By Emanuele Scimia
While war drums keep on beating along the disputed inter-Sudanese border, Europe's engagement in Central and East Africa is intensifying. Over the past months, by emulating the United States, the European Union (EU) has multiplied its political, strategic and economic efforts in a huge swathe of Africa, from northern Tanzania to Ethiopia: an open challenge to China's steady penetration in that region, according to several sources.
The ongoing "geopolitical risk" in Africa, whose flashpoint is the newly-independent state of South Sudan, brings the Fashoda Incident to mind. Fashoda (presently the South Sudanese city of Kodok) is where the colonial designs of France and the United Kingdom materially collided in 1898, during the so-called Scramble for Africa. Now Paris and London join forces as part of an Euro-American bid to carve out a new Western sphere of influence in Africa: the question is whether or not it will be at the expense of China's vested interests.Military involvement
The participation in military operations is what really distinguishes the African policy of Europe and the United States from that of China. There is a widespread conviction that the US military campaign against the weakened rebel group of Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is in reality a Trojan horse for American strategic interests in the Great Lakes region.
Since October 2011, Washington has deployed 100 special operations units in Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo to fight the LRA. On the contrary, China is sticking to its policy of "non-interference" in the internal affairs of African countries, at least as far as the military point of view is concerned.
Within the United Nations and African Union-backed joint military actions against the LRA, the EU has earmarked US$12 million for humanitarian assistance to people who have suffered violence by the Joseph Kony-led militias over the past 25 years. In December 2011, the EU teamed up with the coalition fighting the LRA, financing the construction of logistical facilities.
The EU and US have also trained the forces of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Under the United Nations' mandate, the AMISOM is conducting armed operations in the war-torn Somalia, helping the UN-backed Transitional government to defeat the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militants. In February, AMISOM announced that it would strengthen its contingent with 5,000 soldiers thanks to funding from the EU and United Nations Security Council.
As for Somalia's age-old crisis, Brussels has decided to expand its maritime mission "ATALANTA" against Somali pirates, allowing European warships to attack both sea and land targets. The EU anti-piracy mission in the Indian Ocean, which started in 2008 to patrol shipping lane and protect humanitarian convoys, is extended to at least December 2014 and its two-year prolongation has a budget of $19.7 million.
In addition, in February the EU also ushered in - along with Turkey - a Horn of Africa's Working Group within the Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF). The GCTF, which was launched in September 2011, is an initiative to enhance anti-terrorism cooperation and is co-chaired by Washington and Ankara.
Over and above the US special operations across Somalia against the armed Islamist and Washington's rooted standing in the Horn of Africa, it is worth highlighting the French and British military presence in this region. Out of about 8,000 soldiers that France has deployed throughout Africa, 2,850 units are stationed in Djibouti (which also hosts an important American military base), while the anti-terrorism collaboration between the United Kingdom and Kenya is becoming tighter than ever.Scent of oil
The battle for handling oil resources is the big drama produced by Sudan's break-up and resulting birth of South Sudan in July 2011, after decades of civil war. In 2011, Sudan and South Sudan's combined crude exports averaged 330,000 barrels per day, mostly to Asian markets. China imported around 220,000 barrels per day: 5% of its total oil imports. The problem is that while most of the oil fields are now situated in landlocked South Sudan, all the pipelines go through Sudan to the northern export terminal in Port Sudan.
That situation has led to explosive disputes on borders' demarcation between the two neighboring countries, which have resulted in frequent skirmishes. In January, the government of South Sudan in Juba decided to stop oil's extraction and exportation toward Port of Sudan, in a controversy over the fee that Sudan demands for the crude's transit.
Juba has also triggered a row with the Chinese oil companies working within its boundaries (notably with Petrodar, a Sino-Malaysian consortium), declaring its intention to review all oil contracts signed by the government of Sudan in Khartoum before the secession. Speaking to the daily Sudan Tribune on February 22, some Sudanese officials argued that "South Sudan's threats against Chinese companies are part of a conspiracy to replace them with Western companies".
In effect, European companies are showing interest in the oil development of the Great African Rift Valley. For instance, the Anglo-Irish Tullow Oil has recently discovered oil deposits in Kenya, in the country's north-western region of Turkana.
Such a discover has a great geopolitical importance, since the Turkana Lake is right in the middle of the projected "Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport" (LAPPSET) corridor, which foresees a 2,000 kilometer pipeline connecting South Sudan's oil fields to the Kenyan coastal town of Lamu. The project includes a connection to Ethiopia if oil were to be discovered in its south-eastern region of Ogaden.
The Juba-Lamu pipeline offers South Sudan an alternative to the route going to Port Sudan. The problem for the three African countries involved in the project is to attract investments, and up to now neither the EU nor the US, as well as China, seem to be eager to fund the LAPPSET corridor in light of the permanent instability in the area.
Tullow Oil has also extracted crude in Uganda and is leading exploration campaigns in Ethiopia. The recent discovery of oil reserves around the Lake Albert might turn Uganda into a regional energy and trade hub. In this regard, the Ugandan government in Kampala has struck a deal with Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda to realize a railway network that would stretch all the way to South Sudan.
Kampala is generally considered to be an American ally in Central and East Africa, and the fact that the operator expected to complete this project by 2015 is a Chinese company (China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation) proves that even small or medium African countries have learnt to act with strategic flexibility.Aggressive commercial stance
China's trade with Africa touched $127 billion in 2010. Beijing is often accused of exploiting its African partner on the grounds of a well-tested scheme: inundating the African countries with its cheap products - as well as granting loans for project of developments and infrastructural investments - in return for oil and raw materials.
On the other hand, the EU is supposed to be pursuing a different approach in dealing with African countries, focused on cooperation and assistance for development. The latest move in this direction is Brussels' commitment to provide $380 million for projects about food security, education and healthcare in South Sudan.
On March 20, during a meeting in Brussels with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, EU high representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton praised Juba's intention to join the Cotonou Partnership Agreement between the EU and Africa, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) countries. Under this agreement, South Sudan can obtain assistance for development and market access for its goods.
But many African countries, and the same ACP leadership, have complained about the European Commission's proposal to prevent countries that do not conclude an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the EU from free market access to Europe as of January 1, 2014 - the European Parliament is expected to take a decision with regard to this issue by June.
Plainly put, the truth is that both Europe and the United States are back to the old rules of geopolitics, in which humanitarian preoccupations are shelved and economic leverage gains momentum.
The point is that the two "belligerent" side would have room to settle disputes in East Africa, just as China is trying to devise a diplomatic line going beyond its policy of non-interference. At bottom, it would be in the interest of all players - Europe, United States and China - to avert a Somalia-style war in North and South Sudan, when from Nigeria to the Horn of Africa, through the Sahel region, large part of the continent is sliding into a spiral of chaos.
Emanuele Scimia is a journalist and geopolitical analyst based in Rome. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Eco ... 4Dj04.html