Angela Merkel signaled her support for the presidents of South Africa and Angola during a visit to the region this week. In the view of the German government, they are leaders who stand for change.
The auditorium of the University of Pretoria in South Africa's administrative capital is packed to the last seat for the high-profile visit. The campus is called "Future Africa," and that's exactly what it appears to be, with new buildings, modern design and students from all over Africa. German Chancellor Angela Merkel fields the students' questions for almost an hour. They cover corruption, gender equality, climate change and international politics.
"You have been in politics for a long time. What advice do you have for us, the future leaders?" sociology student Mishumo Madima asks. "What should we do differently?" the German chancellor asks encouragingly in return. In some instances she talks about personal experience; in others she delves into the scientific details involved in a transition to sustainable energy systems. Merkel, a former academic herself, appears to enjoy the discussion.
South Africa's catastrophic energy saga
Many of the topics, including energy, had already come up over the several hours that Merkel spent in talks with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. They came at a time where many of the country's households face Loadshedding Stage 2: South Africa's public elecricity utility, Eskom, is having to cut its supply twice a day to prevent a collapse of its grid. Decades of corruption and mismanagement has forced Eskom — and the South African economy — to its knees. Merkel said she saw the opportunity to switch to renewable energy sources. Currently, close on 90% of South Africa's electricity is still produced from coal.
The German chancellor's visit also signaled support for Ramaphosa. "There have been difficult times," said Merkel, in reference to the term of ex-President Jacob Zuma. During those years, state-owned enterprises, in particular, were caught up in "state capture." Government ministries, state entities, the judiciary — institutions of all kinds were misused for personal profit. Several commissions are investigating the extent of the corruption. Ramaphosa is serious about the inquiry but faces resistance in his own ranks. In the 26 years during which the African National Congress has governed the country, many of its members have enriched themselves. Merkel's visit served to endorse Ramaphosa's reform agenda and his clampdown on corruption.
Another corruption inquiry
During her visit in Angola on Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel formally backed an international Luanda Leaks corruption investigation into Angolan billionaire Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
Isabel dos Santos, reportedly Africa's richest woman, is accused of accumulating billions of dollars in dubious deals while heading a state-run oil company during her father's 38 years in office.
Read more: Angola: The fall of the dos Santos clan
"I can only welcome the fact that there is strong commitment to investigating corruption," Merkel said after meeting with Angolan President Joao Lourenco. "Should German companies or financial institution also play a role through such disclosure, then Germany of course promises to help with clarification in a very transparent way."
Merkel also stressed that fighting against corruption is key for Angola if they want to attract future investment. Angola is a country rich in raw materials, she said, and it must broaden its opportunities in order to offer its young people a future.
Lourenco, who replaced Jose Eduardo dos Santos in 2017, has cracked down on corruption in the southern African nation. On Friday, he came out in support of a worldwide spending freeze of Isabel dos Santos' assets.
"We want the assets to be returned to the country," he said at the joint press conference with Merkel.
Infrastructure investment and navy boats
The German chancellor, who is wrapping up a three-day tour in southern Africa, has also offered broad support in developing the country's infrastructure.
The two countries announced an air transport agreement that includes the expansion of air traffic. The deal, according to Merkel, will help stimulate exchange between the two countries.
Merkel has also considered fulfilling Angola's request for German navy boats, something the country has asked for since the German chancellor's first visit to the country in 2011. Angola has long been battling piracy along its 1,600-kilometer (1,000-mile) coastline.
Negotiations regarding military cooperation have continued, Merkel said, adding that negotiations would be held among the companies concerned rather than by state leaders.
The issue of navy boats, which has caused tension in the past, has not played a roll in overall talks. "But we are not fundamentally opposed to the idea," Merkel said.
Merkel became the first German head of state to visit Angola in 2011. Germany has been reluctant to invest too heavily in the oil-rich nation because of corruption and the lack of rule of law. Only 25 German companies are currently doing business in Angola.
In 2015, the state-owned fund KfW granted Angola a loan of €50 million (then $59.6 million), money that wound up going directly to the dos Santos family through state avenues.
In an interview with DW, Lourenco said he hoped the two sides would intensify their economic relationship.
"German investment is welcome in Angola," he said. "We are doing our part, creating a better business involvement in Angola day after day. One of the measures is precisely fighting corruption. So, foreign investment in Angola is safe. There is a guaranteed return and, if it happens, everyone will win."