The Africa Report - - CONTENTS -

Are Europe’s vot­ers grow­ing up?

Like any self-re­spect­ing West Africa trick­ster, Anansi reg­is­tered to vote in elec­tions in both France and Bri­tain. As he duly ex­er­cised his demo­cratic duty as a global ci­ti­zen, he ru­mi­nated on what Europe’s chang­ing po­lit­i­cal land­scape might por­tend for Africa. Euro­peans are touch­ingly naïve when it comes to elec­tion se­cu­rity. You turn up at the polling sta­tion with­out any ID, and the se­ri­ous-look­ing of­fi­cial asks you where you live and then solemnly hands you a bal­lot pa­per and a pen­cil. You are then di­rected to an open ta­ble to choose your can­di­date. A po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist friend in Lon­don’s trendy Not­ting Hill is con­vinced that last year’s ref­er­en­dum vote to leave the EU was en­tirely fraud­u­lent. But the up­side, he told Anansi over a pint of bit­ter at the Uxbridge Arms, is that sud­denly Euro­pean elec­tions are con­se­quen­tial. Vot­ers in both France and Bri­tain in May and June went to the polls against a back­drop of ter­ror at­tacks and deep­en­ing so­cial di­vi­sions. Days af­ter Bri­tain’s elec­tions, a fire broke out at a tower block with a loss of at least 79 lives. Many of the res­i­dents were refugees from the Mid­dle East and Africa. Most poignantly, the first con­firmed death was of a young Syr­ian who had fled his coun­try’s in­ferno for what he had hoped would be sanc­tu­ary in Europe. The Royal Bor­ough of Kens­ing­ton & Chelsea, which owns the block, is one of the rich­est lo­cal author­i­ties in Europe. It has treated fam­i­lies dis­placed by the fire with soul-de­stroy­ing par­si­mony. This fol­lows years of coun­cil of­fi­cials haugh­tily dis­miss­ing res­i­dents’ con­cerns about the build­ing’s safety. This ab­so­lutely avoid­able tragedy re­minded vot­ers in Bri­tain why they had de­fied the wishes of a hand­ful of tax-dodg­ing bil­lion­aire me­dia barons and voted for a hu­mil­i­a­tion of the in­cum­bent Con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter, Theresa May. Now head­ing a mi­nor­ity govern­ment, May has to rely on the votes of a dozen right-wing Ul­ster Union­ists to pass laws. Af­ter her elec­toral de­ba­cle, May had to field a call from an amused Brus­sels man­darin in­quir­ing when she might be ready to start ne­go­ti­a­tions to leave the EU. The French term ‘ em­merdée’ neatly cov­ers her po­lit­i­cal predica­ment. Not that the rest of Europe has much to smile about. French vot­ers faced a se­ri­ous choice be­tween the ‘ex­treme cen­tre’ un­der Em­manuel Macron, recher­ché so­cial­ism and work­ers’ rights un­der Jean-luc Mé­len­chon and a hy­brid of Mus­solini and Ber­lus­coni un­der la famille Le Pen. Vot­ers un­en­thu­si­as­ti­cally avoided the worst, but Pres­i­dent Macron’s cel­e­bra­tions have been dis­creet. Preter­nat­u­ral pol­icy an­a­lyst and poly­math though he is, Macron’s work­load will be over­whelm­ingly to fix the econ­omy. In­ter­na­tional pol­icy, es­pe­cially African mat­ters, will come a dis­tant sec­ond. Al­ready, there is an ugly bat­tle be­tween France and the US over who fi­nances a five-coun­try coun­tert­er­ror force in the Sa­hel. African lead­ers are wisely turn­ing their eyes to­wards Ger­many, Europe’s strong­est econ­omy, which is or­gan­is­ing a sea­son of devel­op­ment sum­mits this year ahead of a grand Euro-africa con­vo­ca­tion in Oc­to­ber. Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel has pro­moted a se­ries of trade and investment com­pacts with Côte d’ivoire, Ghana and Tu­nisia, Ethiopia, Morocco, Rwanda and Sene­gal. Sit­ting on the big­gest na­tional devel­op­ment fund in Europe, Ger­many is fi­nanc­ing a new net­work of re­new­able power projects and pros­e­lytis­ing on how ap­pren­tice­ship pro­grammes could speed up Africa’s in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and cut job­less­ness. It was music to the ears of African trade ne­go­tia­tors when Merkel con­ceded in June that there were grave flaws with Europe’s Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship Agree­ments. Be­fore this gets too Teu­tonic and starry-eyed, re­mem­ber that Ger­many has its own elec­tions this year. But the good news is that the main choice is be­tween the cred­i­ble Merkel and a can­di­date who is still more lib­eral and in­ter­na­tion­al­ist, So­cial Demo­crat leader Martin Schulz. So don’t seek a refund for that Lufthansa ticket just yet.

Sud­denly Euro­pean elec­tions are con­se­quen­tial. Vot­ers in both France and Bri­tain went to the polls against a back­drop of ter­ror at­tacks and so­cial di­vi­sions

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