Compared to the fanfare with which her predecessor presented his plans for cooperation between Germany and Africa, German Development Minister Svenja Schulze’s proposals come across as a lot more modest.
Former Development Minister Gerd Müller presented his concept with great fanfare in 2017, declaring it a “Marshall Plan for Africa.” Just a few years later though, it has largely fallen by the wayside. Much of the plan never even got past the conceptual stage and Müller himself has withdrawn from politics.
Schulze’s new plan has a less grandiose title. It’s simply called the Africa Strategy, and has the stated ambition of “shaping the future with Africa.”
“What we don’t want is for the countries to permanently depend on us,” Schulze, who has been in office since the end of 2021, told DW at the launch of the strategy. “We see how Africa is developing, the innovation potential, the many young people. And we want to build networks, partnerships, that benefit both sides, not just one.”
The strategy has some new priorities. Sustainability plays a major role — hardly surprising in the age of climate change, the effects of which are clearly being felt by African countries. Germany wants to promote the socially equitable and environmentally friendly transformation of African economies.
Germany’s Development Ministry (BMZ), plans to support countries in expanding renewable energies and in creating new jobs, especially for young people. According to the ministry, 25 million new jobs need to be created on the continent every year as Africa experiences rapid population growth — by 2050, 2.5 billion people could be living on the continent.
‘The right tone’
Olawunmi Ola-Busari, an analyst at the South African office of ONE, a global movement campaigning to end extreme poverty and preventable disease by 2030, approves of the new priorities, saying they set “the right tone for advancing Germany’s development relationship with African countries and also highlight key priorities for African countries, governments and institutions.”
The strategy also recognizes Africa’s increasing importance in global politics and “supports the priorities that Africans themselves have put forward, as set out in Agenda 2063,” Ola-Busari said.
In one key respect, the new strategy differs from Müller’s so-called “Marshall Plan,” which was designed to encourage German companies to invest in Africa on a grand scale. Numerous support programs were promised, some of which were introduced.
But, as Robert Kappel, a former professor working in Africa studies at Leipzig University, told DW, “Economic cooperation does not play a major role in this concept.”
While existing programs will be continued, Kappel pointed out that there is no plan to make trade relations between Africa and Europe fairer, for instance with regard to subsidized agricultural products from Europe, which offer tough competition for African producers. That is something African governments have repeatedly called for, Kappel said, adding he had expected more in that respect.
German business unhappy
Business representatives were not as pleased. “Instead of providing new impetus to promote private sector projects and investments — which would counteract the increasingly strong presence of players who, according to policymakers, are systemic competitors — the paper largely exhausts itself in describing existing initiatives and formulating declarations of intent,” says Stefan Liebing, chairman of the German-African Business Association. In practice, however, German business involvement on the continent falls far short of policymakers’ expectations.
The BMZ also plans a special focus on promoting women’s rights, an announcement that could trigger heated discussion in Africa. Funding that makes a direct or indirect contribution to gender equality is to increase to 93% by 2025. The ministry points out that women and girls in Africa still face discrimination.
“They have fewer opportunities for good schooling and education and are disproportionately employed in the informal sector. In many African countries, girls are forced to marry, and access to healthcare and contraceptives is limited,” the German strategy paper noted.
Large parts of African civil society may welcome those plans, but they could also strain relations with some governments. “It will certainly trigger discussions,” Kappel noted.
Some African leaders have long complained about what they perceive as cultural interference by Western countries — for some male politicians, that includes statements from Western countries concerning equal rights. The same could be true for the planned support of local LGBTQ communities. Ola-Busari predicts “mixed reactions” in the light of continued LGBTQ discrimination and criminalization in some African countries.
What parts of the Schulze plan will ultimately be implemented depends not only on the German development ministry. “That [single] ministry will only be able to succeed if it also has buy-in from the foreign, economic and defense ministries,” Ola-Busari explained. “What we’re calling for, is a coherent Africa strategy from the entire German government.”
That could be wishful thinking though. Back in 2017, several ministries were working on their own African plans at the same time, even as experts urged a more coherent concept and whole-of-government approach. But apart from a vague paper that outlined some basic points, nothing else ever happened.
This article was originally written in German.