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Germany's new Africa policy holds few surprises

Daniel Pelz
November 26, 2021

Migration, development, and security are the focus of the incoming German government's Africa policy. But the private sector feels snubbed by the government's new coalition deal.

Free Democratic Party chairman Christian Lindner stands in a row with the SPD's Olaf Scholz and Green party leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck
The heads of the three parties set to govern German pose for the media at the release of their coalition agreementImage: Markus Schreiber/AP/picture alliance

The word "Africa" only appears four times in the coalition deal unveiled this week by the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens, and the business-focused Free Democrats (FDP), which appear set to form Germany's next government.

That's considerably less than 15 times the word appeared in the coalition treaty between the previous government of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the SPD, a combination known as the "grand coalition" in Germany. 

"Africa policy is a marginal topic compared to the grand coalition's agreement," German-Africa expert Robert Kappel told DW.

That doesn't mean that German-supported projects in Africa will come to a standstill, FDP development policy politician Christoph Hoffmann told DW.

"People in Africa can expect there to be a certain continuity in German development cooperation, where Africa remains the focus," Hoffmann said.

In his interview with DW, Hoffmann highlighted a series of commitments in the coalition treaty that will benefit Africa, such as the pledge to continue spending 0.7% of Germany's gross national income on development in line with the United Nation's goal.

Germany met this commitment for the first time in 2020.

A girl in Gambia writes in her school book
Improving health and education outcomes is a priority for the new coalitionImage: Sankulleh Janko/DW

Direct and indirect funding for development

The incoming government also wants to ensure that other financing, particularly for climate change, boosts development and directly benefits the poor, Hoffmann said.

"Small-scale farmers, for example, can engage in reforestation funded by international climate protection funds," he explained.

However, the new coalition agreement doesn't specify the levels of funding that would be available for such measures.

Germany's development organizations see the agreement as containing several policies that will benefit Africans, even if the continent isn't directly named.

"The incoming government wants to envisage health in a more networked way. They also want to focus on strengthening basic education, something that Germany has relatively neglected in the past," said Stephan Exo-Kreischer, director of the development policy organization One.

These points aside, the coalition deal essentially regurgitates the Africa policy of previous governments. This includes increased cooperation with the African Union, support for the African Continental Free Trade Area, more aid for the crisis-ridden Sahel region, and the continuation of the G20 initiative, Compact with Africa launched by the previous German government.

People stand in front of a VW building in Rwanda
There's disappointment that the new coalition government isn't focusing more on supporting investment in Africa Image: Volkswagen AG/Friso Gentsch

Private sector investment missing

However, this "business as usual" approach isn't what Africa needs, says Robert Kappel.

"African countries have implemented many of their measures and aren't so reliant on development cooperation anymore. And this isn't in the [new] coalition agreement," Kappel said.

The previous coalition government, led by Merkel's CDU party, had set up several measures to make investing in Africa more attractive and less risky for German firms. These included a fund for German investment in Africa and improved risk protection for German companies.

The new coalition treaty hardly deals with these aspects, something that Christoph Kannengiesser from the German-African Business Association finds infuriating.

"Africa is clearly getting a raw deal, which is disappointing," Kannengiesser told DW. "I believe that the further expansion and modernization of our relationship with Africa should be part and parcel of a progressive coalition."

A group of people sit on the edge of boat that is tipping over in the ocean
The incoming German administration wants to control migration to Germany and EuropeImage: Suzanne De Carrasco/Sea-Watch/Handout via REUTERS

New migration policy

The outgoing CDU party is also critical of the coalition agreement when it comes to its Africa policy.

"It is right to include health and education. But this needs to be supplemented by jobs and new perspectives if development is going to be sustainable," CDU development politician Volkmar Klein told DW.

"That's why we also need to invest in these countries, but there's no more talk of that [in the agreement]."

The new coalition treaty, however, includes some demands made by civil society and African countries.

In regards to Namibia, the German government agrees to acknowledge its historical and political obligation to the country and promises to promote reconciliation.

The next coalition has also made sweeping changes to immigration policy.

Street Debate: What do Africans expect from the new German government?

This includes closing deals with countries that see many migrants leaving to try their luck in Germany and Europe. Such agreements will allow for more intensive development cooperation and make it easier for workers from those countries to migrate legally to Germany.

But it remains to be seen to what extent the coalition will manage to implement their agreement by the end of the next four-year legislature.

This article has been translated from German by Kate Hairsine.

Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu