Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Back to the good old African days

Egypt’s participation in this week’s African Union Summit should spur change in relations with the rest of the continent, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Al-Ahram Weekly

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s official participation in the African Union  (AU) Summit this week serves as a riposte to those who reasoned that Egypt would follow in the more than four decades of limited engagement with Africa following the exceptional consanguinity spearheaded by former Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser.

In his inaugural speech as president, Al-Sisi spelt out the priorities of Egypt’s foreign policy during his presidency, Africa among them.

Al-Sisi said that in order to make up for Egypt’s long absence from participating effectively in the continent’s challenges, Cairo needed to come up with a more cogent offer than his predecessors, Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi, had done.

This promised to be a new beginning for Egypt in Africa, ushering in a new chapter in Egyptian relations with Africa. The new relationship between Egypt and Africa is also based on economics as much as politics.

There is much to be said for Egypt’s renewed participation in African affairs. Al-Sisi, expected to address the opening session of the AU Summit as is traditional for a newly elected president of an AU member state, has given the lie to those who supposed that Egypt would not be able to re-establish itself in African affairs following recent differences, notably with Ethiopia.

It is true that Egypt did not have a say when South Sudan seceded from the rest of the country in 2009, and even today Egypt has not been successful in mediating the current political crisis in South Sudan, leaving the field open to countries such as Ethiopia.

Yet, Egypt has succeeded in identifying many of the challenges ahead, even if these may be difficult to handle. It was in this context that Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri left Cairo for Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, last Sunday to attend meetings of AU foreign ministers in preparation for today’s heads of state meeting.

The oil-rich tiny island nation is the wealthiest AU member state in terms of GDP per capita. Egypt is keen to develop economic and commercial ties with this and the other emerging economies of the African continent.

In addition to today’s meeting, Al-Sisi has also been invited to attend an extraordinary African Summit meeting taking place in the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou on 6-7 September.

Meanwhile, the 23rd AU Summit provides a golden opportunity for Egypt to become active again in this most important of Pan-African bodies. This year the focus is on agriculture and food security, which coincides with the 10th anniversary of the launch of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development’s (NEPAD) Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).

Egypt was a founding member of NEPAD along with South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria and Senegal. The focus on food is also a prickly subject as contemporary Egypt has become a net food importer after being the breadbasket of the Mediterranean until comparatively recent times.

New proposals are designed to rectify this situation. However, CAADP cannot function without careful bilateral coordination with key African countries. Ethiopia, for instance, provides more than 85 per cent of Egypt’s water supplies via the Blue Nile, and the Egyptian Ambassador to Ethiopia Mohamed Idris, has noted that Egypt is working in conjunction with Ethiopia and other African countries on formulating a coherent vision for Egypt-African relations.

The near completion of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam on the Nile has caused some consternation in Egypt, with jitters in Cairo about reduced water supplies and hence electricity shortages and lower water provision for agricultural and industrial development. The consequences of the construction of a series of Ethiopian dams on the Blue Nile will undoubtedly impact Egypt’s chances of making a strategic comeback on the African continent.

Egypt was readmitted to the AU following the successful completion of the presidential elections that the AU approved and that took place from 26-28 May as part of Cairo’s commitment to a roadmap towards democracy.

The history of the AU suggests that change takes time and sometimes falls short of expectations, but officials in the AU and Egypt are optimistic about Egypt’s critical continental role, saying that the country’s readmission to the AU constitutes an important development for Africa. No African leader wants Egypt to remain outside the organisation. “We warmly welcome the delegation of Egypt, our dear brothers and sisters,” the Chairperson of the AU Commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma told delegates in her address.

Egyptian officials are conscious of international plans to enforce good governance and democratisation in Africa. Cairo also wants to see African countries commit to a restructuring of neighbourhood policies with other African and particularly Nile Basin nations.

As the Weekly went to press, it was not clear whether Egypt would be invited to the African-American Summit on Trade, Development and Security in Africa and United States economic relations with the African continent.

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