Foreign policy: Germany's all inclusive package for Africa
3 July 2014
The Africa Report
Germany is caught between hard interests and soft values as it tries to find its way into the African market. But is Chancellor Angela Merkel's government doing enough?
The international community has been long expecting Germany to take a more proactive role in Africa at the political level, and not only as a major development aid donor.
The German government has recently released its new policy for the neighbour continent. But little else seems to have changed since the adoption of the previous German-African strategy .
"The government always says they have a comprehensive approach to Africa. There was already an African concept in 2011 and there were others before but mainly focused on development aid and not much in defence, economic or foreign policy" explained Robert Kappel, President Emeritus and senior researcher at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA).
This 2014 policy integrates the perspective of various ministries including Economic Cooperation and Development, Defence and Foreign Affairs as well as the Chancellery. The new guidelines address eighteen issues ranging from the promotion of peace and security to the protection of the environment, prevention of human rights violations and supporting economic growth.
"In that sense they are comprehensive, because everything is listed in there. It is a good starting point but not a real step forward becaus e no priorities have been set" said Kappel sceptically. In terms of budget, the document does not mention any figures, with good reason: each ministry is responsible for fulfilling the guidelines, within its own financial planning.
Strategic economic interests
Behind what seems to be an all-inclusive package for Africa, the new policy has a rather clear focus on the development of trade and investment.
OECD's recent African Economic Outlook notes that the continent experienced a growth rate of 4 percent in 2013 and is expected to reach 5 percent to 6 percent by 2015. This huge business potential makes Africa much more attractive to German policy makers and investors.
"Africa is now higher on the German agenda. These new guidelines, the recent visit of Foreign Minister Steinmeier to Africa and Merkel's commitment at the EU-Africa Summit, are signals that the government has understood the strategic economic interests on the continent. But they have to do more" said Christoph Kannengießer, CEO of the German - African Business Association Afrika Verein.
Kannengießer also wants a greater German political representation in Africa. "The members of the Federal government should go more often to Africa and meet their counterparts. This support is crucial for German companies".
In 2013, Germany's exports to Africa totaled €22 billion, while imports from the continent totaled €23 billion. This represented a modest 2 percent and 2.57 percent, respectively, of German Foreign Trade, according to the Federal Statistical Office. These figures are expected to double over the next 10 years according to Kannengießer.
No better partner for Africa
But Germany lacks networks and experience in Afri ca. Over the past years, the country's successful SMEs model - Mittelstand, based on export performance, was focusing on big markets like Europe, Latin America and Asia. At the same time China, India, Turkey and Brazil, to name a few countries, were developing strong economic links with the African continent.
"Germany is coming in late but not too late" says Charles Huber, a recently elected member of the German Parliament from the CDU, Merkel's party. "In comparison with other competitors, especially China, in terms of quality, engagement, respect of social standards and support to sustainable development, there is no better partner for Africa than Germany", said the German - Senegalese politician.
South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Angola are Germany's top five economic partners in Africa. German companies are also very successful and in sectors including food proc essing, machinery, chemicals and products for the agro-industry in smaller markets like Ethiopia, Cameron and Sudan.
"Germans don't want conflicts"
Besides the economic interests, the new German guidelines for Africa highlight the importance of human rights, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law. The government further extends this commitment to the support of conflict prevention and resolution.
"Western partners expect Germany to show a level of commitment commensurate with its position and capabilities" explains the document from the Foreign Office.
Despite minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen, calling for more military responsibility, the country has only sent a few Bundeswehr troops to support recent crisis in Mali, Central Africa and Somalia, within the EU and UN frameworks.
"France, the UE and the US put Germany under pressure t o do more. We do it at a very low level. Germany does not have the military capacity for a greater engagement" says the researcher and African expert Robert Kappel.
For historical reasons, Germans remain extremely cautious when it comes to military issues. They are the strongest economic power in Europe, but France has the leading role in the EU when it comes to Africa.
"Germans don't want conflicts; we don't know how to deal with it. We will never interfere with France or engage directly in Africa, but rather give more money to support the EU, UN and African Union operations" said Kappel.
Hard interests and soft values
This soft approach is rather well perceived by Germany's African partners. "We appreciate Germany not using its hard power. We consider the country as a new player with a role to play for stability and peace making in the region. Since the new government is in place, we feel there is a new thinking in foreign policy in Africa" explained Khalid Musa, Chargé d'Affaires at the Sudanese Embassy in Berlin.
An increased exchange between the two countries has been registered in recent months. A German-Sudanese Business forum took place in Khartoum, followed by the visit of president's Al-Bashir advisor to Berlin, a bilateral business roundtable in the German capital, as well as the visit of Sudan's Foreign Minister Ali Karti in June.
"Our political understanding has been deepened. Germany and Sudan share the same interests and perspective about the region" affirmed Khalid Musa, following the meeting between Karti and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
In the meantime the political situation in Sudan continues to deteriorate: an escalation of the Darfur conflict and the increasing human rights violations. The case of Meriam Ibrahim, condemned to death penalty for leaving Islam and marrying a Christian man has made international headlines.
"The German government should ensure that stronger economic relations and more investment in Africa do not come at the expense of human rights. Together with democracy and good governance, this should be a priority for a country that consistently emphasizes the importance of conflict prevention. In the case of Sudan this also means missing out on business opportunities when a state's human rights record is exceptionally poor" said Sarah Brockmeier, from the Berlin based think tank Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi).
"Africa has to do its job"
But is economic isolation the right answer to politically fragile states? It does not seem to be the case in Sudan, where in spite of having been the target of US economi c sanctions since 1997, no real political improvement has taken place.
"African states are independent. We can support them but they are responsible for what is going on over there. They have to care about human rights but it does not help to exclude economic aspects" said Bundestag MP Charles Huber who called for Africa's greater responsibility.
"Africa has to do its job. The accountability for African development is not only European or German. It has also to come from Africans themselves. We have to be proud of our own work, not what others do on the continent".
Original article by Yamila Castro