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Germany Adopts a New, Humble Africa Policy

Europe’s influence in Africa is waning. Germany is now attempting a values-based approach but without paternalism.

The first-ever Africa Climate Summit was held in Kenya’s capital Nairobi recently. In total, 54 African countries, who together are responsible for about 4% of global CO2 output, advocated strongly for a reform of the global finance system and called on the international community to support the development of renewable energy sources. 

These demands were directed at the countries of the so-called global north, including Germany, which was a guest at the summit. Notably, the German government did not bring any of its own suggestions. “It is intentional that we are not starting any new German initiatives at this summit,” Bärbel Kofler, the Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) said ahead of the meeting. This, despite the battle against climate change being a core focus of German foreign policy.

More partnerships as equals

“African countries have discussed and presented their approaches to solving the problem here,” Kofler said at a media briefing following the conference. Germany, she insisted, wanted only to listen and enthusiastically support. In taking this stance, the government is reacting to criticism that Berlin was acting too assertively and not engaging with African partners on an equal footing.

For example, earlier this year the Foreign Office’s social media team used a leopard emoji in reference to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to South Africa. Many accused the German ministry of perpetuating stereotypes about the continent. 

World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has also drawn attention to the relational difficulties in recent weeks. According to German independent journalism start-up Table Media, at an ambassadors’ conference she quoted an African diplomat as saying: “When we speak with China, we get an airport; when we speak with Germany, we get a lecture.”

Russia, China, Turkey: Better, quicker, more comfortable

In recent years, African countries have developed a new self-confidence and no longer want to be instructed by European governments. “The Europeans should be aware of the fact that in the meantime other possibilities have opened up for African countries,” Paul-Simon Handy from the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa said, noting that Africa is now an “open market” in which the highest bidder is awarded the contract.

Under these circumstances, Russia and China are currently performing better than the Europeans. In bite-sized pieces, they are serving their African partners exactly what they need. In the case of Russia, that means practical military help. And the People’s Republic of China has massively invested in infrastructure on the continent. The counteroffer: Europe and the US with their complicated economic projects, which come with many strings attached and continue to be plagued by delays.

Africa: Continent of opportunity for Germany

According to Paul-Simon Handy, Germany should invest in structural stability. “Investment in infrastructure: Streets, bridges, airports. That is what African countries really want.” Investment, instead of good advice.

The measures that Germany announced at the summit show that this message has also been received by Berlin’s decision-makers. In the renewable energy sector, for example, both sides could profit. Kenya, with support from Germany, will in future be able to produce green hydrogen to make fertilizer and thereby contribute to food security in East Africa. One of the world’s largest facilities for green hydrogen is due to be built in the Namibian town of Lüderitz — with German involvement. Some of the hydrogen produced there would then be exported to Germany.

The cooperation could go even further, said Stefan Rouenhoff, a member of Germany’s Bundestag parliament for the opposition conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and leader of his party’s working group on Africa. Alongside traditional development cooperation, he would like the government to provide increased incentives for German companies to invest in Africa, especially in the development of renewable energy. “That is a huge opportunity for both sides, for individual African countries being invested in and also for Germany… for German companies, to generate new sales markets and also really advance climate protection internationally,” he told DW.

Breaking away from values-led foreign policy?

When the interests correspond, such as with climate protection, a partnership it almost guaranteed. However, how will the parties conduct themselves where the values of the German government and some African partners are not aligned, such as women’s or LGBTQ rights? Does Germany’s new humility mean breaking away from values-based foreign policy?

Stefan Rouenhoff thinks foreign trade diplomacy can also help in this regard. “The vast majority of German companies make a significant contribution toward ensuring that our standards and our values are also listened to on the African continent.” This is how German companies contribute to social change.

Paul-Simon Handy also thinks promoting human rights is important, as well as being the right thing to do. The question, however, is how to do it? “Do you make them a condition? Do you impose a timeframe under which a country should adopt those values? Now it’s a different type of conversation. If you do that, then you become paternalistic and probably the type of partner that many governments would rather avoid. So I think the question is more on how you want to promote it.”

Lecture less, invest more. This would allow Germany to score points in Africa.

Source : DW

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