To hear many actors and observers tell it, the Sahel’s root problem is a “crisis of governance”. In fact, there appears to be near-consensus on this question – Sahelian governments, Western governments, think tanks, NGOs and citizens’ movements, journalists, and academics are all quick to identify “good governance” as the ultimate solution to the region’s multi-layered conflicts and waves of instability.
COVID-19 has further exacerbated the debt situation in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Prior to the pandemic about half of low-income countries (LICs) were at high risk of debt distress or in debt distress, including a large number of LICs in SSA. A shift in the composition of debt from concessional to non-concessional financing needed to finance infrastructure and human capital development contributed to higher debt levels.
Regional integration makes sense for Africa. Addressing the challenges of small markets, small economies, the lack of infrastructure and the pernicious effects of non-tariff barriers (NTBs) require regional initiatives to complement and support national efforts. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the interconnectedness of Africa’s economies, and the need for regional responses to challenges that transcend national borders. But integrating unequal partners is a difficult task.
Between December 2020 and January 2021, the Japanese Foreign Minister Motegi made two official visits to Africa in a row (1st round: Tunisia, Mozambique, South Africa Mauritius, 2nd round: Senegal and Kenya) to discuss future collaboration with these countries with an eye set on the forthcoming TICAD8 to be held in Tunis in 2022. An annual visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi followed in early January 2021, kicking off the year of FOCAC to be held in Senegal this year.
There has been intensified geopolitical jostling in the Asian sphere towards the African continent in recent years, driven by, on one hand, Asian regional dynamics, and on the other, the opportunities that changes in Africa’s political economy have presented to external players. The promising narrative of ‘Africa’s rise’ has seen a growing number of Asian states vying to hold sway in Africa’s expanding markets and infrastructure development agenda. The struggle for influence is also manifesting strongly in the diplomatic arena.
The impact of Covid-19 on Africa and the developing world has been foremost an economic crisis, followed by a health crisis that will have profound implications for the China-Africa economic relationship in the years to come. The pandemic represents a critical juncture for China’s role in development finance in Africa and for commercial relations, but we are also likely to see continuity and growth in China-Africa diplomatic engagement and in other areas of cooperation.
Asia’s rising economic footprint in Africa became a significant talking point and the literature on Asian influence in Africa, often dubbed as the ‘new scramble for Africa’, proliferated. Although all the major Asian countries had already established long-term relationships with Africa, the 2000s saw a substantial deepening of economic relations between Asia and Africa. China was undoubtedly the most prominent among them. Chinese trade, investment, and official financial flows to Africa grew substantially from 2000 onwards.
Africa has been in the middle of unforeseen international competition for the better part of the past two decades. Both the return of traditional players – notably European countries and the United States – as well as a marked new interest shown by emerging economies led the continent out of the substantial neglect it suffered during the latter years of the past century.
In the run up to the G5 Sahel summit in N'Djamena, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian expressed the French government’s desire and goal for the summit to mark a “diplomatic, political and development surge”. Held on 15 and 16 February, the event itself was like a balance sheet of activities in the region.
The summit meeting held last month in N’Djamena, Chad, between the G5 Sahel states and partner nations was, for the participants, a chance to applaud many purported gains since the January 2020 Pau Summit as well as the challenges ahead. It was also the occasion to repeatedly applaud the efforts of the European Union as well as EU member states in the Sahel.