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Opinion: Profit over aid - Merkel’s plan for Africa

Staecker Claus Kommentarbild App
Claus Stäcker
June 13, 2017

With new reform partnerships, Germany wants to help Africa move forward. But the German G20 initiative is loaded with excessive expectations, says Claus Stäcker.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel surrounded by African and European delegates at the G20 Africa Summit in Berlin.
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Sohn

Alpha Conde, head of the African Union and Guinean president, nudged German Chancellor Angela Merkel conspiratorially: yet another of his African counterparts had just described the so-called "Marshall Plan" for Africa, laid out by German Development Minister Gerd Müller, as the "Merkel Plan." A girlish smile crept over the chancellor's face. Just moments earlier, she had called on the African delegates at the G20 Africa Summit in Berlin to speak out openly.

Instead, the guests outdid one another with expressions of praise and gratitude, lauding the new approach of the "Compact with Africa" and the very notion of partnership. Getting the mechanism on to the G20 agenda was an achievement in itself, an indicator for the future, they said. A paradigm shift. African billionaires Mo Ibrahim and Alika Dangote talked of a "coalition of the willing" as if describing countries embarking together on a war. The conference moderator kept pronouncing Merkel's name as 'miracle.' A wind of fresh starts, pathos and excessive expectations blew through the towering frame of Berlin's historic gasometer in the Schöneberg district - the former gas storage container is now a conference center where the talks are taking place.

Claus Stäcker, head of DW's Africa service
Claus Stäcker is head of DW's Africa service

Merkel - Miracle

The "Merkel Plan," which is still more of a Merkel idea, could be a departure from ordinary development aid, marking an end to the random approach of distributing funds which has proved not to have worked. Since 1960, Africa has burned through $4,000 billion (3,566 billion euros) without any significant improvement to living standards. Over the same period, Africa's share in world trade shrank from seven percent to currently just three percent. 

Now countries prepared to introduce reforms, and create good conditions for investors are set to be rewarded. The plan is to develop beacons of good practice which gradually light up the whole continent. And, above all, to create jobs - crucial to deter African youth from seeking a better life elsewhere.

The German government expects around 400,000 African migrants to arrive in the country this year alone. Current forecasts suggest that in 2030, 440 million young Africans will be looking for a job. If they are to find one in their home continent, Africa needs to create 20 million new jobs every year: job growth needs to outstrip population growth.

As Ivory Coast, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal and Tunisia, the first countries pledging reforms under the Compact, enthused about the "win-win situation" and their wealth of "human capital," it almost sounded cynical already. President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, a country whose population has increased almost sevenfold since 1960 and has an average age of 15, spoke in all seriousness about "demographic assets" which, thanks to the new partnerships, could become "demographic dividends."

Cooperation on African terms

In Niger, every little step towards food security is nullified by the exploding population. The issue of birth control, which once reined in China's growth, is largely taboo in Africa. Now Africans are expecting multi-million dollar sums every year for their willingness to cooperate. In Berlin, everyone is emphasising that the countries' own plans and models for the future - like the African Union's Agenda 2063 - should be the benchmark.

In other words: no more conditions. Instead, developmental dictatorships like Rwanda or state-capitalist Afrochina models as in Ethiopia are to get free rein over their futures. This is aggravated by the fact that Germany and Europe are already working with dubious regimes in, for example, Sudan and Eritrea to try and stem migration.

Under the Merkel plan, Africans will be even less willing to be dictated to. Rwanda's autocratic President Paul Kagame demanded loudly "to do it differently this time, and faster." Voices like that of Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, who pledged to fight corruption, profit shifting and tax dodging in his own country, were almost drowned out. Others called for a redefinition of trade relations with the EU and hoped international leaders would not focus on the model countries to the point of forgetting Africa's 47 other nations.

A plan to solve all Africa's problems?

No Marshall plan, G20 plan or Merkel plan can meet all the continent's challenges. With German federal elections approaching, there's not even unity within the government. Four different ministries are running parallel Africa initiatives. Potential investors are searching for partners from the Economics Ministry to the Development Ministry - even in the Foreign Ministry. Meanwhile German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was absent from the G20 summit in Berlin - as if the new partnerships had nothing to do with foreign policy. Instead, he was hosting a German-African summer party - at the same time, so none of those attending the summit at the gasometer could attend. That's hardly good coordination.

Everything is connected, said Development Minister Gerd Müller as the G20 Africa summit came to a close. The "Merkel Plan" is a new, perhaps better approach. But it will need strong allies in the EU and around the world. If it fails to gain them within the German cabinet, it doesn't bear thinking about how other G20 members - especially Donald Trump - will react. The Merkel plan could quickly falter in the face of the huge tasks ahead. It's better to see it from the outset as just a building block in one of the projects of the century.   

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Staecker Claus Kommentarbild App
Claus Stäcker Head of the Africa services with a keen focus on politics, demography and generational conflict@ClausStaecker
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