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Scholz's Africa visit: Germany looks to boost economic ties

Isaac Kaledzi in Accra
October 31, 2023

Africa is growing in both strategic and economic significance for Germany. Europe’s biggest economy wants to build stronger ties, and Olaf Scholz's visit to Ghana and Nigeria sought to do just that.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz in conversation with President Bola Tinubu
Scholz and Tinubu spoke in Nigeria at the beginning of the German chancellor's trip on SundayImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picture alliance

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's visit to Nigeria and Ghana in West Africa, his third trip to Africa in two years, had the aim of deepening economic ties between Germany and the two African nations.

Nigeria is struggling, with the value of its economy reportedly declining to $477 billion (€451 billion) in 2022 from $546 billion in 2015.

During bilateral talks, Nigeria's president Bola Tinubu wooed investors to the country's mining sector, which has been underdeveloped for decades. He also said he had discussed with Scholz the potential of exporting gas to Europe. 

"The [possibility of the] energy [sector] to facilitate the shipment of liquified gas to Europe is well discussed in advance. We have an eye on this," Tinubu said.

German companies aimed to boost their activities in Africa this year, especially in areas such as green hydrogen and liquefied natural gas.

Members of the German African Business Association also signaled their willingness to keep their spending levels in Africa stable.

Increased investments in Africa

Chancellor Scholz echoed this. One key area for the anticipated investments he mentioned was the energy sector. Scholz said in Nigeria that one of the main parts of a cooperation between Berlin and Abuja would be "using the economic opportunities of your country."

He said that among these opportunities were "gas and oil, which [are] traditionally linked to your country."

As Europe's biggest economy, Germany has been seeking to reduce its reliance on Russia for gas since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and it sees the energy sector in Africa as one possible alternative.

In Ghana, West Africa's second largest economy, Chancellor Scholz's discussions with Ghana's President Nana Akufo Addo focused on expanding economic relations in the fields of energy, agriculture and digitalization.

Scholz backs African Union bid to join G20

Germany's exports to Ghana in 2022 stood at $314.77 million. Experts believe there is a potential for an increase in trade volumes between the two countries in the coming years.

Some analysts consider Germany the leading supporter of the African Union and its activities. One reason for that is the work of the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), which has several economic programs in place across the African continent.

German aid footprints in Africa

African Affairs analyst Emmanuel Bensah told DW that Scholz's visit would solidify investments and enable Germany to hold onto this kind of influence in Africa.

"I think we are all familiar with how much GIZ over the past 10 years and more has supported a lot of engagements around the African Union, ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] and many of the region's institutions," he said.

He added that Scholz's meeting with the Ghanaian and Nigerian leaders, the heads of two leading nations in West Africa, should enable him to appreciate the impact such programs are having on real people.

Germany has also expressed its support of democracy in Africa, and Scholz highlighted this during his visit to the ECOWAS secretariat, where he expressed concerns over the high number of recent coups across Africa.

Paul Ejime, an international affairs analyst based in Nigeria, explained that having a stable continent furthers the agenda of Germany and the West.

"No country in the global North would go and dump their money in [an unstable] South because investment follows stability and then it follows interest. It follows gains because if you don't have any gains or returns on investment, if the returns on investment were not there, you shouldn't go there," Ejime said.

Germany's "Compact with Africa" initiative has been a pivotal aspect of its relationship with the continent. Its focus is on migration support systems and helping to re-integrate Africans who wish to return from Germany and Europe.

Germany recently reformed its migration policies and now hopes to attract young skilled labor from the continent.

"I think it is great idea, a great opportunity for these two countries in West Africa to have these conversations with a great supporter of continental synergies and institutions like [Germany]," Bensah said.

Ahead of the November 20 meeting of Africa and G20 countries in the German capital, Berlin, Scholz hopes to send a signal of his positive intentions across the continent with his Africa visit.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz und President Nana Akufo-Addo shaking hands
Scholz met with Akufo-Addo in Ghana, one of Germany's most important partners in West AfricaImage: picture alliance/dpa

Africa must own its development

One of the highlights of his visit to Ghana was a meeting with students of Ashesi University in the eastern part of the country.

Interactions between the chancellor and the students were focused on the potential of Africa, and why young people are key to the progress of the continent.

One of the students, Valeria Ackon, told the chancellor Germany and the West must avoid micromanaging the continent.

"As we keep discussing this future of Africa, I would like to draw on Germany's role in this," Ackon said. "External powers tend to forget that Indigenous solutions already exist on the continent, we do not need a Western savior. Ideas exist on the continent and need to be developed and given the stage and opportunity to flourish."

The chancellor agreed with this and backed the need for Africa to own its growth. Scholz said that the most important take-away from his conversations with the students was that "with the things, the talent and the techniques that you are developing in Africa, you can do it yourself, and I think this is something that should be mentioned."

Edited by: Carla Bleiker