The three personalities shaping geopolitics in Africa

Sunday January 21 2018

US President Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump makes his way to board Air Force One before departing from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on January 18, 2018. PHOTO | MANDEL NGAN | AFP 

By PETER KAGWANJA
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Three personalities are profoundly re-setting the contours of geo-politics in Africa. Foremost is America’s 45th President Donald Trump.  At a meeting on the US immigration policy last week, Trump reportedly described Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations as “shithole countries”.

In a tweet, Trump later denied having used such vulgar terms: “The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used.” But the “shithole” remark sparked a diplomatic firestorm with the African Union expressing “shock, dismay, and outrage” as a number of African countries, among them Botswana, Senegal, South Africa, and Ghana summoned US diplomats to protest against this “crude, offensive, reprehensible and racist remark.”

No doubt, Trump’s racial prejudices are hastening America’s decline and eroding its soft power and influence in Africa.

The second personality is China’s top diplomat, Foreign minister Wang Yi. As Trump was busy insulting African countries, Wang was on a charm offensive to win the hearts and minds of a rising continent rising. 

CHARM OFFENSIVE

From January 12 to 16, Wang visited four African countries – Rwanda, Angola, Gabon and São Tomé and Príncipe – to drum up support for the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which China will host in Beijing.

Wang’s visit is the 79th trip by Chinese rulers in less than a decade as part of its charm offensive. It is now a tradition that the first trip of China’s Foreign minister in a new year is to Africa. “The tradition has been kept for 28 years till now,” Wang said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi gestures to journalists before a National People's Congress press conference in Beijing on March 8, 2016.  China's Communist-controlled parliament opened its annual session on March 5 and is expected to approve a new five-year plan to tackle slowing growth in the world's second-largest economy. PHOTO | WANG ZHAO |

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi gestures to journalists before a National People's Congress press conference in Beijing on March 8, 2016. PHOTO | WANG ZHAO |AFP

In this context, Trump’s goof comes as a diplomatic windfall for Beijing, which will effectively push African countries closer to China’s corner.

China is matching rhetoric with reality. “Africa is always a priority in China’s diplomacy,” Wang told his Rwandese hosts on January 13.

Beijing has pushed for an increased role of Africa in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), President Xi Jinping’s flagship foreign policy.  In 2015, China announced a $60 billion package plan for the China-Africa cooperation. 

LIBERAL

As Beijing embarks on hosting the 2018 FOCAC, already upgraded to a Summit, China’s relationship with African countries is at an all-time high.

The third personality is Marietje Schaake, the Dutch liberal politician and Member of European Parliament (MEP) who headed the EU Election Observer Mission to the 2017 Kenya General Election.

Like Trump, the high drama and hubris that marked Ms Schaake’s public release of the Mission’s Report has sparked another diplomatic firestorm and outrage across the African, Caribbean and Pacific states.

Expectedly, Kenya decried the “unprocedural and premature manner” in which Ms Schaake released the report, describing her action as a breach of the terms of Kenya’s Memorandum of Understanding on Election monitoring with the European Union.

Even more scathing is the press statement that the Secretary-General of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP), Patrick Gomes, released in Brussels on January 10, 2018, which accused the EU Election Observer Mission of undermining the spirit and the provision of Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement between the EU and ACP countries, which commits the parties to the treaty to engage in comprehensive, balanced and deep political dialogue leading to commitment on both sides.

EU LEADERSHIP

But critics fault the EU leadership for – knowingly – appointing as head of the club’s Election Observation Mission to Kenya a person with a conflict of interest and heavily compromised by her past views, deeds and connections.

While the broad conclusions of her report are largely accurate and fairly justified, the thrust of the report is, glaringly, without the requisite sobriety of tone, diplomacy and demeanor that makes for an effective instrument of a civilised dialogue between people and nations.

 Marietje Schaake

Marietje Schaake, European Union’s chief observer in the August and October 2017. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Emerging facts reveal Schaake as a deeply compromised individual. First is her past opinions regarding Kenya. He fiery criticism of the Jubilee government in the EU Parliament paints a picture of a compromised broker in the Kenyan election incapable of steering an impartial and professional election observation mission or writing a credibly neutral report.

Second is Ms Schaake’s inextricably close political and ideological ties with the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) of the Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Both her political party in the Netherlands, Democrats66 (D66), and Odinga’s ODM are members of the Liberal International, an association of liberal parties across the world.

Indeed, Odinga is one of the vice-presidents of the liberal club along with Alexander Pechtold, the leader of Ms Schaake’s D66 party.

POLITICAL CONNECTIONS

But the ODM-D66 political connections are even subtler. As late as April 2017, a few weeks before Schaake jetted in to lead the EU election observer mission in Kenya, her D66 was the principal  underwriter of an annual conference of the African Liberal Network (ALN) – a regional syndicate of the Liberal International for liberal parties from Africa – that Odinga and ODM hosted in Nairobi.

Third, Ms Schaake is an International Criminal Court (ICC) warrior as a leading member of “Friends of the ICC” who regularly shows her support for The Hague-based court and hosts events for EU parliamentarians.

It needs no gainsaying that Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were indicted by the ICC and Odinga was a lead voice in support of ICC in Kenya.

Notably, Ms Schaake is one of the 68 of 751 odd members of the European Parliament  who are also members of the European chapter of Liberal International. As such, an EU keen on a mission leader who is as above suspicion as Caesar’s wife was spoilt for choices of more nuanced, neutral and qualified MEPs to lead its Kenyan mission.

CYBER WARRIORS

Even in her role as EU EOM chief, one would be forgiven to confuse Ms Schaake with one of ODM’s cyber warriors: “Texas Media Company hired by Trump created Kenyan president’s viral ‘anonymous’ attack campaign against rival, new investigation reveals”, she tweeted last December.

Her conclusion that: “The Kenyan people … did not fully enjoy their democratic rights as legally foreseen for all Kenyans” has the potential of feeding into the NASA “electoral justice” campaign, now propelling the push for Odinga’s swearing-in as “people’s president.”

Prof Kagwanja is former Government Adviser and currently Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute. He’s author of Paving Africa’s Silk Road: The Development Turn in China-Africa Relations in the 21st Century (2016)