Hussein El Mobayad
On Monday the 3rd of January, his excellency ambassador Mohamed El-Orabi, Chairman of the Board of Trustees for SHAF Center for Future Studies and Crisis Analysis; addressed a delegation of African Journalists in a lecture on ‘the Egyptian-African Relations’. The lecture was the first among a series of lectures throughout the month, hosted by the Training and Media Studies Center for Africa, a special branch of the Ministry of State for Information; in cooperation with the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. In its 42nd iteration, the program aims to train journalists from English-speaking African countries including: Nigeria, Tanzania, Liberia, Mauritius, Sierra Leone, Kenya through a series of lectures and cultural visits around Egypt.
In his introduction, his excellency asserted that in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, both opportunities and challenges can no longer exist in isolation. Rather, they are shared and articulated across different countries, transcending borders in the traditional sense.
Similarly, trans-border challenges like the global pandemic of Covid-19 and its variants and climate change, have also presented a tangible opportunity for international solidarity and accelerated cooperation among nations. Additionally, near future opportunities for cooperation will exist across the varying fields of technology, from renewable energy to artificial intelligence, which are essential in creating true sustainability that benefits all.
Nevertheless, as climate change, diseases and financial meltdowns can cross borders, so can terrorism, making it the biggest trans-border challenge Africa faces today. The surge in terrorist groups and their activities across African countries threatens the security and prosperity of the entire continent. Through 4×4 wheel driving, terrorists are able to cross borders between countries in the Middle East and in Africa, traveling through rough terrains and inroads that may not be monitored by security forces.
Thus, the aforementioned trans-border challenges, including terrorism are often viewed as part of the new world order reality, which is marked by the disengagement of traditional Western powers (i.e. United Kingdom, United States and France) from their long-held spheres of influence and conflict hotspots, particularly in Africa. This rearrangement of priorities had in turn resulted in the continuous and incremental withdrawal of traditional armies, while moving forward in the direction of unmanned drones and Western militaries existing only in an advisory capacity. On the other side of this new order is the accelerated Chinese engagement in Africa through the Belt and Road initiative, which oversees Chinese strategic interests in the continent through funding and constructing infrastructure projects.
Apart from a changing world order, the Egyptian strategy in Africa had remained consistent over the past decades, standing on the three pillars of peace, stability and development. Without peace and stability, development would not be possible, and thus far the strategy has been successful in pursuing a stable environment in all African nations, not just immediate neighbors, and in maintaining peace through initiatives like “Silencing the Guns”, and implementing infrastructure projects and disseminating aid packages necessary for the development of African countries.
The three pillars of the Egyptian strategy in Africa can be seen as a clear continuation of the Egyptian vision that started with the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser, as a leader of African liberation movement, which triggered the ideas of Pan-African solidarity and inspired the establishment of organizations like the African Union. Organized regional institutions based on the spirit of African Unity have an important role in mitigating the existence of exploitative “development partners” to Africa, from the traditional Western powers, to new players such as China, Russia, Turkey and Israel. Evidently, their investments in Africa are often tied to their strategic interests, from resource extraction by China and the West, fuelling their trade war, to the increased deployment of private security companies like the Russian “Wagner” and the Turkish “Sadat” in conflict zones. Companies which are often linked to human rights abuses and to having a destabilizing effect on the countries they operate in.
On the other hand, Egypt’s approach to development in Africa does not come with conditionalites or hidden agendas, nothing beyond improving bilateral relations and fostering cooperation. Recent examples include infrastructure projects like, the ‘Julius Nyerere’ Hydropower plant and Dam in Tanzania, Hospitals and roads in Djibouti and water projects and several dams in Uganda; including major plans to create paramount infrastructural linkage projects like a naval project that connects countries of the Nile Basin from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean Sea, and a road that connects Alexandria to Cape Town, both are bound to create special economic zones that will facilitate free trade, eliminate bureaucratic red-tape and enhance cultural integration across nations.
Finally, Egypt have increasingly relied on public diplomacy in creating strong links with citizens in African nations through the Egyptian embassies abroad; this facilitated their transformation from political entities, to cultural centers that represent Egypt through lectures, documentaries, and art exhibitions. In Egypt, public diplomacy has been focused on increasing the capacity building of the African youth (young diplomats, journalists, military officers and academics) through their integration in the open and extensive Egyptian educational system with all its facilities. Thus, creating a deeper and lasting bond between our people.
The next section will cover some of the questions asked by the African journalist delegation and exhibit their answer by his excellency Mr. Mohamad Al-Orabi.
1- Gentleman from the (Republic of Liberia) acknowledges the importance of development and the need to enhance the capacity building of the youth in African countries to counter the adverse impact of war and conflict.
Q: How soon does Egypt intend on pursing the aforementioned pillars (peace, stability and development) of its foreign policy within Africa?
A: Egypt has indeed pursued the aforementioned strategies incrementally over the past decades, and will continue to do so in the years to come. In fact, Egypt has managed to build its credibility in Africa over the years, starting with era of President Gamal Abdel Nasser as one of the leaders of the Pan-African movement, aiding countries across the continent in their struggle for independence from the colonial powers. Similarly, political, social and economic support continues under the leadership of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
Additionally, since 2019, Egypt have exerted tremendous efforts in formulating and pushing forward more strategies towards Africa. Examples of these strategies include: participating in international forums and representing both the interests of Egypt and the continent of Africa, pushing for bigger and more connective infrastructure projects in Africa (as Egypt has done domestically); and finally enhancing the cooperation between the Nile Basin countries, to strive for water equality and security, while creating better terms for all countries involved.
2- Gentleman from the (Republic of Sierra Leone) draws on the similarities between the vision of the 2063 African Union Agenda (The Africa We Want) and the African unity visions of the late Libyan President Muammar Al-Gaddafi.
Q: With the 2063 agenda in mind and Egypt’s efforts, how different are those visions from those of the late President Gaddafi? And how can we strive for independence from the West and China in addressing our development challenges and achieving our collective African ambitions?
A: Both the African Union and Egypt will continue to work tirelessly in tandem to bring the vision of 2063 of Pan-African unity and sustainable development to fruition. In reality and in terms of experience, Egypt’s efforts in building lasting relations and connections within the African continent long predates that of Libya and its late president Gaddafi. In fostering such connections, Egypt follows a bottom-up approach (public diplomacy), where it goes beyond leadership at the top, and forms links between people on a societal level. Arguably, Gaddafi failed to recognize the importance of this approach and had often assumed a position of superiority in dealing with other African countries as the self-proclaimed “king of kings of Africa” which may have had adverse effects on his vision for African unity.
Alternatively, Egypt employs its soft power in creating stronger and deeper connections through public diplomacy, in areas of culture exchange and education. In fact, Egypt retains a long tradition of receiving students and young diplomats from all African countries, which in turn creates lasting links with Egypt and Egyptians long after returning to their countries of origin.
As for the second part of the question, fulfilling our collective African ambitions will continue to be a challenge, with the presence of ‘special’ interests in the continent from the West and China. However, working together and enhancing the capacity of one another will enable us to depend on each other rather than foreign powers.
We also must pay tribute to the great African leaders of the Pan-African thought and continue to learn lessons from their visions of African unity, self-sufficiency and reliance on one another. Leaders such as Nasser, Nkrumah, Nyerere, Mandela, Lumumba, Kenyatta and many more.
3- Gentleman from the (Federal Republic of Nigeria) asserts that terrorism in Africa requires the immediate attention of the whole continent, since (as mentioned earlier) without peace and stability, development cannot be fully achieved.
Q: Given Egypt’s experience in counter-terrorism, what lessons can it lend to the African countries combatting terrorism? And what areas of collaboration can expedite/improve this process?
A: Terrorism is a multilayered and complicated issue, at its roots exists fundamental thinking that uses religion texts and interpretations out of context, while claiming moral superiority by one group over the rest of society.
Over the years, Egypt have managed to significantly reduce the threat of terrorism through military operations, refining the standard of living and subduing radical thought with religious moderation.
Currently, terrorist groups exist in all regions of the African continent, from the remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood in North Africa, Al-Qaida in the Sahel countries, Al-Shabaab in Somalia to Boko Haram in Nigeria.
Therefore, global collaboration holds the key not only in combatting terrorism, but also eliminating it, if sincere efforts were made.
It is essential to cut the correct elements that feed terrorism, such as resources and radical thought. International pressure and accountability must be exerted over terrorism-sponsoring countries with a record of aiding terrorist groups through funding and providing a training ground or through turning a blind eye to their destabilizing impact on neighboring countries.
Today, terrorist groups have the resources to move faster than governments and move between borders with ease. These groups are decentralized and can establish separate entities/cells (franchises) far from their headquarters, which adds tremendously to the difficulty of combatting terrorism.
As for the second part of the question, collaborations between African countries in the areas of education and cultural exchange will significantly improve the prospects of counter-terrorism. To exercise public diplomacy and open all educational facilities as Egypt has done (higher education, military, diplomacy) to the youth of the African continent, to eradicate radical thought, build lasting connections and maintain a peaceful environment conducive to development and prosperity.
4- Lady from (the United Republic of Tanzania) confirms that the Egyptian strategy for pursuing development projects in Africa is in effect. Referencing the contracted Egyptian companies building the ‘Julius Nyerere’ Hydropower plant and Dam on the Rufiji River and the industrial complex in the Kigamboni district.
Q: What is Egypt doing to prevent the exploitation of less developed countries in development agreements, specifically when African countries import technology?
A: In comparison with the EU or China, Egypt has far fewer resources and yet it still does it share to help in the development of African countries without a hidden agenda or special interests. While China has vast resources and have contributed to major development and infrastructure projects throughout Africa (The Belt and Road initiative) it often employs its own labor force and retains knowledge of operation and maintenance. Hence, not only does this prevent the transfer of technology, but it also comes at the expense of building the capacity of the local talent, from construction workers, to engineers. Egypt on the other hand, puts capacity building of the local talent at the heart of its development strategies in Africa. Egypt also pushes for trilateral cooperation (between countries, aid agencies and the private sector) in development projects to ensure transparency and the fulfilment of development goals.
5-Gentleman from the (Republic of Kenya) contends the need for African solutions for African problems in reference to resolving differences over resources.
Q: Based on Egypt’s strategies of peace and stability, how can Egypt resolve disputes amicably over the Nile issues with Ethiopia?
A: Egypt have acted and continues to act in accordance with its strategies of peace and stability. For example, no threats were issued to intervene or sabotage the building of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Ethiopia. Instead, Egypt have continuously urged for diplomatic solutions and displayed understanding that the dam servers a purpose for electricity generation and will improve the livelihood of stakeholders and contributes to Ethiopia’s economy and yet, it should not restrict water flow to Egypt.
This message was clear in President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s address to the Ethiopian Parliament in 2015, urging for joint responsibility and mutual understanding of needs, to reach an agreement that attains mutual interests of water security for Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan.
Still, Ethiopia persists in pursuing full control over the Nile River and its water supply without any compromises, which is believed to go against the spirit of the charter of African Union. Egypt and Sudan in return continue to urge for a diplomatic solution and strictly adheres to warm relations with Ethiopia to reach a mutual agreement. Still, Egypt will not relinquish its right to water security and will continue to pursue regional support for that matter.