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Africa, EU to Meet After Rifts Over COVID Vaccines

FILE - A health worker prepares a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine dose during a mass vaccination drive in Nairobi, Kenya, Sep. 17, 2021.
FILE - A health worker prepares a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine dose during a mass vaccination drive in Nairobi, Kenya, Sep. 17, 2021.

The European Union and African Union are holding their once every-three-year summit this week, after a two-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leaders from the two continents will meet in Brussels to discuss, among other things, the reaction to the pandemic and helping Africa adapt to climate change.

African countries are not happy with the EU travel bans, vaccine distribution, and unwillingness to lift intellectual property rights on vaccines that can help the continent produce COVID vaccines.

Tobias Wellner is a senior analyst with Dragonfly Intelligence, a group that studies global security and political risks. He said the summit will focus on mending relations strained by the pandemic.

“African leaders were very upset about travel restrictions imposed by European states and we can expect that they will also speak out against the unequal distribution of COVID vaccines," Wellner said. "Overall, the summit is probably going to be much more about reconnecting after troubled pandemic times, rather than a large diplomatic leap forward.”

French President Emmanuel Macron told journalists his country and the EU will prioritize the relationship with Africa and establish a peace system that can build investments in African economies.

The EU is facing competition in Africa from China, which has backed huge infrastructure projects across the continent, and also from Russia which is challenging France's influence in central and western African countries.

Wellner said the European Union cannot abandon its vision of seeing good governance and respect for people’s rights in Africa.

“The EU will likely continue conditioning economic and security support for African countries on its principles, democracy, human rights and the rule of law," Wellner said. "In this regard, the EU is probably going to continue acting more cautiously and differently from — for example — from China. There is unlikely to be a large change of politics at the summit. EU policy change takes a lot of time to change, because there are a lot of different positions within Europe that all need to be brought together. So the change, especially on the institutional levels, tends to be quite long.”

The two-day conference will also focus on concerns over how to mitigate the impact of climate change in Africa.

Wanjira Mathai, the vice-president and regional director at the World Resources Institute, says rich countries need to pay for adaptation programs.

“The biggest polluters, 80% of all global emissions, sit within the G20 and so those economies have to do the most to reduce their emissions," Mathai said. "The climate finance agenda there has been for many years. Africa is one of the climate-vulnerable regions but we also have others but the majority of countries that require finance to take care of the adaptation capacity that finance have not been forthcoming. We know there were $100 billion goals that were not met, so there is a very clear agenda to meet the shortfall of that $100 billion.”

Speaking at a webinar organized by the Europe Africa Foundation last month, Senegalese President Macky Sall said there was a need to develop a climate-friendly strategy and consider the level of development of African countries.