22 May 2014

Africa: Germany - a New Role in Africa?

In the international media, Africa is more present than ever. This week, the German government laid out its new Africa policy. Yet not much has really changed, writes Claus Stäcker.

German Chancellor Merkel called it the "continent of opportunities". The gap between Africa and Europe is growing smaller, noted the foreign ministry.

Even the media who usually only report on African ferry disasters, abductions and mass killings, are suddenly interested in African development and military presence.

Africa has rarely been so visible to the German public.

Yet, recent events in Nigeria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Mali, have once again highlighted the risks and old stereotypes, and not the opportunities. Government spokesperson Steffen Seibert commented:

"The hotspots of the continent, the catastrophes and the crises are often the focus of the media reports. The strong economic growth in many African countries is hardly reported. The African policy guidelines of the federal government take all of these topics into account."

German firms pleased with the outcome

The areas of focus are not new: more self-reliance, good governance and accountability, democratization and education.

Yet they are taking Germany's policies one step further. Previous governments also placed their hopes in sustainable economic development, which would serve the wider public.

New approaches might be taken, by engaging Africans in a stronger dialogue and cooperating with them as equal partners.

In the past, Africans were often sidelined on the global playing-field. High-ranking posts in the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the United Nations were often decided without consulting African countries.

Their voices were also left unheard in the creation of the G20 and when negotiating the terms of the European Union's Economic Partnership Agreement.

The German-African Business Association, which represents over 600 firms, viewed the new guidelines as a step in the right direction.

The investors were glad to hear that the German government had acknowledged the positive changes in Africa. They especially welcomed the introduction of the so called Hermes Cover, which protects German companies if their trade partners fail to pay their debts.

Criticism from the opposition

The German public is often presented with a picture of war and conflict.

Germany's opposition was less enthusiastic about the new policies. Uwe Kekeritz, a spokesperson for the Green Party described them as empty words.

"The policies don't go into any detail," he argued. "There are no actual guidelines on how implement these goals. So these policies are not actually very useful. We have seen similar policies or Africa programs under the former government."

Jan van Aken, a foreign policy expert from the Left Party, warned of a stronger military engagement in Africa. Van Aken told DW. "Germans rarely care about violence and conflict in Africa, unless German interests are at stake".

Van Aken noted that it is perfectly correct to want to prevent a genocide, like the Rwandan, yet he believes the German policies lack this preventive element. "One could do more to prevent the outbreak of the conflict on a civil level, rather than solving the problems militarily," he adds.

Development Minister Gerd Müller visited South Sudan in March. He appealed for an end to the conflict.

France has been pushing for a German alliance to curb the conflict in areas like the Central Africa Republic, which is on the verge of turning into a genocide.

The majority of the German public are against foreign military interventions. The costly operation in Afghanistan was enough to make them wary of any further engagements.

A survey, carried out by the Körber Foundation, showed that six ot of ten Germans were against further military operations. Germany's Minister for Development Gert Müller did his best to calms his colleagues in the government:

"Africa is not only a partner in trade but also in politics. That's what we do in the UN. In terms of security, we want to enourage the African Union to solve their conflicts themselves."

Müller however ruled out the possibility of sending fighting troops to any African conflict areas.

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