The coalition agreement of 1 December 2011 states the following: “In Central Africa, Belgium will continue to strive for the promotion of the rule of law by fighting against impunity, in particular with regard to sexual violence. Efforts will be made for natural resources to be utilised in a transparent manner for the benefit of the local population. Belgium will continue its efforts to support good governance and fight against corruption. Finally, it will encourage regional cooperation.”
In view of this declaration, the African continent as a whole, and Central Africa in particular, are high on the agenda of Belgium’s foreign policy. On this continent plagued by conflict and poverty, Belgium is committed to peace and stability, the respect of democracy and human rights, good economic governance, development cooperation and economic reconstruction. Belgium fosters regional cooperation, which is being given shape by the African Union and other regional organisations, and advocates the interests of African countries in international forums. Our country pays particular attention to civil society and NGOs, and supports them to a considerable extent. The authorities of conflicting States are urged by Belgium to strive to respect human rights and bring armed conflicts and impunity to an end. Finally, hopeful signs of economic progress in Africa over the past few years have not gone unnoticed. Belgium is concentrating increasing attention on the various aspects of economic diplomacy. The awarding of State-to-State loans to a number of African countries constitutes a good example of this point.
Belgium and Central Africa
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has come a long way since the 2003 peace agreement which marked the end of years of war and the beginning of a period of political transition. In 2006, the first democratic elections organised in over 40 years brought this transitional period to an end, after which the institutions of the third republic were able to get to work to implement an ambitious government agenda. In spite of all the efforts, a large number of challenges still have to be overcome, particularly in relation to maintaining and consolidating democratic gains within a stable state based on the rule of law, and offering opportunities for development to the entire population that are as broad as possible.
Through its multiple bilateral missions, its programmes and projects, as well as through raising awareness amongst international partners at EU and United Nations level, Belgium has spared no effort in helping the country respond to these challenges, therefore ensuring that the fate of the Congolese population remains on the national and international agenda.
Belgium’s priorities continue to be:
- Continuing to consolidate and develop democratic gains by supporting the electoral process currently underway. In order to consolidate the result of the 2006 elections, Belgium is making the organising of new free and transparent elections by the DRC between 2011 and 2013 a priority. Our country provided support for organising presidential and legislative elections in November 2011, most notably through the UNDP’s PACE [Electoral cycle support project] programme, and will continue to closely monitor the next stages in the process, particularly the provincial and local elections.
- The promotion of peace and stability in the DRC. Belgium continues to closely monitor current military operations and implementation of the peace agreement and has emphasised the utmost importance of reforming the security sector. Our country will proceed with its bilateral efforts (in particular the creation of “Rapid Reaction Forces”) while continuing to argue for effective harmonisation of the different international efforts. Belgium will also continue its efforts as part of EUSEC, EUPOL and MONUSCO and will continue to contribute to relevant discussions in the various international forums.
- Calling for the establishment of a stable state based on the rule of law, where combating impunity and safeguarding human rights are priorities. In this context, the issue of sexual violence, especially in the Eastern DRC, is of particular interest to Belgium. In addition to its diplomatic efforts and support for NGOs active in the area, Belgium’s contribution to the Stabilisation and Reconstruction Plan for Eastern DRC (STAREC) should also be mentioned.
- Promoting good economic management and transparency in the DRC. Belgium is playing a pioneering role in efforts by the international community aimed at promoting good governance and transparency in the DRC, particularly in the key sectors of mining, transport and public finances. Belgian efforts to combat illegal exploitation of natural resources in the DRC are also in keeping with this policy. Our country is delighted to see that the efforts invested by the DRC to reach the completion point of the World Bank’s Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, (HIPC) paid off with success in 2010. The country was, in this way, able to secure a discount of over 80% in its external debt, with the resulting opening up of new opportunities. While still extremely limited, Belgium notes with satisfaction initiatives recently taken by the DRC to improve the business climate, such as its membership of OHADA (Organization for the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa). The entry into force on 1 January 2012 of the double taxation agreement between Belgium and the DRC also opens up new prospects for Belgian investors.
- Contributing to economic and social reconstruction through a substantial development cooperation programme. At the end of 2009, a new cooperation programme was negotiated which, in line with DRC priorities and international agreements, will concentrate more support than in the past on three key sectors: rural tracks and ferries (to open up rural areas), agriculture and training.
Considerable progress has been made in Rwanda since 1994, in spite of the scars of the genocide which continue to weigh on society. The country seems determined to look to the future and pursue proactive socio-economic development policies. In order to deal with significant population density, Rwanda is aiming to diversify its economy, currently highly dependent on agriculture, and orientate it towards services.
Conscious 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 receives the second highest amount of Belgian bilateral aid. This aid will continue to be tied to the pursuit of an important dialogue, aimed at, amongst other things, best ensuring political freedoms, freedom of the press and the status of NGOs. In this way, a new bilateral cooperation programme has been agreed for the period 2011-2014 and will focus on health, energy and decentralisation.
Belgium has also made the restoration of peace and stability in the Great Lakes region a priority. In this respect, our country is very pleased with the rapprochement between Kigali and Kinshasa as well as the regional initiatives. Belgium will continue to push for cooperation between the countries in the region whether as part of CEPGL [Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries], CIRGL [International Conference on the Great Lakes Region] or within the promising East African Community.
Finally, Belgium is mindful of the need for justice and reconciliation in Rwanda. Our country has supported the establishment of “gacaca” tribunals. Belgium was the first foreign country to prosecute and sentence, on its own territory, individuals who were involved in the 1994 genocide, something which it is continuing to do to this day. There is intensive judicial cooperation between Belgium and Rwanda.
Bilateral relations between Belgium and Burundi are characterised by their long duration as well as their richness and diversity.
After many years of civil war, Burundi is now firmly committed to the path of peace consolidation. The 2010 elections, generally deemed free and fair by the international community, brought the transitional phase to an end. Nevertheless, one of the opposition parties, in boycotting certain phases of the election, excluded itself from the parliamentary process. Belgium, the EU and all of the international community continue to advocate for a resumption of political dialogue and the normalisation of a multi-party system in the country. It is particularly important that the fundamental balances (especially with regard to ethnicity) resulting from the Arusha agreement are not cast into doubt and that a transitional justice process is established by the authorities.
Belgium believes that it will be difficult to consolidate peace without supporting the country’s development. This is why it sets great store by continued investment by the international community. Belgium is currently Burundi’s biggest bilateral donor. This aid is primarily intended for the agricultural, health and education sectors, with good governance being a cross-disciplinary priority. Belgium is very pleased with the efforts made by the Burundian authorities to revitalise economic activity and trade and stabilise public finances. In this regard, Belgian support most notably takes the form of assisting Burundi’s integration into the regional East African Community organisation and calling for an improved business climate in Burundi, which is still dogged by high levels of corruption.
Belgium and other African countries
Belgium also pursues an active policy – either directly or through the European Union and other multilateral forums – promoting peace and development in other countries in Africa. In this regard, Belgium chairs the UN's special Peace building Commission, dealing with the Central African Republic, a country which hardly features in the international news but which, like its neighbours the DRC, Chad and Sudan, faces serious difficulties.
It is also significant that sub-Saharan Africa is home to thirteen of Belgium’s eighteen state partners in the area of development cooperation.
The African Union
Since its inception, the African Union (AU) has shown itself to be an institution with a key role in finding solutions to the many crises affecting Africa (African ownership). Conflict prevention and crisis management are the current priorities of this pan-African institution. The AU is a player making its presence felt with regard to the major issues facing Africa, and one we will have to rely on into the future as the main African point of contact. Against this backdrop, it seems fitting that Belgium envisages adopting structural measures to also establish a bilateral partnership with the AU. It is within this context that the Minister for Foreign Affairs regularly attends the annual summit of the organisation in Addis Ababa, the headquarters of the AU. These visits also offer the chance to flesh out details of Belgian support for the AU via projects focusing primarily on the strengthening of institutions.
The West African region is also an area of concern to Belgium. This is why Belgium has kept a close eye on the delicate and violent situation in the Ivory Coast which has prevailed in recent years and in particular the post-elections crisis after the November 2010 presidential elections.
Minister Steven Vanackere travelled to the Ivory Coast in April 2011 to attend the swearing in ceremony of the President-elect, A. Ouattara. President Ouattara conducted a successful official visit to Brussels in November 2011. The vitality of the economic and trade links between our two countries is also worthy of note.
As regards electoral processes in the region, the Senegalese presidential election (March-April 2012), initially marked by a tense political environment, turned into a real democratic success story.
Belgium, particularly within the context of the EU and the adoption of its strategy focused on development and security for the region, has given particular attention to the deterioration in the security situation in the Sahel which is increasingly becoming a grey area. The rise in organised criminality and the worsening terrorist threat are contributing to the destabilisation of a region of the Sahel which is one of the poorest in the world. The collapse of the Libyan regime has also considerably accelerated this destabilisation.
Belgium continues to be extremely mindful, from both a political and humanitarian perspective, of developments in this region which includes two concentration countries of its bilateral cooperation (Niger and Mali – which the coup d’état against the regime of President Touré in March 2012 plunged into chaos by accelerating the advance of Touareg rebels and Islamic groups in the North of the country).
The western part of Africa constitutes an important area of action for Belgian development cooperation. Furthermore, our relations with West Africa are solid and close, based on many years of understanding.
Belgium’s excellent bilateral relations with Benin with regard to military and development cooperation have been confirmed once again. Various ministerial visits have taken place in recent years and new avenues for thought have been developed, at parliamentary level, for instance. At the request of the Beninese authorities, Belgium funded a parliamentary observation mission of the AWEPA, led by the current President of the Belgian Senate, Sabine de Bethune, on the occasion of the 2011 presidential elections. The President of the Chamber of Representatives, André Flahaut, visited Benin in April 2012.
Belgium is also paying the necessary attention to the economic potential of this region and the positive political and economic developments in countries such as Nigeria and Ghana. At the same time, new problems are rearing their heads, such as the increase of terror in the north of Nigeria. Belgium is closely monitoring this preoccupying trend, both in view of its own diplomatic proximity on site and in the framework of the European policy.
East Africa and the Horn of Africa
Belgium is also attentive to the situation in the Horn of Africa, one of the most underdeveloped regions of the world, and which is also burdened with the violence of various conflicts.
Belgium is supporting the ongoing peace process in Somalia, and more particularly the implementation of the 2008 Djibouti Peace Agreement. In this context, the signing in September 2011 of a Roadmap due to lead, among other things, to the adoption of a new Constitution, which is a significant step forwards. The EU has also been seen to be very active with regard to Somalia over the past years. For instance, it took on a major share of the funding for AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia for peace. There are also CSDP actions such as the EU NAVFOR Operation Alatalanta (in the fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia, in which Belgium has already taken part several times with a frigate, and will be contributing once again at the end of 2012), and the EUTM (training of Somali recruits, in which Belgian soldiers also took part). There is also currently, concerning Somalia, a third CSDP operation in the pipeline, which aims to contribute toward building the capacities of the region in maritime terms. Finally, our country also gave several million euros’ worth of emergency and food aid for the benefit of the victims of famine in and around Somalia.
In past years, Belgium has been keeping a close eye on developments in Sudan. Minister Vanackere, for instance, held talks in July 2011 with his Sudanese counterpart, Mr Ali Karti, and meetings took place in 2010 and 2011 with political leaders from the south. The declaration of independence made in South Sudan on 9 July 2011 was the final element of the implementation of the ‘comprehensive peace agreement’. In March 2012, a meeting took place between Minister Reynders and his South Sudanese counterpart, Nhial Deng Nhial. Some questions remain unresolved between both Sudans, such as the definition of the borders, the status of the oil-rich Abyei region, and the allocation of income from oil. In this respect, our country will continue to offer unrelenting support to the efforts made by AU mediator Mbeki. Until a hopefully speedy and definitive resolution is found, our country will offer financial contributions to several peace-building projects in South Sudan. Specifically with regard to Sudan, Belgium has also provided considerable humanitarian aid in previous years to affected people in Darfur.
Reinforced cooperation with South Africa has continued unabated these last years, as borne out by the official visit of President Zuma to Belgium in September 2010 and the extensive visit of Minister for Foreign Affairs Steven Vanackere to South Africa in October and November of the same year. These meetings are in keeping with the results of the bilateral Joint Commission, the last meeting of which took place in November 2009. Flemish Minister-President Peeters also visited South Africa in August 2011, together with an economic delegation. Earlier, in 2006, a princely mission had already taken place, which had been able to count on considerable interest and significantly contributed to reinforcing economic ties that had been developing over the years between both countries. This success is one of the reasons why a subsequent Belgian economic mission led by Prince Philippe is scheduled for October 2013.
Our relationship with South Africa covers a wide range of areas. Political dialogue, particularly with regard to peace, security and development in Africa, especially in the Great Lakes Region, and the economic and development cooperation are priorities in this respect. For Belgium, South Africa is an important partner with which it works towards peace, security and democracy in Africa. In so doing, both countries contributed significantly to the organisation of the elections in the DRC at the end of 2011. In economic terms, South Africa is Belgium’s main trade partner in Sub-Saharan Africa. Activities cover various sectors and companies, including the following major areas: the port, diamond and energy sectors. South Africa is also one of Belgium’s partner countries in development cooperation.
Belgium, with regard to Zimbabwe, supports Europe’s approach, that consists of fully endorsing the efforts of the SADC and continuing work on normalising relations with the Government of National Unity. The restrictive measures that affect individuals or individual legal persons who bear responsibility for violence in the country are still in force, even though there is talk of them being somewhat relaxed. The decision made in November 2011 in the framework of the Kimberley Process consisted in removing barriers to the export of diamonds from the Marange region.
During his visit in December 2011 to Belgium, the Zimbabwean Minister of Finance, Mr Biti, held talks with various EU discussion partners and shed more light on Zimbabwe’s budget. In any case, Belgium will continue to support Zimbabwe at a humanitarian level.
Belgium is also active in various ways in other countries of southern Africa. In Mozambique, for instance, apart from bilateral development cooperation, a number of NGOs are also present, including APOPO (Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development), which is committed to eliminating landmines with the help of African giant pouched rats. Princess Astrid visited APOPO in Mozambique in June 2011 in her capacity as Honorary President.