As EU seeks to compete with China’s infrastructure supply, Africans are skeptical – EURACTIV.com

When the EU launched its global gateway initiative earlier this month, it was touted as a greener and more transparent alternative to China’s belt and road. Reports from EURACTIV’s media partner, Climate Home News.

Brussels is committed to mobilize up to $ 340 billion by 2027 to support a green and digital transition in the world. He announced the initiative after the end of a major China-Africa summit in Dakar, Senegal, highlighting the contrast in approach.

Africa could certainly use the investment. The African Development Bank estimates the continent’s infrastructure needs at $ 130-170 billion per year, with a funding gap of $ 68 to 108 billion. But African experts are skeptical of the EU’s offer.

While China has roads, bridges and dams to show for its 20-year engagement with Africa, they say, the EU is bringing red tape and a conference.

“Who listens and understands the context in which African countries operate will be the best development partner,” Ovigwe Eguegu, Nigerian policy adviser at the consultancy firm Development Reimagined, told Climate Home News.

“The EU is the one that doesn’t listen,” he said. “The EU now realizes that Africa is serious about building infrastructure. In a way, the EU, which offers the global gateway, recognizes that China has well developed its development in Africa. “

The Global Gateway Initiative includes € 2.4 billion in grants for sub-Saharan Africa and € 1.08 billion for North Africa to support the deployment of renewable energy, energy efficiency and l ‘greening of local value chains.

Other proposals include the development of a green hydrogen sector and the Africa-EU Green Energy Initiative to integrate regional energy markets.

“It opens up a lot of new potentials,” Cobus van Staden, senior researcher on China-Africa relations at the South African Institute of International Affairs, told Climate Home. But it raises more questions than it answers, he says.

For Faten Aggad of Algeria, former adviser to the African Union’s high representative on the Africa-EU negotiations, the proposal is disappointing and lacks a firm commitment to new additional liquidity.

“Financing China is through loans, but at least it’s on the table,” she said. “As it stands, China will certainly remain a much more attractive partner. The EU will have to increase its offer if it is to be truly relevant.

The first results of a Afrobarometer 2019/20 survey, a research network that measures public attitudes in Africa shows that 59% of those polled think China’s economic and political influence is mostly positive – compared to 46% for the former colonial powers.

One of Aggad’s main criticisms is that the EU failed to consult African partners before its launch – echoed by other analysts.

“Were there consultations with African partners prior to the Global Gateway? Zero, ”says Eguegu. “You can’t expect enthusiasm because there is simply an ignorance of what these promises will mean and how they will translate on the pitch. “

In contrast, Beijing held meetings and consultations with African partners for several months ahead of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum in November. During the forum, President Xi Jinping announced that China directing a quarter of its IMF push for recovery from pandemic to African countries – a reallocation more generous than any other OECD country.

A ministerial meeting between the EU and the African Union was held in Kigali, Rwanda, in October, but relations with Brussels have become strained, Aggad said.

The carbon tax project at the Union’s borders could be expensive for some African exporters without any corresponding offer to help them clean up their industries. And the EU insisted on a reference to the Africa-EU Green Energy Initiative in a joint ministerial declaration, despite the African Union’s objection, she had not been informed of the plan.

“This is not anchored in a political process,” said Aggad, adding that it was not the first time that Africa’s point of view has been sidestepped. “It doesn’t land well.”

An EU-African Union summit scheduled for February could provide an opportunity to improve relations and develop concrete proposals.

The European Commission has been open to the fact that its global gateway is a direct answer to China’s sprawling investment strategy.

China’s approach to infrastructure finance has been critical for unfair procurement processes, lack of transparency and transfer of technology, promotion of speed over quality, limited job creation and unfavorable conditions who locked the nations in debt. Part of that is changing.

President Xi Jinping has called a halt the construction of coal-fired power stations abroad. China is rotate towards large-scale renewable energy infrastructure projects in sub-Saharan Africa and taking into account certain environmental sustainability standards.

EU official documents say the Global Gateway aims “to forge links, not create dependencies” and invest in projects “which can be delivered with high standards, good governance and transparency”.

“We want to take a different approach. We want to show that a democratic, values-based approach can tackle the most pressing challenges, ”said Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. said at a press conference at launch.

How this values-based approach will translate on the ground is unclear. What the EU sees as good governance, many African countries see as an expensive bureaucracy, lacking the institutional capacity to easily fill out all the forms.

“I think the danger is that it ends up favoring the richer countries,” says van Staden. With China, there are fewer hurdles to jump over, which means projects can get started quickly. “And that’s important in Africa because a lot of these infrastructure projects are tied to electoral cycles,” says the South African.

In Nigeria, EU environmental standards will be “a double-edged sword,” says Eguegu. Although important for the energy transition, it is “secondary” to the serious infrastructure deficit facing the country, he said.

“Nigeria is not going to sit idly by and let the EU dictate whether it will increase its investments in hydrocarbons,” he added, but it will seek agreements with other partners, including China, the Turkey or the United Arab Emirates more and more engaged.

This view is shared by others across the continent. According to Afrobarometer, 55% of Africans believe that foreign lenders and donors should allow African governments to make their own decisions about how to use their resources.

For Eguegu, the competitive framework of the global gateway with China is “problematic” and suggests that the EU is more interested in the power play than in providing infrastructure. What is needed to close the infrastructure gap “is cooperation, not competition,” he says.

The magnitude of bridging this infrastructure gap is so vast that “no partner is big enough to tackle it,” says van Staden. “The geopolitical concern should not undermine the African agency in decision-making. “

Where cooperation is not possible, virtuous competition between China and the West could help reduce the cost of projects and offer African countries better loan agreements, explains Kenyan Patrick Anam, lawyer and expert in Trade Policy at Development Reimagined.

The EU has an advantage over China in some areas. A African Climate Foundation report Last week it was found that very few renewable energy projects are ready to be developed, largely due to technical expertise and feasibility studies that the EU could help fill.

For Anam, the EU should provide technological know-how and capacity building to accelerate the transition of polluting industries on the continent. “Building a huge solar park is useless if we have to bring in Belgian or French engineers to repair it,” he says.

“African countries need to redefine what they really want from this relationship,” says Anam. “It’s not for the EU, China or the US to say what you want. But Africa must also sit at the table knowing what it wants.

This article originally appeared on Climate Home News and is republished here with kind permission.