The European Union (EU) this week sought to entice African countries with “better choices” in infrastructure and energy transition projects, issuing an indirect dig at China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has similar ambitions.
The EU gathered leaders from more than 40 countries from across the world, seeking to rally them for useful, linked projects that could also see what the EU calls a just transition from fossil fuels to cleaner greener energy. The target, though, seemed far from those countries.
Ursula Von der Leyen, European Commission President, said the EU wants “win-win” results, warning that the future of both the European continent and its allies around the world will depend on the quality and quantity of infrastructure that links them.
But then she turned to financiers of those projects, presenting the EU as the best choice, through its Global Gateway Initiative, a collective programme that seeks to pool $316 billion from governments and private investors to address infrastructure shortages in developing countries.
“For us, it's important that Global Gateway is about giving choices to countries – better choices. Because for many countries around the world, investment options are not only limited, but they all come with a lot of small print, and sometimes with a very high price,” she said.
“Sometimes it is the environment that pays the price. Sometimes it is workers, who are stripped of their rights. Sometimes foreign workers are brought in. And sometimes national sovereignty is compromised. No country should be faced with a situation in which the only option to finance its essential infrastructure is to sell its future.”
She didn’t name the Chinese or any other rivals. But the European Union, like other Western countries, has in the past sought to counter China which it accuses of burdening Africa with debt. The Global Gateway Forum also came just a week after China marked 10 years of the Belt and Road Initiative with a forum in Beijing in which representatives of 155 countries attended.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told the audience last week China’s future depends on the future of others it is connected to.
“Through Belt and Road cooperation, China is opening its door even wider to the world, with its inland regions turning from "fullbacks" into "forwards," and coastal regions scaling new heights in their opening-up,” he said.
“We have learned that win-win cooperation is the sure way to success in launching major initiatives that benefit all,” he said as he announced eight steps for China’s future of the $1 trillion BRI. Beijing too is targeting more roads, railway networks and cleaner energy.
In Brussels, the EU announced a series of agreements to finance energy transitions in Africa, as well as other infrastructure projects.
They will also be tied to social and governance projects.
Kenya and the EU, for example, signed a €72 million ($75.91 million) grant to be split into smaller programmes targeting the grassroots over the next one year.The programmes include a Green Deal #TeamEuropeKenya, part II (€43 million, $45.32 million) to promote sustainable development, renewable energy, and environmental protection in Kenya and another project for Strengthening Kenya’s Devolution (€10 million, $10.52 million).
Other programmes include €146 million to the construction of the Kakono hydropower plant in Tanzania, contributing significantly to both economic development and climate change adaptation and the in the education sector, Commissioner Urpilainen signed a €46 million ($48.5 million) contract for the roll-out of the Regional Teachers' Initiative for Africa to support the development and implementation of policies, education and professional development for teachers.
For the Democratic Republic of Congo, the EU said it was targeting supply channels for critical raw materials by building the Trans-African Corridor, which will connect southern DRC and northern Zambia “to global markets via the Port of Lobito in Angola.”
On Wednesday, the US, EU, the African Development Bank and Africa Finance Corporation (AFC), signed a memorandum for a joint programme to support the Lobito Corridor and the new Zambia-Lobito rail line.
The MoU, signed on the margins of the Global Gateway Forum, says the partners will collaborate “to realise the full economic potential of the Corridor, building on the Lobito Corridor Transit Transport Facilitation Agency,” whose agreement was signed by the three African governments.
The US says the project is part of the US President’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGI) “to unlock regional trade and enable additional investments in digital connectivity, agriculture value chains, green energy supply chains and rural health center electrification, among other transformative economic imperatives.
The EU says it will also fund a study for the development of the Walvis Bay port in Namibia, the entry point from the Atlantic side to the Walvis Bay – Maputo Corridor, one of the eleven Strategic Corridors named in the EU-Africa Global Gateway Investment Package.
The EU also announced a project to lift “strategic economic corridors in southern Africa” which will be connecting the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. Some of the financing will come from the European Investment Bank (EIB).
Global Gateway is a new European strategy to boost smart, clean and secure links in digital, energy and transport sectors as well as to strengthen health, education and research systems across the world. The European Commission and the EU High Representative launched it in 2021.
Global Gateway is to focus on smart investments in quality infrastructure but will also focus on “respecting the highest social and environmental standards, in line with the EU’s interests and values: rule of law, human rights and international norms and standards,” according to its objectives.
Other projects include:
A €246 million ($259.4 million) package in support of a greener and more sustainable future for Cabo Verde, including an energy sustainability loan, support for the Cabeólica wind farm expansion project, upgrades to the country's port infrastructure and more accessible and affordable internet connectivity across the country.
The bloc announced €20.4 million ($21.5 million) for the Green and Blue Pact in Comoros to boost the country's environmental and food resilience.