Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

INTERVIEW: Egypt's Longstanding Commitment to African Development

Wed 08 May 2024 | 07:25 PM
Ashraf Ibrahim
Ashraf Ibrahim
Nada Mustafa

Since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi assumed office in 2014, Egypt-Africa relations have witnessed remarkable progress, driven by a genuine political will at the highest levels to elevate these relations across all domains, particularly in the realm of development.

In this context, the Egyptian political leadership made the decision to establish the Egyptian Agency of Partnership for Development (EAPD), which officially commenced operations in 2014. The EAPD has become a cornerstone of Egypt's efforts to support and enhance development endeavors across the African continent and empower African nations in implementing Agenda 2063.

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the EAPD's establishment, 'Afro News 24' conducted an exclusive interview with Ambassador Ashraf Ibrahim, Secretary-General of the Agency.

Ibrahim emphasized Egypt's unwavering commitment to supporting its African brethren politically, economically, and socially. 

He highlighted Egypt's pivotal role in backing liberation movements in Africa during the 1950s and 1960s, as well as its continuous efforts to promote economic and social development across the continent, both bilaterally and through the African Union (AU).

In his interview with 'Afro News 24', Ambassador Ashraf Ibrahim emphasized the EAPD's role as the Egyptian government's development arm in Africa. He elaborated on the agency's operational mechanisms and its multifaceted contribution to supporting African nations in their pursuit of development goals.

●As the Egyptian Agency of Partnership for Development (EAPD) approaches its 10th anniversary, it is worth shedding light on its remarkable journey, its operational mechanisms, and its unwavering commitment to supporting Africa's development aspirations.

--Egypt's dedication to Africa's development is deeply rooted in its history. Since the 1950s and 1960s, Egypt has played a leading role in supporting liberation movements and assisting newly independent African nations. This commitment was further solidified with the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, with Cairo serving as its founding host city.

While Egypt's early efforts focused on supporting independence struggles, the 1980s witnessed a shift towards establishing a more structured framework for development assistance. 

In 1985, the Egyptian Fund for Technical Cooperation with Africa (EFTCA) was established, marking a significant step towards institutionalized support for African nations. The EFTCA played a crucial role in channeling resources and expertise to address the specific needs of African partners.

Capacity Building

Capacity building and training stand as one of Egypt's key strengths and contributions to supporting African nations. Recognizing that many African countries face a shortage of skilled personnel, Egypt has placed a strong emphasis on developing human capital, enabling African nations to effectively manage their resources and pursue their development goals.

In a personal observation, I often emphasize that Egypt's geographical location and historical ties with Africa provide a unique advantage in capacity building endeavors. While other regions, such as Europe, possess expertise in this field, Egypt's proximity to Africa allows for a more nuanced understanding of the continent's specific needs and challenges. This, in turn, enables Egypt to offer tailored capacity-building solutions that resonate with African partners.

A major aspect of EAPD's work is to enhance and develop capacities in all fields, especially in the areas of agriculture, water resources, police, electricity, and air transport.

We operate in almost all fields, and the African Technical Cooperation Support Fund has been working in these areas. This is one part of our work, and the second part is to send Egyptian experts to African countries, especially in the medical fields. Many times, there have been more than 100 Egyptian experts in African countries in all fields.

In the early 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration and establishment of the Commonwealth countries, these countries became very important for cooperation with Egypt, especially since they are Islamic countries. The Commonwealth Fund was therefore established. 

We were working on two tracks, and I would like to point out here that at one time, many people were calling for Egypt to have an umbrella for cooperation for development. 

With the beginning of President Abdel Fattah El Sisi's term in 2014, EAPD was established by merging the two funds. Of course, the title talks about partnership for development in general and does not specify a particular region, but our main focus is on the continent to which we belong, the continent whose interests and our interests matter to us.

Therefore, the main focus of the agency's work is the African continent. It is true that we have some other activities with Commonwealth countries and with small developing countries, but as I mentioned to you, our main focus in our work, is the African continent.

We have taken the foundation of the work that was being done by the African Technical Cooperation Support Fund, which is capacity building, training, and sending experts. We are working on almost the same elements but with greater expansion and focus. The main goal is to study the needs and work on them. 

For example, today a large part of the countries on the continent are suffering from problems and instability and extremist groups in the regions, especially the countries of the Sahel and Sahara region.

Therefore, part of our work is training in the field of combating terrorism and religious extremism, and this is done through training courses. I would like to mention here that a program to combat religious extremism in Somalia will soon be launched through training tribal leaders in cooperation with Al-Azhar.

The Power Shortage Problem in Africa

Electricity is another field in which we organize training courses, especially since a large number of African countries suffer from the problem of power shortages. Africa has great energy capabilities, but its countries suffer from a lack of lighting. 

It is enough to point out here that the lighting rate in some countries does not exceed 7%, in addition to the lack of clean drinking water. 

These are fields in which we play a major role in the training process. The Ministry of Electricity and the New and Renewable Energy Authority are working on training in this field to raise the capabilities of African countries to help them illuminate the continent. 

This was one of the goals of the President of the African Development Bank, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, and we have been working in this field for a very long time.

Of course, there is constant development, such as network maintenance and installation, in addition to renewable energy such as wind and solar energy, where we train African cadres in these fields so that there is development in African countries.

Agriculture is another area where we conduct training courses. Africa is an agricultural continent par excellence and possesses vast untapped resources. We work on training in all fields of agriculture, including irrigation training. It is true that Africa is a continent that receives large amounts of rain and relies on rainwater for irrigation of agricultural land, but African countries need modern irrigation methods to help them increase crop production.

There are many areas for cooperation, including remote sensing. We are not talking about manufacturing satellites here, but about using these tools to contribute to agriculture, industry, and climate change, especially since Africa is one of the areas most affected by climate change.

As I mentioned to you, we also work in the field of sending Egyptian experts to African countries. It is true that this is less than in previous periods, but we continue to send Egyptian experts to a number of African countries in specific fields, at the top of which are medicine, agriculture, and irrigation. 

We cooperate in these three fields with other development agencies and organizations, such as JICA, with which we have a very long-standing cooperation that may extend for more than 30 years.

Tripartite Cooperation

● Do you mean tripartite cooperation?

--Yes, that's right. There may be other countries that have different expertise that could benefit Africa, and we in Egypt have the ability to provide these programs or training related to capacity building.

Therefore, we cooperate with JICA in the fields of agriculture and specific areas of medicine that the Japanese are interested in, such as endemic diseases and epidemics. 

In the field of agriculture, the Japanese have a special interest in rice cultivation. We cooperate with them in a number of agricultural fields, but rice cultivation is one of the areas they are very interested in, as I mentioned to you.

● What about Egyptian medical centers that are present in a number of African countries?

--We are working within our capabilities as an agency to focus on the medical field by establishing a number of medical centers in a number of African countries. We had two centers in Burundi, one specializing in kidney dialysis, which is a specialty that Burundi suffers from, and we are equipping the center with doctors, equipment, and supplies. The second center specializes in internal medicine and dentistry.

In South Sudan, we have a large medical center in Juba, an Egyptian center in Gabon, and a medical center in Jinja, Uganda. There is a new project that we are currently working on, in which we are contributing as the Egyptian government and agency to establish the Dr. Magdi Yacoub Center - the Egyptian-Rwandan Heart Center in Rwanda.

It is important to clarify that this is not limited to Rwanda only. It is true that its headquarters is in Rwanda, but the intention is for it to be a regional center that serves the citizens of all countries surrounding Rwanda. 

The conditions are more favorable for this center to be established in Rwanda. This project is being contributed to by the agency, in addition to several other parties, in cooperation with the Dr. Magdi Yacoub Center, the Rwandan government, and Orascom.

I believe that we will continue to support this center because it presents an excellent image of Egypt and at the same time provides medical services that may not be available in East African countries.

It saves the citizens of those countries the trouble of traveling abroad for treatment, as the center is close to them and the cost of treatment will not be high for them. At the same time, this center will provide an opportunity to train Rwandan and East African doctors to graduate African cadres in this field. In my opinion, it is indeed an experience worth generalizing, whether through the Egyptian state and agency or the Egyptian private sector.

Nile Basin Development Initiative

● Can you shed light on the Nile Basin Development Initiative that the Egyptian Agency for Partnership for Development is implementing?

--The Nile Basin Development Initiative was already in place, but in 2014 President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi strengthened and developed it by increasing the budget allocated to it. 

It is an initiative that focuses specifically on the Nile Basin countries to establish some development projects there, such as medical centers and departments, model farms, small power plants, and solar power plants in some areas. 

These projects can contribute to development efforts in the Nile Basin countries. The initiative is scalable and expandable and is fully funded by the Egyptian government. However, consideration can be given in a later stage to involving the Egyptian private sector in financing some of these projects in partnership between the agency, the initiative, and the private sector.

● Can we say that the agency represents the developmental arm of the Egyptian government in African countries?

--This is a part that I did not mention at the beginning of the interview, which is that the agency represents the developmental arm of the Egyptian government in Africa. It is true that it is part of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and under its umbrella, but it is the developmental arm of the Egyptian government in Africa and elsewhere. 

Ten years today for the agency in its new form after it was a fund, and I believe that these ten years give us an opportunity to stop and study what we have achieved in these ten years and what we need to add to the agency's work or what we need to develop it?, This is because the development process is a dynamic and changing process according to the circumstances around us.

 The world is changing rapidly and challenges and problems are changing and developing. We must keep pace with the changes that are taking place and with the needs of African countries.