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Germany's new plan for Africa

Daniel Pelz
March 28, 2019

Germany has for years sought to strengthen its cooperation with Africa. This has led to a flood of concepts across various government ministries and a confusion of competencies. New guidelines are now on the table.

Deutschland Afrika-Gipfel bei Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel
Image: Getty Images/AFP/T. Schwarz

Africa was still on the fringes of foreign policy when the federal government adopted its last concept for the continent in 2014.  At the time, the cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel had other priorities, including the United States, China and Russia. That has changed, at least rhetorically: Africa was a focus of the German G20 presidency in 2017, for which African leaders made two trips to Berlin for talks and diverse strategies for stronger cooperation were put forward.

"The [new] guidelines signal the growing significance of Africa and the increasing engagement of Germany," says Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. Discussions between various German ministries took a year. Now the cabinet has approved a new Africa plan which should put an end to the chaos. Previously, rather than working with each other, the departments responsible for Africa policy worked alongside each other: the finance ministry with the Compact with Africa, the development ministry with the Marshall Plan for Africa and the economics ministry with Pro!Afrika.

These are just the most important plans. "In the last three years, eight papers were put forward by various ministries," says Robert Kappel, a development economist at the University of Leipzig. Even the education ministry now has its own Africa strategy. "What was missing was a common conceptual umbrella and a clear set of priorities," according to Foreign Minister Maas.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas kicking a football during a visit to Burkina Faso
German Foreign Minister Maas was in Burkina Faso in FebruaryImage: Getty Images/I. Sanogo

Does the new strategy paper make a quantum leap? "We need to develop our policy coherently. One of the goals of the guidelines is to establish this coherence," says Robert Dölger, the Africa representative at the foreign ministry. On the surface at least, the paper helps by bundling German engagement into five key areas:

-   Peacebuilding

-   Development

-   Migration

-   Working with African partners

-   More cooperation with civil society

Kappel is not impressed. "There is no sign of any real progress. This document is a little caught up in what we already have in different political concepts on Africa," he told DW. 

Africa as a partner

There are, however, some new approaches. The document makes it clear that the federal government no longer regards the continent purely as an aid recipient. The importance of partnership is repeatedly emphasized. The German government has pledged to orient itself in its engagement with the Agenda 2063 strategy of the African Union (AU), a  blueprint for the economic and social development of Africa, developed by the continent's own governments.

The German government has also committed to considerably more cooperation with the AU and individual African countries, for instance in the areas of climate protection, trade and international conflict resolution. It is a sign that Germany recognizes the growing influence of Africa in the world.

For the first time, the German government shows willingness to examine Germany's colonial past in Africa, without however going into details. "It is a positive sign that, alongside the insight that Africa should be taken seriously as an international actor, the UN's sustainability goals and the colonial legacy are also included in the paper," said Uwe Kekeritz, spokesman on development policy for the Greens in the German parliament. However, he says many statements in the paper are not concrete enough. "The federal government does not draw the correct conclusions from misguided trade policy which is harmful to the environment. The mamoth task of climate protection is dealt with in just a few lines. And the focus on reform partners carries the risk that least developed countries will be overlooked."

A UN armoured vehicle and a soldier symbolize the German presence in Mali
The German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, have been part of a UN stabilization mission in Mali since 2013Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

'Nice statements'

The paper will be judged on how much of its contents are actually implemented. At the end of Africa Year 2017, critics were quick to note that a large part of Germany's commitment to Africa consisted of statements of intent. A billion-strong fund intended to boost German companies' investments in Africa is still in the planning stages. Development investment legislation with the same goal has remained in the drawer.

"The new Africa policy guidelines are nice statements, just as the Marshall Plan or the Compact with Africa were. False hopes are being nourished and public opinion pacified. It's high time for action to follow," said Christoph Hoffmann, Africa expert with the Liberal free Democrats (FDP) party.

Even if action does follow, Kappel warns against high expectations. "With our German African policy, we cannot automatically secure peace in Africa, we cannot create growth and jobs. Some illusions are being created here and if we do not remain realistic, then such a document can quickly become obsolete."