Opinion: Germany's Africa policy lacks coordination
Nobody can accuse the present German government of failing to take sufficient interest in Africa. German government officials have unveiled a "Marshall Plan with Africa," a "Compact with Africa" for the G20 and now they are presenting "Pro!Africa" at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban. All this has happened within the space of four months, since the beginning of the year.
The trouble is that all these policy initiatives have been launched by individual German ministries, and while the ministers in question may bask in the glow of increased media overage, this doesn't necessarily mean more help for Africa.
But it is clearly to be welcomed that Africa is finally climbing up German policy makers' agendas. They had regarded the continent as almost unchartered or unknown territory for far too long. German parliamentarians who campaigned on behalf of Africa were viewed as a rather strange breed. "Africa," their fellow German politicians would say "let's leave that to the British and the French." Calls for a greater German engagement with Africa generally fell on deaf ears.
That has now changed, largely because of two factors: the large numbers of migrants coming to Europe and the German G20 presidency with its deliberate focus on Africa. Chancellor Merkel is also displaying a far greater interest in the continent than in the past. The policy proposals drawn up by her ministers are generally sound. They include helping to create jobs for young Africans in Africa, fair trade and the promotion of foreign direct investment. Almost all experts agree that these are sensible suggestions and Africa would benefit if they were implemented.
The problem is one of approach. The German government does not need individual ministerial initiatives, it needs a single, clear, well-constructed, policy plan for Africa. If the individual ministries fail to cooperate with one another, then much time and effort will be needlessly frittered away. Attempts to encourage greater participation by German private industry in Africa is one example of what is going wrong. The ministers want more German firms to be active in Africa. They believe that companies will find new growth markets, thereby helping to create jobs and prosperity in Africa. But who do German entrepreneurs contact in the German government if they want advice about the best place in Africa to do business, or if they want to inquire about grants or subsidies? Do they talk to the German development ministry or the economics ministry? Both are offering, or are about to offer, assistance for German companies.
In a worst-case scenario, this lack of coordination could endanger the success of the individual ministerial initiatives. Clearly, it is to be welcomed that the development ministry is prepared to devote more money to African rural development. It is also most helpful that the economics ministry wants to ramp up German investment in Africa. But none of this will do Africa any good if trade policy isn't reformed. If Europe doesn't open its markets to African goods and continues to permit exports to Africa at prices that undercut local producers, then poverty will continue to spread on the continent. Only a coordinated approach can solve such problems.
If Chancellor Merkel really wants to have her hand on the tiller of Germany's Africa policy, then she should arrange for a meeting of her ministers and thrash out a joint policy paper. She should also consult African partners. Time is running out. Campaigning for the September general election in Germany gets underway in the summer and from then onwards politicians won't have time for detailed policy discussions.
Does anybody still remember the Commission for Africa launched by the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2004, which aimed to supply impetus for development on the continent? Or South African President Thabo Mbkei's New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD)? There have been many promising ideas that have largely faded from memory. If the German government doesn't act soon then its "Marshall Plan with Africa," "Compact with Africa" and "Pro!Africa" will share the same fate.
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