relations with the EU’s Red Sea mission Operation Aspides, which was set up earlier this year as a sign of disassociation from the US-led operation against the Iran-backed Houthi movement known as Prosperity Guardian. 

In two months, Operation Aspides has escorted more than 100 merchant vessels and repelled 16 rocket attacks, says Borrell.  

As its influence in the Sahel has steadily collapsed, the EU has pivoted towards neighbouring West African countries, primarily via support for the Accra Initiative, which aims to prevent Islamic terrorism in the Sahel from spilling over into the wider region. The EU has provided €570m in investment for security as part of what it describes as “a new model of civilian-military mission based on the needs identified by Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Ghana, Togo and Benin themselves.” 

“Terrorism activities are spilling over down from Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea. It requires a more flexible and fitted response to this threat,” said Borrell. 

Defence and security was also high on the agenda during a three country tour of Ivory Coast, Senegal and Benin in April by European Council president Charles Michel, according to senior EU officials. 

The trip was “a great chance to discuss the Sahel and Russia”, one official told EUobserver, adding that Senegal and Ivory Coast have tended to support the EU’s positions on the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East. 

The notion of ‘African solutions for African problems’ underpins the almost €1bn in military support that the EU has funnelled via its European Peace Facility to the African Union (AU) and African countries. 

In Mozambique, where the EU announced plans to expand its own military mission, which had been due to end in September, until June 2026, the EPF has been used to pay Rwanda for the costs of its own troop deployment mission. It provides training for five navy companies and six special forces companies. 

EU officials told EUobserver that though the mission’s remit and troop numbers would be expanded, they would, unlike the Rwandan missions, not be put into combat roles.  

EPF funding has also been provided to the army of DR-Congo as it combats militia groups, widely believed to be supported by Rwanda, in eastern Congo. 

Author Bio

Benjamin Fox is a seasoned reporter and editor, previously working for fellow Brussels publication Euractiv. His reporting has also been published in the Guardian, the East African, Euractiv, Private Eye and Africa Confidential, among others. He heads up the AU-EU section at EUobserver, based in Nairobi, Kenya.