A poster of the European Union-Africa Business Forum, photographed in Abidjan on November 27, 2017
For its history, Europe remains the first foreign actor in Africa, but it has lost ground to new powers such as China, which is now the first independent partner country of the continent.
„Europe is the oldest partner, that is why it leaves room for others, it is a logical evolution, but it is Europe that is at the forefront, there is a common history,“ sums up Pierre Dagbo, professor of political science at the University of Félix-Houphouët. -Boigny de Abidjan and author of „African diplomacy, theory and practice“.
„Europe is the first commercial partner, the first investor, the first provider of funds,“ confirms a diplomatic source in Brussels.
In 2015, the exchanges between Europe and Africa were 286,000 million euros, with a favorable trade balance for the EU of 22,000 million.
The Old Continent also injected a similar amount – some 21,000 million euros – in aid to Africa, a figure much higher than the United States and China in this matter.
„When they say that China has overtaken Europe, it has to be relativized, Europe still has its place,“ explains a diplomatic source in Abidjan, who recalls that the continent „remains the reference“, as shown by the languages spoken in Africa, cultural and university cooperation or military presence.
However, the figures show that competition is getting tougher.
According to the Chinese Minister of Commerce, the volume of trade between China and Africa reached 149.2 billion dollars in 2016 (56.9 billion imports and 92.3 billion Chinese exports).
In addition, and for the eighth consecutive year, China is the first commercial partner of Africa, far ahead of France and Germany.
This issue, along with immigration and security, will be on the table at the fifth summit between the European Union (EU) and the African Union (AU) that will be held this Wednesday and Thursday in Abidjan, where the presence of 83 heads of state and government, as well as more than 5,000 participants from 55 African countries and 28 European countries.
– „Aggressive policy“ of China-
China is pursuing a policy of donations and loans with very low interest rates, which allow it to participate in large infrastructure projects.
„They have a very aggressive policy, in the good sense of the word, in loans, which seduces the African states, says an economic observer.
According to the official Chinese agency Xinhua, which quotes Fitch Ratings, China’s loans to Africa in the last ten years totaled 67.2 billion dollars, that is, 12.5 billion more than the World Bank loans.
„The aspects that attract Chinese companies to Africa are the potential for development, [natural] resources and the market,“ explains Xu Tiebing, professor of International Relations at the Communication University of China.
„The Chinese government has the ‚complex of the South‘, believes that when the South is powerful, the world will be more balanced, they think that, as two of the three poles of development in the world – Europe and North America – are decreasing, Africa, Latin America and Asia are the natural destination of Chinese investments, „he adds.
The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have also taken positions on the continent.
In particular, Brazil, which has historical relations in Africa and has extended its influence in countries where Portuguese is spoken, although its activity has been hampered by its own political crisis.
The Brazil-Africa trade represented 12,433 million dollars (7,830 million Brazilian exports) in 2016, less than in 2013, when they were still 28,500 million.
„With [President] Lula (2003-2010), the relations between Brazil and Africa lived a period of great intensity,“ explains Professor of International Relations Pio Penna Filho, from the University of Brasilia.
However, with the arrival of Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016), Brazil „did not end its African policy but decreased in intensity“ due to the crisis in Brazil.
Professor Dagbo emphasizes that, from now on, Africa will have to reverse the trend of commercial exchanges so that the rest of the world stops considering it a „raw material zone“.
„We must get out of the hegemonic relations of colonization and create the conditions for Africa to develop endogenously,“ he says.