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Africa

Opinion: 'Risky German policy in Africa'

Germany appears willing to increase its involvement in Africa. This is not for the benefit of the "forgotten continent" but rather to appease an important European neighbor, says DW's Ludger Schadomsky.

How about a little bit more? Mali, Central African Republic or Somalia…hardly a week goes by without Germany mentioning a new African hotspot where it wants to get involved in the future.

No fewer than six government departments: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, of Defense, Development Aid, Economics, Internal Affairs and Agriculture sit together for a meeting chaired by Foreign Minister Steinmeier to produce a new German Africa policy.

Africa has never before been on the political agenda to this extent. Is this good news for the "forgotten continent" which has only been forgotten by Germans, while others, from Turks to Indians, are all to be found on the ground? By no means! There is no shortage of papers about a strategy for Africa. Many times in recent years, under pressure from crises or the ideological scramble for Africa in competition with China, concepts have been presented, only subsequently to gather dust as the result of a mixture of provincialism, lack of interest and the doctrine of non-interference.

A new policy towards France

The latest show of interest in Africa stems less from the recognition that the continent with its one billion people could also be a huge market for German exports, or that terrorist networks have now spanned a belt of horror from Somalia to Mali - no, the new German Africa policy is in reality a policy towards France. Paris, which has soldiers in northern Mali and Central African Republic (CAR), is annoyed by Germany's reluctance to get involved.

The dissolution of a regiment of the Franco-German brigade in Donaueschingen in Baden- Württemberg in the autumn of 2013 was hardly a coincidence. The mood became even frostier when Berlin abruptly rejected a cost allocation for the expensive operations in Mali and CAR.

The willingness for a greater German involvement in Africa and the start of a Franco-German brigade operation in Mali from mid-February is thus a signal to Paris and not to Bangui, Bamako or Mogadishu.

But what signal exactly does Germany want to send? The partners want combat troops, Germany's defense minister wants medical aircraft and the minister for development aid wants protection for civilians. Anyone familiar with the situation in Afghanistan will see with concern how this new Africa policy is already turning into arguments over responsibility between the various ministries. That up to 20 German military trainers are now to be sent to Mogadishu of all places as part of the European Union Training Mission EUTM, after they had previously been withdrawn from Kampala (not so dangerous) for security concerns, shows the inconsistency of Germany's Africa policy.

Playing European politics on the back of Africa is dangerous and Berlin should be careful not to bite off more than it can chew. If Germany's allies do indeed call for the dispatch of combat troops, that will strain relations. Ultimately it is not Berlin or Paris but somewhere like Wuppertal which determines such issues.

It is in the town of Wuppertal and elsewhere in the provinces that German voters live - and according to the latest opinion polls, most of them are hesitant when it comes to an expansion of missions abroad. It's that simple.

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