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April 03, 2014

Europe Pledges Peacekeepers, Trade Ties for Africa

by Henry Ridgwell

African and European Union leaders have wrapped up a two-day summit aimed at improving trade ties, but the talks in Brussels were overshadowed by the worsening crisis in the Central African Republic.  

Over the past 10 days, U.N. officials say more than 60 people have been killed in sectarian violence in the Central African Republic capital, Bangui.  Recent violence there and in other C.A.R. cities has prompted tens of thousands of Muslims to flee their communities.

The European Union announced Wednesday it would deploy more troops alongside the 2,000 French soldiers and 6,000 African peacekeepers already in the country.   But on Thursday, Chad said it is pulling its 850 peacekeepers out of the country, following accusations that the troops have sided with Muslims and Muslim rebels being attacked by the largely Christian anti-balaka militia.

Interim president of Central African Republic Catherine Samba-Panza welcomed the EU reinforcements.

"Throughout the military operation, the process of reconciliation must be strengthened, so the presence of the military force has no effect on the process of reconciliation," she said. "On the contrary, this process will be stronger under improved security."

The new deployment was agreed upon after several EU members offered last-minute financial and logistical help, says Alex Vines, the Africa program head of the London-based policy institute Chatham House.

“It is the right thing," said Vines. "But it shows the difficulties, because European politicians are thinking, ‘Well what is the exit strategy, how short can they be there?’”

As well as security, trade topped the summit agenda.  Many African countries brought large business delegations.  EU Council President Herman van Rompuy praised the changing relationship between Europe and Africa.

“More than 800 business and economic leaders committed to improve the business climate and foster investment in African countries.  A fundamental shift from aid to trade and investment as agents of growth and poverty reduction is taking place," said van Rompuy.

Moving from aid-based relationships to trade will require strong oversight, says ActionAid Zambia director Pamela Chisanga.

“If this trade is largely going to benefit the large multinationals who find their way into Africa, then obviously that is a problem.  While we look forward to increased trade, it must be fair trade," said Chisanga.

Africa’s economic growth is second only to Asia; European leaders say that rapid development requires an overhaul of the paternalistic relationships of the past.