“A Colonial Model”

Serious tensions overshadow EU-Africa Summit. EU states still refuse to lift vaccine patents. EU wants Africa as its hydrogen supplier.

BRUSSELS (Own report) – Serious disputes between the EU and the African Union (AU) are overshadowing the EU-Africa Summit, which begins tomorrow in Brussels. On the one hand, the African nations are protesting the European powers’ persistent refusal to at least temporarily lift patents for Covid-19 vaccines. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa recently accused the wealthy nations of the transatlantic West of imposing a “vaccine apartheid.” At the same time, nearly all of the EU countries – Germany included – are refusing to donate some of their unneeded special drawing rights (SDR) to Africa, which they had received from the IMF in August 2021. With these, African countries could have generated billions to help fight the pandemic. According to EU plans, African countries should instead become suppliers of “green” hydrogen, to help Europe achieve its energy transition. Resentment in Africa is growing toward the EU – which is generous with phraseology, but stingy with development aid. Africa is turning more toward other countries – China, Russia, or Turkey.

“Only Exporter of Raw Materials”

The EU-Africa Summit, which begins tomorrow – Thursday – in Brussels, will be taking place in an atmosphere of waning European influence on the African continent, as well as growing African resentment toward the former colonial powers. Originally planned for 2020, the meeting had to be postponed – due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as it is officially explained, but also because of anger on the African side, as one hears unofficially. At the end of last week, it was not yet clear which African heads of states and governments would be attending – an indicative expression of the degree of irritation.[1] At the moment, resentment is widespread on the African continent, particularly over the European powers’ refusal to lift the patents for the production of Covid-19 vaccines, at least temporarily. There is also anger at the one-sidedness of the relationship. “We are still experiencing a colonial model, where Africa is merely an exporter of raw materials,” Carlos Lopes, a former high-ranking UN official and currently professor of the Mandela School of Public Governance at University of Cape Town, was quoted to have said.[2]

“A Lot of Frustration”

The EU’s approach to meetings, such as tomorrow’s summit, is an additional source of irritation for African nations. Niels Keijzer, at the German Development Institute (DIE) was quoted to have said that the EU usually seeks “to avoid controversial discussions” – such as the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).[3] According to Lopes, Brussels is, instead, regularly presenting concepts and strategies, without having properly “conferred” in advance with the African nations. The implementation of the Europeans’ plans, on the other hand, “often remains far below expectations.”[4] There is “a lot of frustration that is pushing Africa to seek new partnerships that can contribute to the industrialization of the continent” – for example China, Russia, or Turkey. In fact, economic relations between Europe and Africa have, for years, been stagnating, while the relations between Turkey and Africa are booming and China has long since risen to become the continent’s most important economic partner. The EU’s peculiar suggestion that its relations to the African Union should be characterized as an “alliance” has raised eyebrows. “Alliance is geopolitically a very heavy term,” as the AU puts it, in view of exclusivity claims connected with the term.[5]

“Vaccine Apartheid”

Fierce disputes have emerged over the past few days particularly concerning Covid-19 vaccines. Whereas 71 percent of the EU’s population has, in the meantime, been fully vaccinated, with many even having received a supplementary booster shot, the portion of those on the African continent who have been fully vaccinated has not even reached 12 percent. Since quite some time, the African states have been unanimously demanding that the vaccine patents be at least temporarily lifted, which has been blocked by a few European countries, Germany in particular. BioNTech (Germany) and Pfizer (USA) have, in the meantime concluded agreements with companies in South Africa, Rwanda, and Senegal allowing their participation in the production of vaccines. However, this does not involve the independent production of the vaccine, but rather only its bottling and packaging (”fill and finish”) of the serums supplied by Europe. For this approach, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has accused the EU of “vaccine apartheid.” “They hoarded vaccines; they ordered more vaccines than their populations require. The greed they demonstrated was disappointing, particularly when they say they are our partners,”[6] With just one day before the opening of the summit, a reversal of the EU’s position is nowhere in sight.[7]

“Extremely Disappointing”

There are also disputes around the so-called special drawing rights (SDR) valued at US $650 billion, accorded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in August 2021 for the fight against the pandemic. As experts explain, SDRs are a kind of “voucher that countries can exchange in other countries for cash, when they are in need of immediate financial support.”[8] The IMF distributes them to the proportion of shareholding, meaning that rich countries receive much more than poorer ones. EU member countries have been allocated 27 percent of the world’s US $650 billion SDRs, while only 5 percent have gone to countries in Africa.[9] Since the wealthy countries – which can generate immense sums to ramp up their economies themselves – hardly need them, demands have been raised, also by development organizations, that the EU should donate their SDRs to African countries. Until now, only five EU members have agreed to do so: France, Italy, and Spain have so far pledged 20% of their SDRs, Belgium and the Netherlands 4 percent. Germany has not promised anything. Observers described the refusal of most of the EU states to allocate SDRs to Africa as “extremely disappointing.”[10]

Africa as Hydrogen Supplier

While EU countries persist in their refusal to lift vaccine patents and transfer a reasonable amount of SDRs to African countries, they are pushing for using Africa to produce the “green” hydrogen, Europe needs for its energy transition. For this, the construction of solar and wind energy parks is to be promoted on the African continent, “to produce green hydrogen using cheap electricity from renewable energy sources at competitive prices,” explains Frans Timmermans, Vice President of the EU Commission.[11] Timmermans promotes his plan using an interesting reasoning: that “we are sister continents, and our futures are intertwined with one another.” Such lyric, of course, does not prohibit observers from pointing out the consequences for Africa, as Europe’s supplier of “green” hydrogen. It is pointed out that, at best, this will lead to a few industrial sectors springing up around the hydrogen production sites, for example, “green” steel or fertilizer production, but Africa will still remain an underdeveloped supplier for the EU. If that development takes an unfavorable turn, the “green” hydrogen – reserved for the EU – could completely consume Africa’s electrical capacity, skyrocketing the price of electricity, with disastrous consequences for the entire population.[12]


[1] Benjamin Fox: EU-AU summit: Seeking a partnership with a purpose. euractiv.com 11.02.2022.

[2] Daniel Pelz: Darum geht es beim EU-Afrika-Gipfel. dw.com 15.02.2022.

[3] See also Indefinitely Postponed.

[4] Daniel Pelz: Darum geht es beim EU-Afrika-Gipfel. dw.com 15.02.2022.

[5], [6] Ashleigh Furlong: Vaccine access puts EU and Africa at odds ahead of summit. politico.eu 13.02.2022.

[7] EU, Africa at odds over vaccine patents ahead of summit. euractiv.com 15.02.2022.

[8] Joe McCarthy, Nora Holz: Sonderziehungsrechte: Wirtschaftiche Erholung von der Pandemie leicht gemacht? globalcitizen.org 14.02.2022.

[9] Mark Plant: The EU, Africa, and SDRs: More Can Be Done. cgdev.org 10.02.2022.

[10] Benjamin Fox: EU-AU summit: Seeking a partnership with a purpose. euractiv.com 11.02.2022.

[11], [12] Nikolaus J. Kurmayer: EU will Afrika zum Weltmeister der Wasserstoffexporte machen. euractiv.de 15.02.2022.