2nd Dec 2023

EU keen to 'scale up' military training in Africa

  • EU and African leaders preparing to meet in Brussels next week
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The EU wants to "scale up" its military presence in Africa, but with strings attached on human rights, and amid broader concern on civil liberties, according to a leak of the draft EU-African Union summit statement seen by EUobserver on Friday (11 February).

"At the request of African partners, the EU is ready, by providing adequate training and equipment, to strengthen and scale up autonomous peace operations of African defence and security forces, including through its [EU military] missions," EU and African leaders planned to say at a summit in Brussels next week, according to the draft.

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The summit comes amid a geopolitical beauty contest in Africa, where Russia and China are vying with the EU for influence in the resource-rich continent.

The draft summit statement described Europe's existing arcs of military deployment in Africa in grand terms as stretching "from the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea, and from the Horn of Africa to the Mozambique canal".

"Facing growing common security challenges, we announce a new Africa-Europe peace and security architecture," it said.

The EU currently has 11 military and naval missions in Africa. It is planning to expand its anti-piracy naval missions off Nigeria and Somalia. EU and Nato states also take part in added coalitions of the willing, such as the Takuba and Barkhane counter-terrorist forces in Mali.

And the summit declaration spoke of "evolving towards a more structured cooperation of European and African security forces," in future.

The EU was also pumping billions into infrastructure and green transition investments in Africa as part of the summit deal, the draft noted.

And it was funding African access to Covid vaccines to sweeten its proposals.

Gender and LGBTQI

But it was also seeking fresh guarantees on human rights and civil liberties from the African leaders.

"We will respect and promote compliance with human rights, international humanitarian law, including by committing to effective humanitarian civil-military coordination," the draft declaration said, setting a condition for enhanced military cooperation.

The EU concern comes in an environment in which Russian forces, spearheaded by Kremlin-linked mercenaries, are carving out advances in central and western Africa in more brutal ways.

The Kremlin-linked Wagner Group recently prompted the EU to fold a military training mission in the Central African Republic after the Russians recruited an EU-trained battalion to fight under their command.

And hundreds of Wagner Group fighters arriving in Mali are now putting the EU military presence there under similar pressure.

Meanwhile, China is investing billions of dollars into African businesses across more than 16 countries, with no small print on rights.

But the EU-AU draft declaration risked going beyond the normal safeground on "shared values" to be found in European declarations of this type by touching on the subjects of women's and LGBTQI rights.

The text spoke of "a shared vision ... acknowledgement of history, human ties, the protection of sovereignty, mutual respect and accountability, shared values".

But it also highlighted the importance of "gender equality and women's empowerment in all spheres of life" in its second paragraph.

And as part of its health package, it said the "EU reaffirms its commitment to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of the right of every individual to have full control over, and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality and sexual and reproductive health, free from discrimination, coercion and violence".

Next week's overarching EU-Africa summit goals were meant to be "translated into concrete projects and flagships", the draft declaration suggested.

"This draft proposal will be negotiated with the African Union in order to ensure joint ownership of the AU-EU declaration," it also noted in a caveat.

LGBTQI rights were not mentioned in the last EU-Africa summit statement, in Abidjan, in 2017, which spoke only of commitments on "sexual and reproductive health".

Homosexuality is against the law in dozens of African states.

EU and African diplomats will probably hold a "last meeting to lock the [final 2022] text", on 15 February, an EU diplomat said.

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