The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell Fontelles, was in Nairobi for a two-day official visit from 27 January as part of his African tour.
The Africa Report caught up with Fontelles, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, at the tail end of his Nairobi visit and engaged him on an array of issues ranging from heightened political instability and security concerns in Africa, the Ethiopia-Tigray conflict, Somalia’s electoral stalemate, the next EU-AU summit as well as EU’s long-involvement in the troubled Sahel region.
Let us talk about the Ethiopia-Tigray conflict. More than a year after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed began a military offensive in the Tigray region, Ethiopians are bitterly divided and their nation is facing famine and suffering. What is the assessment of the EU?
Josep Borrell: As the European Union, we have – since the beginning – called for ceasefire and […] a political arrangement because there is no military solution to the conflict. And happily our voice was heard, but the fighting has continued with a lot of human rights abuses, but now it seems like a good opportunity for dialogue to stop the fight.
Kenya has been doing a lot to try and broker a truce between the protagonists of the conflict.
What is the current aid situation in Ethiopia and is the EU a player in possible peace negotiations?
We are doing whatever we can to ensure that peace negotiations [begin] or the ceasefire starts, but in the meantime, we are piling pressure on everybody to make them understand that […] killing each other and fight[ing] is not going to be a solution to keep Ethiopia united.
The union stopped all the financial support and is now concentrating [its] resources on humanitarian aid; and we have been providing a lot, but the problem is that humanitarian help cannot reach Ethiopia and especially the Tigray region where there is a dire situation. I call upon the Ethiopian government to allow humanitarian help to reach the people in need.
The EU has heavily invested in the stability of Somalia and especially financing the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), but still there is no tangible progress. There is an ongoing political stalemate in Mogadishu due to elections. What is your take or concerns regarding this process as the 25 February deadline approaches?
We have been engaging [them using] our financial resources and with missions of […] common security and defence polic[ies]; not combative missions, but training and advisory missions and we are paying […] 90% of the cost of AMISOM forces.
We respect a lot and pay tribute to the […] African soldiers [who lost their lives] in order to support the Somalian government in the fight against terrorism. [For us] to continue providing this financial support, we have to review the operation of the mission because certainly the results are not satisfactory. Al-Shabaab [still] represent[s] a very strong threat and Somalia is not [progressing] on good governance; there is too much quarrel[ing] among the Somalian authorities.
We do not recognise all of them and we certainly will ask for a review of the conditions, the purpose, objectives and implementing methods of AMISOM. We are ready to continue offering support, but AMISOM has to be reviewed.
There has been heightened political instability in the continent with coups being the order of the day in West Africa. Many of these issues have been linked to political processes. What are the EU’s interventions within the multilateral framework?
The EU, and some member states of the union in particular, went to [the] Sahel because we were called to support some Sahelian countries [in] the fight against terror and we have been there trying to support the Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad armies. […] Then after there were some military coups and what’s worse, is the call for the Russian mercenaries.
We had been following the [lead of the] community of West African countries (ECOWAS) on sanctioning the military regime in Mali in order to make them understand that the solution was to go back to constitutional order and [that] the presence of the EU depends on the answer we will get, because we are there to support democracy and the fight against terrorism. If it is possible, we will continue, if it is not, we will have to think again [about] what to do.
Let us talk about the troubled Sahel region of Africa. Violence has been continual and despite the long-term involvement of the EU and France, the conflict has continued to escalate, spreading from Mali to Niger and Burkina Faso, costing thousands of civilian lives every year. Isn’t it time to reflect and possibly leave the affected nations to look for home-grown solutions?
We are there in [the] Sahel because we were called to support, and thanks to the EU’s intervention in 2016, the jihadists didn’t take over Bamako.
If the African countries in the troubled Sahel region have a recipe and they want to try to fight alone, they just have to tell us, we are not there against their will. We respect […] their sovereignty and we only cooperate on the basis of an agreement among us, among sovereign countries and until now, we have been cooperating [well]. We have been engaging with a lot of resources, with […] soldiers, answering […] their requests.
France has been accused of either sympathising, funding or abetting terrorism and extremism for its own interests in the Sahel while on anti-terrorism missions. There has been growing resentment for France and its long anti-terrorism mission that clearly doesn’t seem to bear any fruits in that region. The people of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso now want Paris to withdraw its forces from that part of the continent. What do you say to that?
France and many other European Union member states are in the Sahel at the request of the governments, democratically elected regimes representing their people. If the governments of these countries have another decision today […], we will act according [to] their will, no doubt about it.
These accusations about Europe, or France in particular, is part of a big disinformation campaign against the European Union’s presence that has only one purpose: to help the people of the Sahel region to fight terrorism.
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