Egypt unveils African Union presidency plan

Sharm el-Sheikh was chosen as the site for the Africa Investment Conference December 7-9 to tout investment opportunities in the continent.
Sunday 18/11/2018
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (L) and his Sudanese counterpart Foreign Minister al-Dierdiry Ahmed attend a joint ministerial committee in Khartoum, on October 24. (AFP)
Strategic goals. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (L) and his Sudanese counterpart Foreign Minister al-Dierdiry Ahmed attend a joint ministerial committee in Khartoum, on October 24. (AFP)

CAIRO - Egyptian officials said they plan to use the presidency of the African Union next year to move closer to other African countries and resolve conflicts on the continent. The idea is to increase Egyptian investments in African countries, raise technical support and turn Egypt into a meeting point for Africans in all fields, they said.

“The African Union presidency is a real chance for us to play a good role in increasing economic cooperation among African countries, resolving conflicts in the continent and also pushing African development projects forward,” said Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez. “Egypt will use all means at its disposal to make its presidency of the union a beneficial thing for all African countries.”

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli said Egypt would do its best to use its term as African Union president to strengthen the country’s presence in Africa and ease cooperation between African states.

“Our ties with other African states move from strength to strength,” Madbouli said at a cabinet meeting. “We will work for further improvements in the future.”

He ordered the formation of a working group to prepare for a gathering of young Africans in southern Egypt next year. The group is to encourage Egyptian businessmen to invest in Africa. Egypt invests about $10 billion in other African countries.

Sharm el-Sheikh was chosen as the site for the Africa Investment Conference December 7-9 to tout investment opportunities in the continent. The view in Cairo is that Africa has potential gigantic economic and political opportunities.

Egypt neglected ties with other African states under former President Hosni Mubarak, who was forced out of office in 2011. That neglect cost Cairo its leadership position in Africa and economic opportunities that could have resulted from better relations. That political and economic vacuum was filled by regional adversaries Israel, Turkey and Qatar.

Egypt is also about to lose much of its share of Nile River water because Ethiopia is nearing completion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, planned to generate electricity that would spur development in that country.

The project is predicted to greatly reduce Egypt’s share of Nile water. Egypt, which receives 55.5 billion cubic metres of water from the Nile each year and consumes more than 75 billion cubic feet of water, says the lessened flows because of the dam would devastate its farmland and threaten its food security.

When Cairo started lobbying against the dam a few years ago, not many African countries, especially those in the Nile basin, took sides with Egypt against Ethiopia. This could explain the enthusiasm in Cairo for the African Union presidency.

“The presidency is a good chance for our country to mend fences with other countries in the continent,” said Tarek Radwan, the head of the African Affairs Committee in the Egyptian parliament. “The fact is that Egypt has a lot to offer the continent and its peoples.”

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said conflict resolution would be a main issue on Egypt’s African Union presidency agenda. Egypt already has taken on a role in resolving the conflict in South Sudan, helping Somalia deal with security challenges and getting Sahel and Sahara militaries to formulate a unified counterterrorism strategy.

Nevertheless, Egyptian plans to maximise benefits during its African Union presidency will face roadblocks, analysts said. The Egyptian plan to increase technical support and economic assistance to other African countries and raise exports to them are not simple achievements, they added.

Egyptian trade with African countries in 2017 amounted to $505 million, including $5 million in exports to those states.

“When it comes to technical support Egypt cannot match some regional or international players that have been gaining increased presence in the continent,” said Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University. “As for exports, the same players are dominating African markets too, which means that Egypt’s mission to get back to Africa will be far from easy.”

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