EU chief seeks new approach to Africa to counter Russia

The EU must engage more with African countries, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday (13 September) arguing the bloc would need a ‘new strategic approach’ to Africa as Russia makes diplomatic strides on the continent.

“This is of direct concern for Europe – for our security and prosperity,” von der Leyen said, accusing Russia of stirring chaos in the Sahel and saying military coups destabilise the region making it prone to risk of terrorism.

Von der Leyen insisted the EU needs “to show the same unity of purpose towards Africa as we have shown for Ukraine”.

“Think about the Sahel region, one of the poorest yet fastest growing demographically,” von der Leyen told EU lawmakers.

“The succession of military coups will make the region more unstable for years ahead. Russia is both influencing and benefiting from the chaos,” she added.

“We need to focus on cooperation with legitimate governments and regional organisations,” she said.

Von der Leyen said Brussels would now work on drawing up “a new strategic approach” ahead of a future summit with the African Union.

Her comments come after the bloc was forced to discuss a strategy to deal with the aftermath of the coup in Niger in late August which had blindsided the EU, and reassess the bloc’s approach to the Sahel region.

Having seemingly lost its last remaining major partner in the Sahel — since 2020, there have also been coups in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali — the EU has started to ponder its next steps as it haemorrhages influence in the region. The bloc is also facing a significant spike in anti-French sentiment in former colonies in Africa.
At the same time, Moscow – with the extension of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group – has made strides in recent years in strengthening ties with African governments, with Wagner mercenaries playing a key role in propping up a string of leaders.

The EU has also struggled to convince African nations to come out against the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine even as Russia’s invasion has sent the price of grain higher.

As part of the EU’s appeal to the region, Von der Leyen also hailed a project to build an India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, signed last week at the G20 leader’s summit, as proof that the EU’s Global Gateway is making a “real difference.”

The project aims to link up India, the Arabian Gulf and Europe through rail and port connections.