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Belgium is committed to peace and stability, respect for democracy and human rights, good governance, development cooperation and economic reconstruction in Africa. Belgium boosts regional cooperation through the African Union and other regional organisations and advocates international forums in the interest of African countries. Our country pays special attention and gives strong support to civil society and NGOs.
The encouraging signs of economic progress in Africa in recent years have not gone unnoticed. Belgium is paying increasing attention to the various aspects of economic diplomacy. The granting of State-to-State Loans to a number of African countries is one example of this.
Angola is also a focus of interest for Belgium, not only as a partner on regional issues but also as a trading partner like aviation and diamond sectors.
The situation in Burundi is a key concern of our foreign policy, given the historical relations between our two countries. Burundi entered a political crisis in 2015 over the issue of President Nkurunziza's third mandate. The repression of demonstrations against this third mandate and the attacks on political freedoms have prompted the international community to react. For example, the European Union adopted measures in 2016 to suspend aid under Article 96 to encourage the Burundian authorities to make progress in the areas of political openness and human rights. This progress has not been made to date, but the EU and its Member States are working to re-launch dialogue under Article 96.
Moreover, the election of a new President, Évariste Ndayishimiye, in May 2020 opens up opportunities for improving the situation and normalising our relations. Despite the difficulties, Belgium remains highly committed to Burundi. It is its main bilateral partner in terms of development cooperation. Belgian cooperation in Burundi focuses on the health, agriculture and education sectors. Many Belgian NGOs are also working in Burundi. Drawing on this network and its in-depth knowledge of Burundi, Belgium is playing a leading role in the international community's efforts to bring the country out of its political and economic crisis.
Central African Republic
Belgium also supports stabilisation and pacification efforts in the Central African Republic. Benefiting from its presence on the United Nations Security Council (2019-2020), our country has contributed to the introduction of an arms embargo and the development of a sanctions mechanism against those who hinder the peace process and the work of the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). In addition, a training and advisory mission has been set up under the aegis of the EU and with the active participation of Belgium on the ground. ENABEL is active in the gold and diamond sector and is working with UNDP and EU programmes to support good governance and prepare for the legislative and presidential elections in early 2021. Belgian magistrates are available to sit on the Special Criminal Court currently being established, and our country is co-financing mediation efforts between the religious communities in Bangui and between the 14 armed groups that signed the Bangui Peace Agreement in February 2019.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Following his early 2019 victory in the long-awaited elections, new President Félix Tshisekedi announced a reform programme to address the many challenges facing the DRC. This ambitious but necessary programme is aimed at improving living conditions for the population in the east of the country in both socio-economic and security terms. Measures were also swiftly adopted to give greater latitude to the political opposition and civil society in the exercise of their fundamental rights. However, huge challenges remain in several areas and require sustained attention and decisive action by the new Congolese Government.
Belgium and the DRC maintain a privileged historical link due to their shared history. Indeed, it was in June 2020, so 60 years ago, that the independence of the DRC put an end to the Belgian colonial administration. Today, a rich and multifaceted relationship remains, both between official Belgian and Congolese institutions and between the citizens of the two countries. This cooperation takes place in the economic, political, cultural and military fields among others. DRC is also the main partner country of Belgian development cooperation, and Belgium is the third largest bilateral donor in the country.
Belgian policy towards the DRC has long been characterised by the promotion and support of initiatives aimed at improving the socio-economic situation of the population, promoting peace, stability, good governance and transparency, working to improve the business climate, consolidating the rule of law, respecting human rights and combating impunity.
Belgium pursues these objectives through a partnership of equals with the DRC, based on mutual respect and within the framework of fair and open dialogue. At the same time, Belgium spares no effort in raising awareness among its international partners in the EU and the United Nations, with a view to helping the country meet its challenges. Belgium also endeavours to systematically put the fate of the Congolese population back on the national and international agenda.
In recent years, a special military collaboration has been established between Belgium and Gabon and training manoeuvres are held every two years in the Gabonese jungle under the name "Tropical Storm". The military hospital in Libreville has well-trained military doctors and surgeons thanks to medical-military cooperation with the ULB and the Brussels university hospitals.
Cameroon is traditionally an important economic partner and a symbol of political stability in the part of Central Africa bordering the Sahel (Lake Chad). The country is facing extremism in the Sahel and hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighbouring countries. Since 2016, demonstrations in Cameroon's English-speaking western provinces have escalated into armed separatist violence. Belgium has offered its community expertise and committed to support Swiss diplomatic efforts and facilitation through the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Geneva.
Republic of Congo
Belgium reopened its embassy in the Republic of Congo in 2018. Stability in the wider Great Lakes region is conducive to the resumption of active diplomatic relations with neighbouring ICGLR Member States. Economic exchanges with Congo-Brazzaville have been the subject of renewed interest in recent years, and plans to build major traffic infrastructures between the two capitals on either side of the Congo River make the region an attractive investment pool.
Considerable progress has been made in Rwanda since 1994, despite the scars of genocide that continue to be a burden on society. The country shows a determination to look to the future and is pursuing a proactive policy of socio-economic development. To cope with its high population density, Rwanda is aiming to diversify its economy, which is currently heavily dependent on agriculture, by moving it towards services.
Aware of the close link between peace and democratic stability, on the one hand, and socio-economic development, on the other, Belgium intends to maintain its development cooperation programmes with Rwanda, which is the second largest recipient of our bilateral aid. This aid will continue to go hand-in-hand with major dialogue, particularly to better guarantee political freedoms, press freedom and the situation of NGOs.
The new bilateral cooperation programme started on 1 July 2019 and was concluded for the period 2019-2024. This programme will focus on three sectors: health, agriculture and urbanisation.
Belgium has also made the return of peace and stability in the Great Lakes region a priority. In that regard, we welcome the rapprochement between Kigali and Kinshasa, as well as regional initiatives. Belgium will continue to boost cooperation among the countries of the region, whether within the framework of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) or within the East African Community.
Lastly, Belgium is attentive to justice and reconciliation in Rwanda. Our country supported the establishment of the Gacaca courts. On its territory, Belgium was the first foreign country to prosecute and convict persons involved in the 1994 genocide and it continues to pursue this approach today. There is intense judicial cooperation between Belgium and Rwanda.
The Sahel (understood here as the G5 Sahel countries: Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) is one of the two priority areas of attention for Belgium's African policy. In view of the multidimensional crisis facing the Sahelian States (security, development, humanitarian, political, climate and now health), Belgium is fully committed to giving them its full support, together with its European and international partners. Belgium implements its commitment to the Sahel via a "global approach", whereby it seeks to develop coherence and synergies between the action of the various departments and other federal actors (Foreign Affairs, Development Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid, Defence, Interior, Police, Justice, etc.) that are involved in our Sahel policy in the broad sense.
Belgium has strengthened its network of diplomatic posts in the region. Since 2018 it has had three embassies in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. These three countries are partners in its development cooperation, whose action on the ground focuses on the re-establishment of the rule of law, the restoration of basic social services (health, education and training, internal security and justice), local development and livestock farming. A large part of Belgian humanitarian aid is also devoted to the Sahel. The region is also our Defence service's first area of operations. In 2020, some 200 military personnel were involved in multilateral missions in Mali (MINUSMA) and bilateral missions in Niger and Burkina Faso.
Belgium's commitment in the Sahel is fully in line with the European Union's external action, in particular through Belgian participation in common defence and security policy missions, both civilian and military, and through financial participation in the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa. Belgium is also active on Sahelian issues at the UN, where as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (2019-2020), it contributed to the discussions on renewing the mandate of the UNMISMA mission in Mali and on the situation in the region.
Coastal West Africa
The West Coast region of Africa remains a significant concern for our country. Belgium's relations with these West African coastal States are increasingly close and particular attention is paid to political developments in these countries. The vitality of economic and commercial links, with Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, etcetera, and Belgian development cooperation action in Guinea, Senegal and Benin, deserve to be highlighted.
Belgium's "integrated approach" to Benin makes this small West African State a Belgian "bridgehead" in the Gulf of Guinea. In 2018, the "Autonomous Port of Cotonou" also concluded a management agreement with the "Port of Antwerp International". This type of agreement can be the basis for improving the investment climate. The new bilateral cooperation agreement with Benin also focuses on port development. As the waters of the Gulf of Guinea, a crucial shipping route for international trade between Africa and Europe, have become some of the most dangerous in the world, Belgium has decided to join G7++ Friends of the Gulf of Guinea to strengthen the Yaoundé inter-regional maritime safety process (between the coastal States of the Gulf of Guinea in Central and West Africa). Belgium is also contributing to security inland, with the Belgian Federal Police contributing to the reform of police services in Benin and involved - along with ENABEL - in European projects to support the internal security structures of coastal States to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorism from the Sahel.
In Guinea, a Development Cooperation partner country, the Belgian Office became an Embassy in February 2018.
In November 2019, Belgium and Côte d'Ivoire co-organised (in Dakar, Senegal) a UNOWAS/United Nations Office for West Africa Workshop. Belgium is an important European economic partner for the country. A royal trade mission in October 2017 brought together 135 companies, and there has been a series of regional missions. Many Belgian firms are present in the country (service providers, port sector, agro-industry, etc.). Bio Invest opened a branch in Abidjan in 2019. With 40% of global production, Côte d'Ivoire is by far the world's largest producer of cocoa and exports significant amounts of beans and semi-processed products to Belgium. The multi-partner platform of the Belgian initiative Beyond Chocolate, which brings together chocolate manufacturers, distribution, authorities, universities and NGOs, as well as impact investors (including BIO Invest), aims to produce 100% sustainable Belgian chocolate by 2025 and, by 2030, a decent income for all producers in the value chain and an end to deforestation.
Nigeria is the most important player in the region, as it is the continent's largest economy and will be the third most populous country in the world by 2050. The Lagos State economy alone is the third largest on the African continent. The capital, Abuja, is home to the West African Regional Economic Cooperation Organization (ECOWAS), an institution that has recently gained credibility through its influence on regional integration, democratisation and conflict management. All these reasons justify Belgium's presence in this federal "superstate".
In Senegal, Belgium has been a development cooperation stakeholder for more than 50 years. The cooperation programme (health, entrepreneurship, training) runs from 2019 to 2023 in parallel with the "Plan for an Emerging Senegal". Senegal is also an important tourist destination in the region. Air services between Belgium and Senegal are provided by direct scheduled flights by Brussels Airlines. Belgium has a strong commercial presence (port sector, among others) and the royal mission planned for June 2020 was postponed to 2021 due to the international health situation. Belgium also participated in the Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in November 2019.
Belgium is also focusing its attention on East Africa, one of the most disadvantaged and conflict-ridden regions in the world.
The evolution of the political process in Ethiopia has attracted Belgium's attention, particularly since the appointment of new Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy in 2018. The relationship between our two countries has a long history, and the trade component should not be overlooked. Ethiopian Airlines flies to Brussels and Liège (cargo) and several Belgian investors are present in the field, particularly in the horticultural, fruit and brewing sectors. In the area of cooperation, there is important university cooperation (Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad/VLIR-UOS) and the active presence of the Institute of Tropical Medicine. Belgium has also regularly co-financed and participated in the annual Tana High Level Forum on Security in Africa organised by Ethiopia.
Kenya's position as a hub for Central Africa and a United Nations centre on the African continent corresponds to the role Belgium wants to play within Europe. Kenya is Finexpo's first country of action. Through this mechanism, Belgium is financing a portfolio of some fifteen projects for a total of more than €200 million (water collection stations, fire engines, hospital waste processing machines, etc.). Belgium is also present in Kenya through its indirect (vocational training, Africalia, etc.) and university (VLIR-UOS.) cooperation channels. The VLIZ/Vlaams Instituut voor de zee is also active in the country. Her Majesty Queen Mathilde visited Kenya in 2018 as Honorary President of UNICEF Belgium, in the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The EU has been very active on the Somalia dossier in recent years. For example, the EU has taken over a significant part of the financing of AMISOM, the AU peacekeeping force, which has been extended until February 2021. There are also EU NAVFOR operations (combating piracy along the Somali coast, in which Belgium has also participated on several occasions by sending a frigate) and EUTM (training of Somali soldiers, in which Belgian soldiers have also participated in the past). Moreover, our country has also been active through cooperation between our Belgian police and UNSOM. Lastly, our country has been providing financial assistance for food and emergency aid to Somalia and its neighbouring regions for many years now, in particular through the FAO, UNDP, ICRC, WFP and UNHCR."
Our presence at the UNSC (2019-2020) has increased our focus on Sudan, a country of 40 million people where the UNAMID mission is soon to give way to a new political mission, called UNITAMS. The issue of the pacification of areas of Sudan, such as Darfur, Blue Nile or Kordofan, is an important condition for a successful transition. Transitional justice is also an issue to which our country is paying particular attention. Belgium has committed to assisting Sudan with drinking water in several stages (from 2007 to the present day), thanks to untied state loans. This has led to 2,678 pumps for the supply of drinking water being provided to remote locations. This Belgian support was reiterated at the Sudan Partnership Conference in Berlin on 25 June 2020.
Belgium is accredited to the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Belgium is also active in several other countries in southern Africa, including Mozambique, where, in addition to its bilateral development cooperation, it also supports four NGOs. Her Majesty Queen Mathilde visited Mozambique in 2019 in her capacity as Ambassador for the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Since the inauguration of President Cyril Ramaphosa, bilateral relations between Belgium and South Africa, which cover a wide range of fields (academic, cultural, economic, cooperation, etc.), have experienced a new boost. The successive visits of Ministers Reynders and De Croo to South Africa and the visit of President Ramaphosa to Brussels in 2018 testify to this new impetus. South Africa is both an important trading partner and a key interlocutor for the Great Lakes region; it also sat with Belgium as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2019-2020. It is primarily for these reasons that many Belgian players have chosen to establish a representation in South Africa: Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT), the Walloon Export-Investment Agency (AWEX), Wallonia-Brussels International (WBI), and a General Representation of the Flemish Government. In addition to daily contacts, a Belgian indaba (conference) is held once a year to bring together all the Belgian partners in South Africa for strategic consultations.
Belgium contributes to South African development through Belgian NGOs, such as the Flemish Red Cross and VVOB, and through its contributions to multilateral organisations. The Belgian community in South Africa numbers around 10,000 people, with a considerable number of Belgian companies investing in the country.
Belgium supports the European approach to Zimbabwe and continues to support the local authorities in the humanitarian field.
The African Union (AU) has demonstrated since its inception that it has become a key institution in the search for solutions to the many crises facing Africa (African ownership). Conflict prevention and crisis management are now the priorities of the pan-African organisation. The AU is a player that is asserting itself in the major issues facing Africa and in the future will be relied on as Africa's primary point of contact. In this context, it seemed appropriate that Belgium should also consider taking structural measures to establish a bilateral partnership with the AU. As a result, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has regularly attended the AU's annual Summit in Addis Ababa, the AU Headquarters. These visits also made it possible to achieve Belgian support to the AU through projects aimed mainly at institution building. Our Ambassador in Addis Ababa, accredited to the AU, is following the issues tackled by the organisation very closely.
In addition, since 2014, many sub-Saharan African states have received the "training in diplomatic practice" organised by the Egmont Institute and consisting of a series of general or thematic (anti-corruption, mediation, etc.) training courses. At the end of 2019, AU officials experienced this programme for the first time, and the same will be true for 2020.