Public lecture of the Ambassador - 20 march 2014

The Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies (MEDAC) of the University of Malta invited the Ambassador Michel Vandepoorter to give a lecture on March 20th. "Why the Stability of Africa is important for Europe"

Ambassador Michel Vandepoorter with Dr. Omar Grech and Kristina Farrugia

"Malta was among the first European states to highlight that the southern neighborhood could be a security concern for Europe. We all recall the position it championed at the 1975 Helsinki Conference and France has always shared this concern.In the recent years, Malta experienced frontline consequences of the uprising in Libya and has also seen an increase in the number of irregular migrants arriving on its soil, which is a direct consequence of the instability in Africa.

It is for this reason that both shores of the Mediterranean have to be fully engaged in a permanent dialogue, based on concrete cooperation. In this regard, Malta and France are in full agreement and the French authorities welcome the commitment of the Maltese government, underlined by the 5+5 Summit in October 2012.

But the southern shore of the Mediterranean cannot be clearly distinguished from the rest of Africa.

The persisting anarchy in Somalia, the political conflict in Eritrea and the thousands of refugees crossing Libya and the Mediterranean to reach Malta and Sicily in search of a safer and better future show that our neighborhood is indeed the whole of Africa.

European countries are at present facing new outbreaks of instability in Africa, which may have direct consequences for our continent through movements of population, terrorist attacks, increase of arms or drug trafficking.

The threat arising from the lasting situation of lawlessness in northern Mali reached a new dimension as a result of the uprising in Libya. Gaddafi’s Legion was dissolved, thus releasing a large number of Tuaregs, who helped themselves in the huge deposits of unattended armories before returning to their region of origin.

This large-scale trafficking of arms has considerably strengthened the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, the main Tuareg movement, as well as the Islamist groups AQIM and MUJWA. This occurred to such an extent that in January 2013, these groups, reinforced by hundreds of recruits and sophisticated armaments, threatened to take Mali’s capital city Bamako.

France intervened, with a force consisting of 4,000 troops, as it was absolutely necessary to prevent Mali from becoming a zone of lawlessness, a kind of Malistan, with a destabilizing effect for the entire region. This intervention, in the framework of a UN mandate, successfully repressed these Islamist groups back to their bases which were destroyed, disrupted their networks and seized large quantities of weapons.

After having been aggravated by the uprising in Libya, the instability in Mali has now further spread into Libya, similar to the movement of a pendulum. The gathering of Islamists in southern Libya, many of whom escaped the fights in northern Mali, is another additional factor of instability for this neighboring country, with more direct implications for Europe, as Malta is fully aware.

The situation in the Central African Republic was different: the country was on the brink of a civil war, facing a serious humanitarian crisis and the collapse of the state was causing extremely deadly clashes, fuelling religious hatred between Muslims and Christians.

With the support of the African Union, the French contingent consisting of 1,600 men, recently increased to 2,000 men at the request of the Secretary General of the United Nations, succeeded, albeit with great difficulty, to reduce the fighting in Bangui, as well as successfully securing the route to Cameroon in order to deliver humanitarian aid, which unfortunately is still widely inadequate.

The Central African crisis, which has led to tragic population movements, towards Chad in particular, cannot leave Europe indifferent. The responsibility to protect, sanctioned by the UN, is a shared value of the EU.

France which has the ability to rapidly deploy troops, intervened first in Mali and in Central Africa Republic because it estimated, due to the long history it shares with the African continent, that these crises could lead to tragic humanitarian consequences.

That said, France does not intend to be “Africa’s policeman”. It does not wish to act alone and relies on its European partners to engage with it, along with the African Nations which are increasingly mobilized under the African Union banner but are in need of further training, support and equipment.

To cope with such crises, collective action is required which should result in a political transition to restore the state of Law. To that purpose, the involvement of the UN and the deployment of the UN security forces are necessary.

Europe has shown with the Atalanta operation against piracy off Somalia that it has the ability and the political tools to do it. The EU has taken unanimously, on the 10th of February, the political decision to launch an EUFOR CAR operation in the framework of its Common Security and Defense policy. But we have to notice, with some concern, that the EU might be unable to launch it on time, because of the disappointing participation of those member states with significant armed forces.

Europe, as the main donor to Africa, plays its role. In 2011, the African continent received 43% of the total of the EU aid funding, (notably from the EDF and the Member States), that is to say 25.3 billion euros. The EU member states must of course continue to ensure that this effort is maintained since, because of budgetary constraints, the Official development assistance tends to stagnate or even decrease. It would be stupid for us Europeans to stop along the way.

The African continent was perceived for too long as the neglected one, marginalized by the difficulty of escaping colonialism and impoverished by centuries of exploitation. Today, Africa must be viewed as a dynamic partner: the development of its mineral and agricultural wealth leads to economic growth rates which many European countries can envy.

For the last ten years, sub-Saharan Africa has been the second zone of economic growth in the world with an average rate of 5,5%. Four emergent countries – South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana – concentrate 56% of the sub-Saharan GDP. These countries are the most promising markets on the continent.

China has fully assessed the potential of Africa and invests heavily in all African countries notably those that can guarantee it long-term supplies of oil and minerals. Why should Europe, as a historical partner of Africa, hand it over to China?

There is a strong historical and cultural relationship between Europe and Africa. Several EU member states, not only France, have a common history with African States, of course with dark chapters, but also a mutual understanding which today can provide a solid relationship with the European Union. Africa can be a chance for Europe. As Europeans, we must consider in a positive manner this partnership which could help getting a whole continent out of poverty while contributing to the economic growth in Europe. "

This text was also published in MaltaToday and in TimesofMalta

Dernière modification : 09/04/2014

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