Cairo pins hopes on diplomatic outreach to Africa

By playing the link between Africa and major and rich countries, Egypt gives its companies and institutions an opportunity to be in the middle of cooperation between the two sides.
Saturday 06/07/2019
Rebuilding bridges. Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara (R) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during a news conference in Abidjan, April 11. (AFP)
Rebuilding bridges. Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara (R) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during a news conference in Abidjan, April 11. (AFP)

CAIRO - Talks among Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and other world leaders on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan have thrown light on the role Egypt aspires to play on the African stage.

Cooperation with Africa featured highly in talks that Sisi, current chairman of the African Union (AU), had with the presidents of China and Russia. Those two countries invest tens of billions of dollars in Africa, in what amounts to world powers craving to gain a foothold in a continent with a lot of economic potential.

In trying to position itself at the heart of cooperation between the continent and these powers, Egypt uses its solid relations and diplomatic prowess, analysts said.

“Egypt is in a very good position to connect Africa with the world, thanks to its good ties with most major powers,” said African affairs specialist Heba al-Beshbeshi. “It tries to exploit these good ties in serving Africa’s development interests.”

In recent years, Egypt has made a strong comeback to the African continent after decades of absence, one that cost it dearly.

In the pre-independence era, Cairo helped in the liberation struggle of many African countries. It played a major role in post-colonial Africa but most of that legacy was lost because of Egypt’s lack of interest in developing ties with Africa as of the early 1980s.

Cairo appears to be trying to make up for this by adopting an aggressive policy aimed at playing a central role in the continent.

Along with holding the rotating AU chairmanship, Egypt hosts dozens of African youth and sports activities and brings African government officials and business leaders together.

Sisi participated in the mini Africa-China summit June 28 in Japan on the sidelines of the G20 summit. In talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sisi discussed preparations for the Russia-Africa summit in October in Sochi, Russia.

At a July 3 meeting in Cairo with UN General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, Sisi said Egypt has worked to achieve tangible progress in implementing the African development strategy 2063, the AU’s Silencing the Guns Initiative 2020 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Nevertheless, Egyptian efforts for enhancing cooperation between Africa, on one hand, and the world, on the other, have strong national objectives behind them, analysts said.

Egypt believes that the flow of investments to Africa will improve living conditions in African countries and consequently deprive terrorist groups of the chance to use rampant poverty in drawing in new recruits.

“Development is an effective counterterrorism tool,” said Ali Masoud, dean of the College of Economic Studies and Political Sciences at the University of Beni Suef in central Egypt. “It gives hope and improves living standards, thus leaving little recruitment opportunities for terrorist organisations.”

Egypt, which hosted several meetings of African defence ministers in the past five years and conducts joint training with African militaries, has been trying to build an effective counterterrorism strategy in Africa.

It also tries to use trilateral cooperation between it and African countries on one hand and major world powers on the other in advancing development in Africa in a way that controls illegal migration from Africa to Europe.

Egypt used to be a transit point on the African migrants’ route to the European coast but it stopped the flow of migrants to Europe by tightening control on its coasts. The Egyptian government said not a single case of illegal immigration has been recorded in Egypt since 2016.

Egypt’s ability to stop the flow of immigrants to Europe has given Cairo a strong negotiating position with European countries, analysts said

Trilateral Egypt-Africa-major power cooperation is very crucial for Egypt as it tries to expand into Africa in the presence of its economic hardships, they added.

By playing the link between Africa and major and rich countries, Egypt gives its companies and institutions an opportunity to be in the middle of cooperation between the two sides.

“Egypt wants to be the world’s gateway into Africa and Africa’s gateway into the world,” said Mohamed al-Shazly, a former Egyptian assistant foreign minister.

“Africa needs help from the outside world so that it can capitalise on its huge economic potential.”

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