Germany's new coalition government wants to make Africa a priority, and is promising more private investment and development aid. For many, these are the same empty promises of the past.
Germany's federal government obviously thinks Africa is important. After all, the continent is mentioned 28 times in the new government's coalition agreement – a positive development for a region that was long relegated to the edges of German politics.
"Compared to previous coalition agreements, Africa probably appears most often in this one," Africa expert Andreas Mehler, Director of the Arnold Bergstraesser Institute in Freiburg, told DW.
The new coalition government of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats is being sworn in today, after elections were held in September 2017. The new government's commitment to Africa has its foundations during the past year.
During the G20 presidency, which Germany held from December 1, 2016 to November 30, 2017, the country presented two ambitious programs for cooperation with the continent: Compact with Africa, a G20 initiative to promote private investment and investment in infrastructure; and the Marshall Plan with Africa, a development ministry proposal to rewrite Germany's aid relationship with Africa.
Although little from these two initiatives has been implemented so far, the coalition agreement shows that Germany continues to take Africa seriously, says Frank Heinrich, a member of parliament for Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats. "The new coalition agreement emphasizes Africa considerably so I'm not afraid that the issue will slip out of sight," the Africa expert told DW.
The coalition, whose partners remain unchanged from the previous government, has unsurprisingly set the same priorities as those that emerged during the G20 presidency: a new development investment law is supposed to help more small and medium-sized enterprises do business in Africa; and the risk of German firms doing business in Africa will be reduced through Hermes guarantees, which protect German companies in case of non payment by foreign debtors. The government also plans to reform development aid: "We need to learn how to create economic development with our development policy," Angela Merkel, who continues as German chancellor in the new government, recently said.
Subdued reactions from industry and civil society
Industry associations have been calling for similar measures for a while. But this doesn't mean that they are breaking into cheers over the German government's proposals for Africa. Stefan Liebing, chairman of the German-African Business Association warns instead of the "implementation deficits of the past."
"The proposed new Africa policy needs to be put into practice as soon as possible," said Liebing, warning that the private sector has become cautious after previous German governments promised to make it easier to do business in Africa but failed to realize their proposals.
Africa expert Andreas Mehler also recognizes "many old solutions" in the new coalition agreement. "We can't expect German companies to start lining up to do business in Africa," Mehler said, adding that reducing the risk of investment wasn't enough. "Market opportunities in Africa are limited because many [German] companies want to export German high-tech and that isn't in demand in Africa," he said.
Civil society organizations and the opposition Green party are also cautious in their reactions to the coalition agreement. Although the German government has promised to increase aid to Africa, this will be linked to an increase in defense spending. For now, an additional € 2 billion ($1.24 billion) are planned for both areas. "An increase in the ratio of one to one means that development policy would grow just as fast as military spending," said Uwe Kekeritz, spokesperson for the Greens' development policy.
Development ministry has limited influence
For the large part, the Africa passages in the coalition agreement bear the signature of Gerd Müller, who has been the Federal Development Minister since 2013 and who has retained his position under the new government.
Müller has already promised that the Ministry of Development's Marshall Plan with Africa will become the centerpiece of a new German Africa offensive, with a focus on support for start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises, vocational training and renewable energies. Trade between Africa and Germany also needs to be made fairer – something which has long been called for.
It is unclear, however, how these proposals will actually be put into place. Even if Müller is pro-Africa, he can only implement initiatives such as the Marshall Plan together with other ministries, such as the Ministry of Economic Affairs or the Ministry for the Environment.
"I strongly believe in inter-departmental working groups, but in the past, such groups have often fought for power and quarreled amongst each other," warned the Green's politician Uwe Kekeritz. In addition, the Ministry of Development is low in the internal cabinet hierarchy and other ministries have previously delayed or blocked its proposals.
No progress on acknowleging genocide in Namibia
In terms of foreign policy Germany will focus on West Africa in coming years. The government also wants to become more involved in the Sahel region, which has been destabilized by Islamist extremists and organized crime, which includes the trafficking of migrants to Europe.
The new government has also said it is committed to researching the effects of German colonial rule with African partners to research the effects of German colonial rule: Germany had four protectorates on the continent – German Southwest Africa (now Namibia), German East Africa (now Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania), Togoland (Togo) and Cameroon.
However, the coalition agreement fails to outline whether Germany will apologize for the attempted extermination of the Herero and Nama people in German Southwest Africa between 1904 and 1907 in what is considered the first genocide of the 20th century.
The previous German government was been in negotiations about this since 2015. In Namibia, frustration is growing over the delay. If Merkel's new government fails to conclude the negotiations, it threatens to damage Germany's image in the region.