11 July 2011
Markus Weimer
(Former Chatham House Expert)


Angela Merkel, Germany's Chancellor, is currently on her third visit to Africa since 2007. Around 600 German businesses operate in Africa, with some 146,000 employees. The Chancellor will visit Kenya, Angola and Nigeria with energy diversification at the top of the agenda as Germany looks to move energy partnerships forward with the two biggest oil exporters in sub-Saharan Africa.

Merkel visits the continent on the back of an updated German Africa strategy, integrating various policies and seeking inter-agency coherence. Germany's Africa engagement is no longer just about humanitarianism and defining Berlin's strategic needs is no longer taboo. A case in point is the shift of the policy lead on Africa from the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development to the more political oriented Federal Foreign Office.

Germany says it seeks to base its partnerships in Africa on a more equal footing and that Africa will not be treated as a 'special case' any longer but as a 'normal' partner. This new strategy is partly a response to the growing footprint of China and other emerging powers in Africa. European influence in Africa is waning compared to the rapidly increasing influence of China, India and others such as Turkey and Brazil who are bullish, self-confident, do not carry colonial baggage, and are serious competitors.

Is this a new 'scramble for Africa'? Germany insists not. Germany has interest in resources, but unlike China it will continue to speak out against corruption, poor governance and human rights abuses. Germany's new Africa strategy states that Germany is a defender of universal values such as human rights, and will seek primary partnership with countries that share these. This policy also supports civil society and the rule of law in Africa.

German development cooperation will be linked more closely to economic interests such as trade liberalisation, FDI and access to natural resources. But other elements of Germany's new Africa policy include strengthening peace and security by Africans for Africa, promoting open societies, strengthening climatic and environmental cooperation, securing the sustainable use and extraction of energy resources, and supporting sustainable development.

Critics of this new German Africa policy argue that it is underpinned by economic interests and that the human rights discourse is window dressing. It remains to be seen how well Merkel and her government can balance German interests with universal values. Nevertheless, Germany's new strategy towards Africa marks an important shift in emphasis and the chancellor's five day trip to signals that Angela Merkel backs it.