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Opinion: Can Merkel keep Africa high on the G-20 agenda?

Tansania Jenerali Ulimwengu Journalist
Jenerali Ulimwengu
July 7, 2017

Africa is high on the agenda at the G-20 summit in Germany but Angela Merkel will have a tough time keeping it there amidst all the other pressing issues, says Tanzanian political commentator Jenerali Ulimwengu.

Deutschland G20 Afrika Treffen
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

As Germany plays host to the G-20, Chancellor Angela Merkel can be excused for feeling she is on the verge of inheriting the leadership of the rich world from a clueless and rudderless United States under Donald Trump. The question that comes to my mind is whether she will have enough time to spare for Africa's perennial economic problems.

The world's club of the rich opens its summit in the northern port city of Hamburg this Friday with an unusually heavy agenda, dealing with such weighty matters as terrorism and security, immigration, climate change, North Korea's recalcitrant nuclear posturing, all against the background of possibly violent confrontations between police and anti-globalisation protesters.

So, how can anyone expect that the German authorities, and the G-20 generally, will still have time to think about Africa's endemic problems, problems  that have eluded solution for so long, notwithstanding the numerous initiatives that have been conceived and the immense economic potential that the continent boasts?

But that is exactly what the Germans intend to do. The Hamburg summit has allocated a considerable amount of space and time to what the Germans have termed the "Compact with Africa," which will explore ways and means to "support a reliable financial framework in order to increase investment opportunities, push for a more sustainable infrastructure as well as create jobs and employment in African counties and thereby contribute to the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063." 

Jenerali Ulimwengu
Jenerali UlimwenguImage: privat

Germany assumed the presidency of the G-20 in December 2016, and is intent on using its considerable influence in world affairs to try and make a difference in Africa. The summit in Hamburg is billed as a central stage from which a new initiative will be launched.

The organizers hope to create a dialogue between German officials and African decision-makers, some of whom will be in Hamburg for the occasion. In June a number of African heads of state and government met in Berlin and agreed a number of areas to be treated as priorities, including rural employment, human capital development, agriculture, digital education for girls, industrialization, peace and security and the fight against corruption.

Some people in Germany have called for an African Marshall Plan (some have dubbed it the Merkel Plan), reminiscent of the United States' plan to rebuild Europe after the devastation of World War ll, but this has to be an overblown exaggeration, because the post-war situation in the Europe of the 1940s-50s can hardly be compared to that of Africa today.

For one thing, the last war was largely a European dispute into which the US was drawn in defense of its "brethren" and nothing of that sort exists here. Then there is the perception that financial and economic assistance poured into Africa over the decades has gone down a bottomless pit leading to donor fatigue. Issues of corruption and a poor governance culture have plagued the continent and have led many western analysts to doubt the effectiveness of any further assistance.

In addition, it has often been pointed out that the continent has failed to put into practice its own home-grown plans, including the Lagos Plan of Action of 1980, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). Foreign-conceived interventions, including the so-called Blair Commission of the 1990s, have produced nothing to suggest anything Merkel might do can be any different.

 Still, the German chancellor has shown her mettle handling other issues. Her success in implementing the Willkommenskultur  (welcome culture) towards refugees from crisis regions such as Syria has demonstrated her commitment and stamina, and her development minister, Gerd Müller has openly voiced his anxiety over the ever rising levels of poverty in Africa. Recently, Mr Müller said that he fears that if nothing is done to alleviate this problem, there could soon be 100 million African refugees at Germany's door.

That could be an incentive for Germany's action.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is a Tanzanian journalist, lawyer and political commentator

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