Europe’s New Mission in Africa

The EU’s military mission to ensure free and fair elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has shown what the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) can achieve in Africa. A contingent of roughly 2,500 troops from 22 countries went to the DRC in mid-2003 to support United Nations troops, and provided a rapid reaction force that snuffed out disorder in Kinshasa before it could erupt into full-blown mayhem. Three years later, Operation Artemis, a comparable EU mission in the eastern province of Ituri, again demonstrated Europe’s resolve to use its military capability to underpin a long-term peace process.

For some people, raw military might is the only true measure of power. But the 16 EU military missions that have now been carried out in support of the ESDP have much more to commend them. Large parts of Africa need support, and Europe can and must lend a hand. Nor is the EU’s new style of political-military engagement in Africa a throwback to colonialism.

True, many African countries currently suffer from instability, state failure, regional strife, violent internal political competition, and other assorted ills, including, massacres and large-scale brutality, civil war, massive movements of refugees, economic disruption, and environmental damage. Yet the big picture in Africa is not uniformly bleak. Some African countries are comparatively stable and prosperous, and the Continent possesses a youthful population that will soon top one billion people, abundant mineral reserves, and an inherent dynamism.

At the same time, we in Europe cannot afford to dismiss Africa’s troubles as if they had no impact on our own societies. The European project has been built on values that we deem to be universal, and we must make a very real effort to uphold them, not only as a moral imperative, but also because it is in our strategic interest. The EU is by far the largest export market for African goods, and it also offers a home to large communities from almost every African country. Likewise, a large number of European citizens and dependents are scattered throughout Africa.