Germans go to the polls on Sunday. German NGOs and businesses in Africa will be addressing the new government with very specific demands: greater respect for African officials and more support for German firms.
On returning from his first tour of Africa in January 2010, Germany's development minister, Dirk Niebel, was exhausted but still brimming with goodwill. "I know that Africa's potential and problems are huge. But huge problems and a huge potential mean that a huge effort is needed," he said. The minister added that it was therefore quite right for the German government to give priority to cooperation on development with the neighboring continent of Africa.
And what has become of that "huge effort"? Nicolai Röschert sighs with frustration. He works for the Berlin branch of AfricAvenir, an NGO committed to informing public opinion about Africa. He believes the next German government has a number of Africa-related tasks ahead of it. Right at the top of the list is the much-vaunted "dialogue among equals." AfricAvenir says it cannot implement this dialogue because the funds it receives from the German development ministry cannot be used to invite people from Africa to come to Germany. As Röschert told Deutsche Welle, he is left wondering "how equal this dialogue is going to be and with whom it is going to be conducted."
AfricAvenir also says German diplomatic protocol fails to treat African partners equally. It is only infrequently that German ministers agree to meet with their African counterparts. It may be a small detail, but in Africa it does not make a good impression. Uschi Eid, deputy vice president of the German Africa Foundation and a former G8 Africa commissioner under German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, concurs. She said the continent does not have the proper status as partner in the global political arena that it deserves. "I have always said that German foreign policy should pay more attention to our neighbors in the South. We should try to identify the problems that affect us and then ask how can we resolve these problems together in a spirit of cooperation," she said.
DAX companies do not need help in Africa
German business, however, has little reason to complain about any lack of cooperation in Africa. Increasing numbers of German firms are seeking to make the most of opportunities there. Martin Wilde from the German Association of Catholic Entrepreneurs (BKU) has worked as a businessman in Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria. He believes German firms should receive more help from the German government. He was not referring to the big players listed in Germany's DAX stock exchange index, which he says don't need any support in Africa, but to the small and medium sized companies."It is not easy for such companies to find their feet in the smaller African countries whose legal systems are sometimes highly dubious. There are big risks here," he said.
The German-African Business Association said smaller German companies need state-guaranteed venture capital. This should not be thought of as a subsidy, but as a means of leveling the playing field. Competitors from China or Brazil find it far easier to draw on capital than their German counterparts, the Association said.
The association is also critical of Euler Hermes, the provider of trade-related credit insurance, saying it simply doesn't offer cover for many central African countries, maintaining that the risks are too high.
Gauging development aid
At AfricAvenir Nicolai Röschert counts off other unresolved issues troubling Germany's relations with Africa. He begins with the European Union's agricultural policy which makes it virtually impossible for African produce to compete on European markets. Röschert also takes issue with the ODA system of measuring the development aid a country delivers. ODA (Official Development Assistance) is expressed as a percentage of the donor country's GDP. Röschert said it is in urgent need of reform. Germany's ODA, for instance, includes the loans it has made to African countries and the interest payments over long periods often exceed the original loans. "ODA does not reflect capital flows from Africa to Europe, which often cost the African countries more than they received in development aid. One is entitled to ask who is giving development aid to whom," Röschert said.