Our exclusive on AU-EU relations with Gary Quince

In December 2007, at the second EU-Africa summit held in Lisbon, Portugal, leaders of the two continents adopted the ‘Joint EU-Africa strategy.’ Based on that the two continents have agreed to set out shared objectives and cooperation in eight different areas: peace and security; democratic governance and human rights; energy; trade, regional integration and infrastructure; millennium development goals; climate change; migration, mobility and employment; and science, information society and space. However, so far, relations between the EU and African countries are significantly marked by EU’s financial largess to peace and security operations in Africa. Our Editor-in-Chief  Tsedale Lemma interviewed Gary Quince, EU’s Head of Delegation to the African Union (AU), on the implication of this and progresses made between the two continents in their cooperation in the areas of democratic governance and human rights, migration, mobility and employment and energy.  Excerpts:

AS –An evaluation paper funded by the EU and released in Oct. last year on the progresses made on the African Peace Facility (APF) mentioned a couple of critical issues regarding lack of ownership and funding by African states to the APF. The EU has so far channeled more than €1.1bn through the APF, and yet most of the programs within the APF, notably the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and the African Standby Force (ASF), didn’t properly take off the ground in their existence for ten years. What was your reaction to the evaluation paper? And how does that affect the relationship between the two continents?

Gary Quince is an economist with over 35 years experience in international relations and development, including 30 years with the European Commission/ European Union. Much of this time has been spent working on and in Africa, including postings in Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia. From 2005 to 2011, Gary Quince was Director for Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific at EuropeAid, European Commission. In this capacity he had overall responsibility for the implementation of the EC aid program in over 100 countries, including Sub Saharan Africa. Since November 2011 he is the EU Head of Delegation to the African Union, based in Addis Ababa Ethiopia.

Gary Quince –Let’s start by saying if you look at the evaluation as a whole, it was a very positive view. What is very clear is if we didn’t have the APF we’ll have to invent the wheel straightaway. In fact I think we have so far provided over €1.2bn since 2004. We would have preferred to be using this money for development projects across Africa but you cannot have development without peace and security. So we are forced, Africa is forced by circumstances to invest this huge amount of money in trying to bring back peace and security to its troubled areas. What we learnt from it is there are no quick fixes; these are long term processes. Take for example the African Union [AU] peacekeeping mission in Somalia, AMISOM; we’ve been supporting it now since 2007 and our contribution this year will be even greater than a year in the past. Back in 2007 our very support to AMISOM was €15m; today we’re spending more than €15m every month. Indeed our support to AMISOM is probably the biggest single development project in the world that the EU is financing.

Is it okay to refer to it as ‘development project’?

Well, it is development money; it comes from the European Development Fund [EDF] and if we were not using it for AMISOM we would be using it for development projects elsewhere.

Three per cent of EU’s budget is going for the EDF, if I am correct, and as you know EDF 2014-2020 is kicking off this year but a significant amount of this funding is still being used to support peace and security operations in Africa. What sense of development cooperation does that create between the two continents?

I think it creates the scenario for a very close political relationship because necessarily the huge amount of support we are providing for peace and security must be accompanied by a very close understanding on the political track, for example, in Central Africa Republic [CAR] and in Somalia. So we’ve to have that very close political dialogue and we have that. We also have a very close political relationship and political dialogue with the AU and with the Regional Economic Communities [RECs] both on the military and on the political side, and of course with the governments concerned. We’re working not only on peace and security; we are working in humanitarian and development projects in those countries. There can never be a purely peace and security solution, never. There always has to be a political solution, a political track accompanying it. The trick is to get them together, and get them parallel at the same speed.

qoute1You are right in that the amount of money is very significant and we don’t commit that money lightly, but the political commitment is absolutely solid to support Africa to address peace and security crises across the continent because there is such a strong mutual interest. It’s important to remember that Europe is not just providing finance; we also have European troops and civilians on the ground. For example we’re putting EU military force in CAR, alongside the French and the African peace keeping operation [MISCA], to support them to bring peace back in a situation which is hugely fragile.  So it’s not just a financial.

 But the EU has so far pledged a mere 500 peacekeeping force to compliment the French and AU peacekeeping missions in CAR. Given the fragile situation as you just mentioned, do you believe it’s enough? 

I absolutely agree with you the situation is fragile. The MISCA force is about 6000 troops, the French force is I think 1600 troops and there is a whole discussion about [making] the African force into a UN force. That may well be what will happen at some point in the future; the assessment is still underway as we speak. I am not going to pretend that I feel necessarily that’s enough to solve all the problems, because the problems are enormous and the new transitional government needs all our support. We are certainly there and committed to give that support.

One of the issues that the AU and the RECs are often criticized for is lack of coherent political will and coordination between themselves at times so fragile like this. As a major donor, how do you see this evolving through time? What are the implications to the relationship between the EU and AU?

qouteAt the moment both are playing their roles. If you look at South Sudan it is IGAD that is leading the mediation process, and if you look at CAR the Economic Community of Central African States [ECCAS] is playing a role on the political and financial side. During the donors’ conference on the 1st of February for MISCA, ECCAS pledged $100 million. That’s a huge amount of money. The relationship of who does what in peace and security between the AU and the RECs is still evolving. We are supporting that through APSA, and it varies in time and according to circumstances on the capacity of the RECs and the AU. But it’s a process that is moving forward in a positive way.

At the end of the 22nd ordinary summit of the AU heads of state, many of us were caught by a surprise when the leaders decided to establish a voluntary based rapid deployment mechanism in troubled states. On the one hand there is the ASF, which did not take off the ground so far although it is something the EU has been financially supporting through the APF, and on the other hand we have this new decision. What was your reaction to that?

IMG_3814I must be clear it wasn’t surprising to us; we knew, we have been following very closely the discussion on the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC) but the issue on the African governments side is they wish to move very quickly on creating an African owned and funded Rapid Reaction Capability.

But the ASF already has a similar element.

It will have but there isn’t a contradiction between the two. This ACIRC will be established very quickly as you said using voluntary commitment and I think a number of countries have already signed up and hopefully others will follow, and the decision is taken to establish the strategic headquarter here. ACIRC could be deployed very rapidly on the bases of the decisions by the African Union Peace and Security Council [AUPSC]. But that’s not contradictory with the eventuality to have a permanent African standby force and within that a rapid deployment capability. We welcome it because it is recognition by Africa that it needs a rapid reaction capability. We’ve seen that situations like Mali, CAR and South Sudan can blow up very quickly without any of us realizing it in advance. Africa needs to react very quickly.

 The other area in which the EU is involved in financing in Africa is democratic governance and human rights issues. Again EU’s support is based on already established mechanisms, notably the African Court of Humans and Peoples’ Rights, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the Pan-African Parliament. But these are institutions with questionable track records. Do you think the EU is doing the right thing by channeling its financial support through these institutions?   

Yes I do. I am actually convinced the right way is to try and build on African institutions on African approaches and not trying to develop some kind of European institution that will somehow come in and take over. That will never work, and it is never going to be in our minds. At the moment the majority of our support through these organizations is in terms of capacity building. We have been working with them for three or four years now. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is more and more active in the issue of human rights across Africa; the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights has already given judgments on a number of cases, and a number of cases are on the pipeline. Interestingly during the AU Summit, the presidents of these two organizations went to the heads of state and proposed the year 2016 to be the African year for human and peoples’ right, particularly women’s right, and the summit endorsed that. But you’re right the African governance architecture, which consist series of treaties and conventions, is very strong on paper; in practice it’s much less strong because some countries have not ratified these treaties. That is an issue recognized as a problem by the AU. We are working to try and improve that and we have some good work going on but I absolutely admit Africa has a long way to go.

Does that make defending the EDF, which is tax payers’ money at the end, difficult? And what does that mean from the point of view of people-to-people relations between the two continents?  

I just want to say the result is not as great as we would wish it to be, but there is a positive progress and we are working more and more on human rights and elections, which are critical parts of any country’s life and development particularly in countries coming out of conflicts. We are working a great deal with the Africa Union Commission [AUC] in supporting their election observation teams. As I said earlier we can never have a pure peace and security solution, there always have to be a political track. Our working relationship with election observers is part of that political track.

 qoute2Migration, mobility and employment is the other area of cooperation between the EU and the AU. But it is an area where we see a lot of tension with incidents like the Lampedusa boat tragedy in Oct last year exposing the shortfalls. What do you think are the real results achieved in this area of cooperation so far?

I agree with you that migration and particularly the Lampedusa tragedy sent us a shockwave both through Europe and Africa. But it emphasized that we must work together on this and we must try and make it to a positive and not a negative between us in terms of our dialogue. We have agreed that migration should be one of the key subjects to be discussed at the AU-EU summit coming up in April.  That summit is an opportunity for us to take stock of everything we do together in our partnership; look at the positives and less positives, look at the areas that are working well and the areas that are not working well and improve them all. What we are trying to do is look at some of the root causes for these illegal migrations that lead these people to these tragedies, lose hope in their home countries and think somehow Europe offers a better opportunity. Clearly we’ve got to look at the root causes back home and we have got to work together to accentuate opportunities particularly to the young people.

Moving into the other area of cooperation, the 2nd AU-EU high level summit on energy was held here in February. Energy is one of the most promising sectors in Africa but the continent is faced with problems of financial resources in utilizing this opportunity. But it is one of the eight sectors of cooperation between the AU and EU. How do you see this relationship shaping up, let’s say, by 2020?

Energy has become one of the most important and most successful areas of our partnership reflecting the fact that without energy you cannot have development and reflecting the fact that at the moment Africa is poor in energy. Five hundred million people in Africa don’t have access to electricity. We have invested a huge amount of our time, energy and resources in helping Africa, because Africa is energy poor but absolutely not poor in potential. Hydropower, solar, wind, geothermal, you name it Africa has it and in abundance compared to how much is actually utilized at the moment. I think I have read somewhere that only 7% of Africa’s Hydropower resources are used at the moment. These big schemes like Inga in [Democratic Republic of] Congo could meet the needs of a number of African countries; geothermal energy in the Rift Valley has enormous potential but apart from Kenya no other country is using it at the moment; wind potential in Lake Turkana in North Kenya is one of the best places for wind energy in the entire world; solar, we are financing one of the world’s biggest projects in Burkina Faso. To come back here in Ethiopia, where geothermal energy hasn’t been utilized yet, we have, together with the AU, put a risk facility for geothermal exploration such that when developers drill for steam they are on the right part of the cost because that is the expensive part of the scheme.

In 2020 we have fixed an objective of providing electric access to 100mn people in Africa. We think we can achieve that. So when Africa and Europe come to the summit in April, energy will be on top of the agendas.

qoute4 And yet Commissioner Andris Piebalgs was missing from this energy meeting attended by about 17 African ministers of energy. What signal does that send to this successful cooperation that you said exist between Africa and the EU?

He was very sorry that he couldn’t come. He was elsewhere in Africa meeting governments talking about programming of our aid in the next seven years because we are in the process of programming our support in every country and region and towards the AU. He has a very intensive schedule at the moment and it was very unfortunate that this meeting clashed with other commitments, but he is very much involved in pushing forward our partnership in this and other areas.

Editor’s Note: the EU has decided to double its peacekeeping mission in CAR to 1000 after our interview was held with Ambassador Gary Quince.

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