Europe enters the new scramble for Africa
By Emanuele Scimia
Apr 9, 2012
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While war drums keep on beating along the disputed inter-Sudanese border,
Europe's engagement in Central and East Africa is intensifying. Over the
past months, by emulating the United States, the European Union (EU) has
multiplied its political, strategic and economic efforts in a huge swathe of
Africa, from northern Tanzania to Ethiopia: an open challenge to China's
steady penetration in that region, according to several sources.
The ongoing "geopolitical risk" in Africa, whose flashpoint is the
newly-independent state of South Sudan, brings the Fashoda Incident to mind.
Fashoda (presently the South Sudanese city of Kodok) is where the colonial
designs of France and the United Kingdom materially collided in 1898, during
the so-called Scramble for Africa. Now Paris and London join forces as part
of an Euro-American bid to carve out a new Western sphere of influence in
Africa: the question is whether or not it will be at the expense of China's
The participation in military operations is what really distinguishes the
African policy of Europe and the United States from that of China. There is
a widespread conviction that the US military campaign against the weakened
rebel group of Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is in reality a Trojan horse for
American strategic interests in the Great Lakes region.
Since October 2011, Washington has deployed 100 special operations units in
Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of
Congo to fight the LRA. On the contrary, China is sticking to its policy of
"non-interference" in the internal affairs of African countries, at least as
far as the military point of view is concerned.
Within the United Nations and African Union-backed joint military actions
against the LRA, the EU has earmarked US$12 million for humanitarian
assistance to people who have suffered violence by the Joseph Kony-led
militias over the past 25 years. In December 2011, the EU teamed up with the
coalition fighting the LRA, financing the construction of logistical
The EU and US have also trained the forces of the African Union Mission in
Somalia (AMISOM). Under the United Nations' mandate, the AMISOM is
conducting armed operations in the war-torn Somalia, helping the UN-backed
Transitional government to defeat the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militants.
In February, AMISOM announced that it would strengthen its contingent with
5,000 soldiers thanks to funding from the EU and United Nations Security
As for Somalia's age-old crisis, Brussels has decided to expand its maritime
mission "ATALANTA" against Somali pirates, allowing European warships to
attack both sea and land targets. The EU anti-piracy mission in the Indian
Ocean, which started in 2008 to patrol shipping lane and protect
humanitarian convoys, is extended to at least December 2014 and its two-year
prolongation has a budget of $19.7 million.
In addition, in February the EU also ushered in - along with Turkey - a Horn
of Africa's Working Group within the Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF).
The GCTF, which was launched in September 2011, is an initiative to enhance
anti-terrorism cooperation and is co-chaired by Washington and Ankara.
Over and above the US special operations across Somalia against the armed
Islamist and Washington's rooted standing in the Horn of Africa, it is worth
highlighting the French and British military presence in this region. Out of
about 8,000 soldiers that France has deployed throughout Africa, 2,850 units
are stationed in Djibouti (which also hosts an important American military
base), while the anti-terrorism collaboration between the United Kingdom and
Kenya is becoming tighter than ever.
Scent of oil
The battle for handling oil resources is the big drama produced by Sudan's
break-up and resulting birth of South Sudan in July 2011, after decades of
civil war. In 2011, Sudan and South Sudan's combined crude exports averaged
330,000 barrels per day, mostly to Asian markets. China imported around
220,000 barrels per day: 5% of its total oil imports. The problem is that
while most of the oil fields are now situated in landlocked South Sudan, all
the pipelines go through Sudan to the northern export terminal in Port
That situation has led to explosive disputes on borders' demarcation between
the two neighboring countries, which have resulted in frequent skirmishes.
In January, the government of South Sudan in Juba decided to stop oil's
extraction and exportation toward Port of Sudan, in a controversy over the
fee that Sudan demands for the crude's transit.
Juba has also triggered a row with the Chinese oil companies working within
its boundaries (notably with Petrodar, a Sino-Malaysian consortium),
declaring its intention to review all oil contracts signed by the government
of Sudan in Khartoum before the secession. Speaking to the daily Sudan
Tribune on February 22, some Sudanese officials argued that "South Sudan's
threats against Chinese companies are part of a conspiracy to replace them
with Western companies".
In effect, European companies are showing interest in the oil development of
the Great African Rift Valley. For instance, the Anglo-Irish Tullow Oil has
recently discovered oil deposits in Kenya, in the country's north-western
region of Turkana.
Such a discover has a great geopolitical importance, since the Turkana Lake
is right in the middle of the projected "Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia
Transport" (LAPPSET) corridor, which foresees a 2,000 kilometer pipeline
connecting South Sudan's oil fields to the Kenyan coastal town of Lamu. The
project includes a connection to Ethiopia if oil were to be discovered in
its south-eastern region of Ogaden.
The Juba-Lamu pipeline offers South Sudan an alternative to the route going
to Port Sudan. The problem for the three African countries involved in the
project is to attract investments, and up to now neither the EU nor the US,
as well as China, seem to be eager to fund the LAPPSET corridor in light of
the permanent instability in the area.
Tullow Oil has also extracted crude in Uganda and is leading exploration
campaigns in Ethiopia. The recent discovery of oil reserves around the Lake
Albert might turn Uganda into a regional energy and trade hub. In this
regard, the Ugandan government in Kampala has struck a deal with Tanzania,
Burundi and Rwanda to realize a railway network that would stretch all the
way to South Sudan.
Kampala is generally considered to be an American ally in Central and East
Africa, and the fact that the operator expected to complete this project by
2015 is a Chinese company (China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation)
proves that even small or medium African countries have learnt to act with
Aggressive commercial stance
China's trade with Africa touched $127 billion in 2010. Beijing is often
accused of exploiting its African partner on the grounds of a well-tested
scheme: inundating the African countries with its cheap products - as well
as granting loans for project of developments and infrastructural
investments - in return for oil and raw materials.
On the other hand, the EU is supposed to be pursuing a different approach in
dealing with African countries, focused on cooperation and assistance for
development. The latest move in this direction is Brussels' commitment to
provide $380 million for projects about food security, education and
healthcare in South Sudan.
On March 20, during a meeting in Brussels with South Sudanese President
Salva Kiir, EU high representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton
praised Juba's intention to join the Cotonou Partnership Agreement between
the EU and Africa, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) countries. Under this agreement,
South Sudan can obtain assistance for development and market access for its
But many African countries, and the same ACP leadership, have complained
about the European Commission's proposal to prevent countries that do not
conclude an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU from free
market access to Europe as of January 1, 2014 - the European Parliament is
expected to take a decision with regard to this issue by June.
Plainly put, the truth is that both Europe and the United States are back to
the old rules of geopolitics, in which humanitarian preoccupations are
shelved and economic leverage gains momentum.
The point is that the two "belligerent" side would have room to settle
disputes in East Africa, just as China is trying to devise a diplomatic line
going beyond its policy of non-interference. At bottom, it would be in the
interest of all players - Europe, United States and China - to avert a
Somalia-style war in North and South Sudan, when from Nigeria to the Horn of
Africa, through the Sahel region, large part of the continent is sliding
into a spiral of chaos.
Emanuele Scimia is a journalist and geopolitical analyst based in Rome.
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Received on Mon Apr 09 2012 - 17:30:53 EDT