Merkel’s Africa visit provokes mixed reaction

Angela Merkel, German Chancellor. [Shutterstock]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent three day tour of Africa has been greeted with mixed signals. Political leaders, academics and policy makers are divided on whether it added any value to the continent. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The trip was as historic as it was symbolic with the chancellor focusing her attention on West and East Africa. The visit predominantly focused on security, migration and investment with the chancellor choosing to address a catalogue of crises that have not only held Africa hostage but her own country and the European Union itself.

With the bag of goodies and promises of collaboration that came with her visit, Niger, Mali and Ethiopia, all bearing the brunt of home grown terrorism and migration of its people to Europe, made a new friend in Germany. Or did they?

Merkel’s Mali visit, the first by a German chancellor to a country that houses over 550 German soldiers fighting Islamist insurgents, came with the promise of military and development aid. Policy makers welcomed the gesture.

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“Germany’s influence in Africa hasn’t been as strong as that of her peers Britain and France. Yet it has increasingly borne the brunt of emerging phenomena emanating from Africa like an unprecedented influx of migrants. By having the chancellor herself flying and spending time in Mali is a strong signal of her and her government’s commitment to nip the problem in the bud and is quite a welcome move not just in Mali but also in Africa,” said security analyst Major Godwin Oyewole.

But the chancellor’s efforts to tame migration, Islamist insurgency and the spill over effects also featured largely in Niger and Ethiopia.

With a €77 million pledge to improve infrastructure and provide training in the impoverished Agadez region in Niger, which is a conduit for migrants entering Europe, and a €10 million commitment to boosting communication equipment and vehicles for the country’s army, analysts see this as Merkel’s idea of killing two birds with one stone.

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“With the growing influx of migrants in Germany coming from Africa, the EU super power feels it needs to address the problem from the source. Germany understands that migration and terrorism have greatly affected its foreign policy and it is trying to correct this especially in Africa which it sees as a major threat going forward.

“So the idea is that even as it ensures that the military is well equipped to guard the borders, it also needs to create a good environment in these countries to entice more investors who will create local jobs,” argued Professor Ambani Mulunda, an expert on foreign policy and lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Indeed, the message Merkel consistently hammered during her visit was that “the wellbeing of Africa is in Germany’s interest”, promising that Africa would feature predominantly at the country’s upcoming G20 presidency.

“Her message specifically was how it was important for Africa to create stable nations with thriving economies that would ensure that young people were comfortable at home and had no reason to go looking for greener pastures abroad,” added Mulunda.

But Germany would still grapple with addressing the refugee and migrant crisis in Ethiopia, an East Africa country struggling with the aftermath of hosting a big number of refugees like Germany.

According to UN figures, Germany saw the arrival of more than 890,000 migrants last year. Ethiopia also hosts one of the largest numbers of refugees in the world currently standing at 700,000, the highest in Africa.

“But even as Ethiopia welcomes the refugees, it is still struggling with major internal issues including lack of resources which has been sparking internal conflicts like what is being witnessed currently. Refugees being ostracised ultimately get more reason to look for better lives where they perceive they are safe, and the cycle of migration to Europe continues,” said Godwin.

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It is a view held by another school of thought, which feels that Merkel’s visit may not yield much in the long term and there is need for a paradigm shift. One of the bones of contention was Merkel’s discussion with the African countries about a deal similar to the one Germany entered into with Turkey to stem migrant inflow.

This involved Ankara taking back Syrians who made it to Greece in exchange for being allowed to send refugees in the camps to the bloc in an organised redistribution programme.

Critics have argued that it is counterproductive for the chancellor to enter into such deals with leaders who have no regard for human rights.

“The EU member states have always lived up to the tenets of upholding the highest levels of respect for human life, rights and dignity. Look at what is happening in Ethiopia and the government’s spirited efforts to silence alternative voices and opposition a phenomenon that has been systemic over the years. Are these the same people the chancellor wants to work with and expect them to keep their word?” asked Juma Malimbo from the Mozambique-Tanzania Centre for Foreign Relations.

“How is the security of refugees guaranteed if they are to go back to these countries?” added Juma.

Mulumba on the other hand argues that Germany’s proposition of taming the influx of African migrants is not sustainable and home-grown and proactive solutions are required instead.

“The best way to address this problem is to address population growth. Africa is experiencing one of the fastest growing population rates in the world and shrinking resources. Giving out money cannot solve this and will never be sustainable. There will always be more people and then what? We need to invest in learning to manage the African population by women empowerment and education on birth control. That tames the problem from the source,” he argued.

With Germany taking an aggressive lead in taming the immigration influx into Europe, discussions and policies are now gravitating towards looking for and addressing reasons that force people to migrate.

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