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May 27, 2013

African Union Leaders Talk Mali, Chinese Investment

by Scott Stearns

African leaders met in Ethiopia during the weekend to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their continental alliance and discuss issues such as Chinese investment on the continent as well as the fight against Islamic militants in Mali.

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang told the African Union that Beijing's new leaders want greater cooperation on trade and closer consultation on international affairs with the growth of Africa's influence abroad.

Ethiopian Prime Minister and African Union Chairman Hailemariam Desalegn says China is a reliable partner for Africa.

"It is encouraging to note that some of our friends and partners have given priority to infrastructure development in Africa in terms of their strategy partnership with our continent," he said.  "In this regard I wish to take this opportunity to express my deepest appreciation to China for investing billions to assist us in our development endeavors."

Without mentioning China by name, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he is concerned some countries are not as transparent in Africa as the United States and that could undermine democracy.  But he admits U.S. investment here is falling behind.

Center for Strategic and International Studies Africa director Jennifer Cooke says budget cuts mean the Obama administration has to do more with less in Africa.

"There is an opportunity to say, 'Look, we are back and we are prepared to engage at a different level, in different ways than we did in the past but in a much more positive way," said Cooke.

That means leading with the private sector.

"Those kinds of commercial investment relationships really are much more partnerships of equals, for the United States not to be looking at Africa as conflict, disease, and hunger, but also as a place where partnerships are possible," Cooke added.

On Mali, African leaders discussed a regional intervention force against al-Qaida affiliated terrorists in the north as French troops there withdraw.  French President Francois Hollande.

"I consider that it is up to Africans themselves to ensure the security of Africa.  But France is ready to work with Africans to give African armies the means to respond to all aggressions," Hollande said.

With West African ECOWAS troops arriving to support Malian forces, Cooke says international assistance is critical.

"As the ECOWAS forces deploy to those northern cities and try to hold the northern cities in Mali against Ansar Dine and AQIM, there is a need for more specialized training in counter-insurgency, in connecting with communities, intelligence gathering," Cooke said.

President Hollande says terrorism, trafficking and piracy in Africa are global issues that must be fought together.