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Germany's focus on Africa for 2017

Daniel Pelz mc
December 29, 2016

German troops in Mali, talks with Namibia over colonial-era crimes and how Berlin is seeking to prioritize Africa during its G20 presidency. Africa could climb up Germany's agenda in 2017.

Berlin Kanzleramt Merkel
Image: Reuters/M. Schreiber

2017 will be an election year in Germany.  Africa won't be a key campaign issue. German elections at national level generally concern themselves with domestic issues such as internal security, pensions and health care. Scant attention is paid to foreign or development policy.

Nonetheless Africa still has a firm place  on the German political agenda. At the beginning of December, Germany took over the presidency of G20, which is a forum for governments and central bank governors from 20 major economies. While in the chair, Germany is determined that Africa should be accorded greater priority in this forum. "We will be investigating how we can put better mechanisms in place to boost economic development in Africa, in addition to the traditional forms of development aid," German chancellor Angel Merkel said in her weekly video podcast at the end of November.                

Deutschland Auftakt der deutschen G20-Präsidentschaft 2017
Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann at the ceremony marking the start of Germany's G20 presidency Image: picture alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka

The German government has promised to fill in the details in a policy document for the G20 summit in Hamburg in July 2017. It is expected to call for better conditions for private investors in Africa and more money for the continent's infrastructure. Other areas for action include the expansion of health services, combating the causes of flooding and coping with the consequences of climate change. In June - the month preceding the Hamburg G20 summit - there is going to be a special conference in Berlin on partnership with Africa. But nobody knows whether the German government's pre-summit announcements, with their messages of hope for the continent, will actually lead anywhere.

Echoes of Gleneagles?

There has never been any shortage of international declarations of intent pledging closer cooperation with Africa. The problem is one of implementation. At the Gleneagles G8 summit on Africa in 2005, the world's leading economies promised to increase development aid for the continent by $25 billion (24 billion euros) by 2010. Yet numbers from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show that Africa received only an additional $11 billion that year.  Some countries, including Germany, didn't fulfill their pledges.                  

Deutschland Berlin - Gedenken für die Opfer der deutschen Kolonialherrschaft
A memorial ceremony in Berlin for victims of German colonial-era crimes Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Pilick

Berlin is expected to resume bilateral talks with the government of Namibia. Germany wishes to apologize for the colonial-era genocide perpetrated by German troops in what was then German Southwest Africa. German colonial forces were responsible for the deaths of an estimated 75,000 members of the Herero and Nama ethnic groups between 1904 and 1908.

Germany and Namibia had wanted to finalize an agreement resetting bilateral ties by the end of 2016. "We won't make it by the end of the year, but that's no tragedy," Ruprecht Polenz, Germany's special commissioner for dialogue with Namibia, told DW in an interview at the end of November.

Muted criticism

But time is running out. If the agreement is not finalized within the allotted timeframe, the lower house of parliament won't be able to ratify it before the end of this legislative period. The Herero and Hama will then have to wait even longer for an apology from Germany.

There is much that needs to be clarified. Recent efforts at dialogue between self-styled representatives of the victims of German colonialism and Polenz ended badly. The representatives hurled insults at the German commissioner in interviews in local newspapers.  Namibia's government has refrained from intervening but in the past it has expressed muted criticism of Germany's negotiating position. Berlin refuses to budge on one particular point. "The mere use of term genocide does not  mean any additional legal obligations for Germany. Germany has political and moral obligations to heal the wounds of the past, but is not legally obliged  to pay reparations," Polenz told DW.

Mali Deutschland Ursula von der Leyen besucht Bundeswehr Soldaten in Gao
German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen in conversation with German troops in MaliImage: Reuters/M.Kappeler

More German troops for Mali

In January, the German cabinet is expected to expand the mandate for German troops serving with the UN mission in Mali, raising the permitted troop level from 650 to 1,000. The necessary parliamentary approval is more or less guaranteed.

There has been hardly any public debate in Germany about participation by the Bundeswehr, the country's armed forces, in the Mali mission. That could change. Mali is "the most hazardous of all UN missions," said Hans-Pater Bartles, the German parliament's armed forces commissioner. 70 UN personnel were killed in attacks in Mali in the first ten months of 2016. But Germany's defense minister Ursula von Leyen is apparently undaunted. "This is a mission where we have to be patient," she said  on a pre-Christmas trip to Germany's troops in northern Mali.