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The Maastricht Diplomat

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[Al Jazeera] Eswatini versus the African Union - A Case for African Independence

The Eswatini representative at the African Union (AU) is facing increasing backlash for their strict refusal to cooperate with China on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Eswatini proves unwilling to compromise on principles of freedom and independence - setting a powerful example for national pride and African unity, but at the same time disrupting the productiveness of the four-day summit. 

The AU currently convenes in Maastricht (Netherlands) to discuss future proceedings on cooperation with China. The BRI, a Chinese-led infrastructure investment project connecting China to the African continent via several new trade routes, represents the central focus of the debate. 

The majority of delegations on Friday highlight the significant economic opportunities that come with China’s investments. The main arguments are job opportunities and integration in global trade relationships. Worries about debt traps and unequal power dynamics have been largely left aside in the conversation. 

In this regard, the Eswatini delegation emerges as a lonely defendant of African political and economic independence. In intensive discussions, the representative remains unyielding in their opposition against cooperation with China, both within and beyond the BRI. Eswatini justifies its stark stance by referring to low payment rates and bad working conditions in employment created through the BRI, and argues that the debt towards China will leave the African continent powerless against the investor. 

Members of the AU are increasingly frustrated with the static nature of the discussion. A delegate told Al Jazeera that “Eswatini makes their diplomatic problem our problem”. The country’s antagonism towards China is speculated to link to Eswatini’s status as the last African country to recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty, disregarding AU’s interests for the benefit of diplomatic ties. 

The discussion within the AU keeps circling back to the Eswatini refusal to cooperate with China, and concrete decisions on future proceedings are overshadowed by a fundamental debate on freedom and independence. “Eswatini has been disruptive, rather than productive”, the delegate elaborates. Instead, the country should find a better way to balance domestic interests with those of the AU.

Chairperson Ana Nalbach acknowledges complaints over a lack of productiveness of the debate but emphasizes the importance of creating a common understanding of fundamental principles within the AU, supporting Eswatini’s right to stand up for its own national interests. 

The Eswatini delegation itself expresses disappointment over the lack of support by other nations. Expectations before the summit had been quite different, the uncritical eye towards China rather surprising. Facing several accusations of refusal to cooperate, the country’s representation feels misunderstood by its fellow members of the AU. The aim is to defend African unity against foreign influence, not hindering it, the delegate affirms.

The AU summit has now reached half-time, and will extend the discussion in the two coming days. The fundamental divide in the room creates a difficult dynamic, which to resolve poses a serious challenge for all participating members. Sofar, no significant agreements have been reached, and the adamancy of the Eswatini representative remains the summit’s defining feature.

EuroMUN Committee: African Union (AU)


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