4th Africa-EU Summit and the Ukrainian Crisis: gossip in the corridors

One take-away from talking to those close to the Summit is that there is lively enthusiasm over the resurrection of a bipolar if not multipolar world on the Black Continent and Putin’s reputation is riding high. Read on….

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4th Africa-EU Summit and the Ukrainian Crisis: gossip in the corridors

 

               by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.

 

 During the week of 23 March, Brussels was locked down, its center emptied to provide maximum protection for the imperial visit of Barack Obama and his 900 man strong security detail.  This week less severe restrictions on pedestrian and automotive traffic were in place, but the many overflights of the city by surveillance helicopters and the presence on the ground of motorcycle police redirecting or speeding vehicular flows along designated corridors were a constant reminder that diplomatic activity in the Capital of Europe was running flat out.

Already on Monday, the city hosted a visit to the European Institutions by Chinese President Xi Jinping. There was also a top-level NATO gathering to re-examine relations with Russia in light of the Ukrainian crisis.  Yet the largest event of the week in terms of numbers of participants and venues occupied in the city’s hotels was the 4th Africa-EU Summit on 2-3 April, for which some 30 heads of state arrived, 15 from each side. The African delegations were huge, as a result of major events associated with the Summit on 31 March – 1 April: an EU-Africa Business Forum, a European Parliament- Pan-African Parliamentary Summit and an Africa-EU Youth Leaders’ Summit.

One might be forgiven for not having heard about the Africa-EU Summit and its associated events because they attracted almost no attention in the media.  Even Euronews accorded miserly coverage. But then again there was not much to report given that the mood inside the Summit events was glum. It was generally acknowledged to have been badly timed for reasons that were foreseeable long in advance as well as for one major circumstance that was unforeseeable. This argument was made in Brussels-based Yambola magazine, a periodical dedicated to African affairs, already in the week before the Summit and was subsequently borne out by events.

Given that this was only the fourth such summit since 2000 and the first one to held in Brussels, it is a pity that the organizers did not appreciate how its timing was unsuitable, coming less than 2 months before the Europe-wide parliamentary elections that will be followed by a change in the presidents of the European Commission, the European Council and the chief of European diplomacy.  It should have been obvious that their European colleagues’ minds would be elsewhere.

The unpredictable factor which truly sank the Summit was the crisis in Ukraine. From the perspective of the African delegations, Europe was busy doing its arithmetic over funds available to assist Ukraine and couldn’t be bothered with new commitments in aid or investment in Africa at this juncture.

The generalized disappointment with the way they were received at the European Summit perhaps freed up tongues, because for those of us in the corridors there was some fairly saucy gossip.  We were told that members of the African delegations have enormous respect for Putin coming out of the annexation of Crimea in the face of American and European condemnation and sanctions. He is seen by them as a bold leader who stands up for his people. By contrast, Obama is seen as a weakling, a marionette. The way Europe has snapped to attention at American orders over the sanctions also is ridiculed, as I have been told.

In short, one take-away from discussion with those close to the Summit is that there is very lively enthusiasm over the resurrection of a bipolar if not multipolar world on the Black Continent.

 

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2014

 

 

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G. Doctorow is an occasional guest lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. His latest book, Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Nonconformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12, is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites worldwide. Also on sale in Sterling and Waterstone’s booksellers, Brussels.