GLOBALISATION IS A CENTRAL ISSUE of current and continual relevance to every country, region or continent because of its various contexts. Trade, tourism, technology transfer, pandemic, insecurity and migration are some of the key issues in these contexts with far-reaching, immediate and long-term impacts on livelihoods, economies, safety, and social security. These are also bedrocks for tensions within and between countries and regions, especially when not well managed. Politicians, depending on how any of these issues favour their electoral success and political capital, take various forms action ranging from the subtle to the overt, sometimes from the logical to the ridiculous and from the nationalistic to the extremely liberal. The coming together of countries of Europe – 27 of them now, after Brexit – to form a union is clearly bringing up a lot of conflicting issues rooted in diversity of cultures, languages, histories, ideologies and methods of governments at the national levels. Many of these are being resolved in ways that involve some forms compromise, concession and cooperation. While the European Union (EU) has succeeded in overcoming many of these hurdles, many more hurdles still remain ahead.
One of the definite structures of the EU now is the existence of a central government, with the seats at Brussels in Belgium, Strasbourg in France and Luxembourg City in Luxembourg, each playing host to specific areas of activities. An institutional accomplishment of the EU, with ramifications and influence across all sectors and all nations of the world is the single currency – the Euro – that has supplanted the currencies as the official currency of 19 out of 27 EU member countries which together constitute the Eurozone, officially called the euro area. The Euro, designated as (€), is growing in relevance in the world economy – with its Siamese twin, the European Central Bank (ECB). The other is the intra-regional trade, which has generally been seamless in recent years, but also recently largely disrupted by Brexit in the past one year since it took effect. And, now, the EU is preparing to have a standing joint military force with rapid deployment capacity (RDC) of up to 5,000 troops by 2025, for rapid deployment without relying on help from the U.S., according to a draft plan. The ultimate is the European army or EU army which would supersede the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), an agency structure, presently headed by the Union’s High Representative (HR/VP), Josep Borrell. How that works out in partnership – or in parallel – with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Command Structure (NCS) in EU’s territorial defence is a matter expected to unfold with time and events.
With the economy, political and military structures in place, the EU region seems firmly secure in the critical areas of governance. However, ignoring EU politics, security and economics will be costly for Africa, just as treating Africa’s politics, security and economics in isolation will be risky for the EU. Europe and Africa have long historical ties which still subsist till now. The proximity of Africa to the EU is of practical essence and would warrant a close-up view of unfolding events in the two proximate regions. Europe’s regional integration and economic cooperation have evolved rapidly over the past three decades, but Africa’s regional integration and economic cooperation have remained rather elusive. The African Union (AU), a rechristening of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) has been grappling with protracted institutional crises, governance predicament, poverty and avoidable economic downturns.
In Africa, there are eight regional economic communities (RECs) recognised by the AU, each established under a separate regional treaty. One of the RECs, often overlooked is the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) – or UEMOA in its French equivalent – which is both a currency union and a free-trade zone. Although it is operational in West African countries with common colonial ties, WAEMU is one of four existing currency unions in the world. The other three are the Central Africa Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), eurozone, and the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU). Member-countries of the WAEMU, which was created in January 1994, include Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo and a former Portuguese colony, Guinea-Bissau. Although there is a lot to learn on regional integration from this and could be seen as a stepping stone to further integration in West Africa, the WAEMU operations have raised some key political and economic issues for the larger Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) of which they are also members. Apart from WAEMU, ECOWAS also has a group of six West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) member countries, namely The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, with Cabo Verde also participating.
Recently, the implementation of a common West African currency (the Eco), which has been mooted since 2000, ran into some murky waters as the WAEMU countries were accused of trying to hijack the idea with the active connivance of France, with the plan to rename the CFA franc as the Eco, a name assumed to be synonymous with ECOWAS. Eco, as a West African common currency, was billed to become a reality by 2020. So far, that has failed to materialise. Under the institutional arrangement the WAEMU has with France, the CFA franc is pegged to the euro. The arrangement involves the French Treasury’s role in providing an unlimited convertibility guarantee for CFA franc. It is interesting that French itself has dumped its own Franc, preferring rather to use the Euro, while WAEMU countries still use CFA franc. In essence, CFA franc has strong ties with the Euro, albeit indirectly. In exchange for the convertibility guarantee, the Banque Centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (BCEAO) or the (WAEMU) Central Bank of West African States, is required to deposit part of its foreign exchange reserves in an account with the French Treasury. Under this arrangement, not less than half of the BCEAO foreign exchange reserves is held in the French Treasury, with the European Central Bank (ECB) providing the benchmark for the lending rate. If this is cool for the WAEMU countries, it does not necessarily bode too well for others in the region as more questions will continue to be asked, particularly since the botched efforts of the WAEMU countries to take over the Eco currency name through the backdoor.
The on-going EU geopolitics may tilt the balance and influence of the EU on Africa in coming years. With the exit of Germany’s Angela Merkel as Europe’s most influential leader, Macron seems determined to fill that void. One of the implications of that – if Macron is re-elected – will be the roles that West and Central francophone countries in Africa will play by proxy in the unfolding shift in the ecological niche at the EU. Africa, or some regions of it, may bear a burden of EU geopolitics to a greater or lesser extent depending on the consequences of the tussles for prominence among countries’ leaders and – by extension – their countries. Africa will have to brace for the impacts of the political manoeuvring between the ‘stateless’ leaders in the EU (the European parliament, etc) and the ‘stateholders,’ essentially the heads of national governments. It is too early to know whether the baton of influence of Angela Merkel will be passed on her German Ursula von der Leyen, who is powerful in her own right as the President of the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union.
Last Wednesday, just days after the end of COP26 climate summit, the European Commission proposed a law aimed at preventing the import of commodities linked to deforestation by requiring companies to prove their global supply chains are not contributing to the destruction of forests. While this is a positive idea on climate change mitigation, the coming years will reveal how this law affects Africa’s agricultural commodity exports that will likely hurt Africa and Europe to varying degrees. Many European companies operate in countries where environmental abuses are widespread, but they have not been hitherto subjected to any EU-wide requiring them to tackle environmental risks associated with their global supply chains. Take Nestlé, a major cocoa processor and chocolate producer. A law that restricts Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa export because of deforestation will have a significant impact on the chocolatier. Many African countries that thrive on agricultural commodity exports based on plantation crops will have to go back to the drawing board.
Under the EU-Africa Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) arrangement, the huge promises of the past three decades seem to be far from being realised. The Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), a key component of EU-ACP relationship, was roundly rejected over the years by successive governments in Nigeria as the conditions were deemed unfavourable for reciprocal trade relations. Over the period of tariff negotiations, the conditions imposed on African countries were such that encouraged the export of raw commodities and discouraged the export of processed commodities into the EU. This was considered unfavourable where trade is expected to be used as a driver of economic development. Europe’s population is ageing. That would probably mean less demand for importation of agricultural commodities, particularly those not produced within the EU. This demographic transition could be offset by the rising population of migrants and refugees into the region. But that also is becoming more of a political issue rather than that of social and economic relevance.
The EU will do well to pay attention to the flow of migrants from Africa, most of which embark on desperate and dangerous journeys with some ending up dying on the way to Europe. It is important to work with countries of Africa to embark on social and economic activities that would discourage risky migrations. The EU also needs to address the political leadership crisis responsible for many cases of migration in African countries. Efforts should therefore be directed towards helping to keep Africans on productive economic activities back home. The EU will continue to be relevant to Africa, just as Africa will continue to be relevant to the EU. Easing the migrant surge from Africa will enable the EU enjoy a lot of relief from the social and economic disruptions associated with unplanned migration. Although the EU has been investing in some critical areas of African economy, much more will need to be done now and in the future for the mutual benefit of the two regions. It is hoped that leaders from Europe and Africa will give renewed attention to this inter-regional cooperation for shared prosperity.