German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s inaugural visit to Africa is designed to convey some continuity in these turbulent times. In February, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to cut short his trip to Senegal, and Scholz’s May 22-25 visit is meant to pick up on that thread. At the same time, Russia remains a subject in the background of all German foreign policy missions for the time being.
Scholz’s journey begins in Senegal, then travels to Niger and South Africa. The Chancellor, who has been in office for nearly six months now, will make his first stops in two countries often seen as making important contributions to stability in West Africa.
Senegal currently holds the presidency of the African Union and is a new G7 partner country. And Niger, which is a military partner and a transit country for migrants en route to Europe, is also a key state for EU policy in Africa.
Billions of investments were negotiated at the EU-AU Africa summit in February
Senegal and Niger border Mali, which experienced a military coup in May 2021 and whose decisions since then have seen tensions arise between itself and its African neighbors and EU partners.
France’s African “baggage”
Under the French EU Presidency, which runs until June 30, the European Union has worked with the Malian government against insurgents in the Sahel. But tensions between France and Assimi Goita, who has ruled Mali since the May 2021 coup, led to the withdrawal of all French forces from the country earlier this year. The European Union has since suspended its training mission in Mali.
Neighboring Niger, which already hosts soldiers from a number of Western countries – including some of the French troops that were previously in Mali – has the potential to be a new base for such missions. The government of Niger has sent positive signals so far.
Although security conditions for EU forces in Mali remain uncertain following France’s withdrawal, the Bundestag recently approved the retention of German troops there for another year as part of the UN mission. in the country.
“Germany, especially in this part of Africa, doesn’t bring with it the same kind of baggage that France does,” Priyal Singh, a researcher at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies think tank ( ISS).
France, a former colonial power in West Africa, has often been criticized for its selfish agenda. “So potentially African peace and security actors in this region might be more open to engaging with Germany as a more neutral partner,” Singh said.
German soldiers train special forces in Tillia, Niger
Niger’s “showcase project”
Regarding the continued presence of foreign troops in Niger, the general public is more cautious. Olaf Bernau, a sociologist and board member of Fokus Sahel, a German network of civil society groups in the region, told DW that many Nigeriens fear the presence of international troops could bring conflict with extremists in the region. the country.
Bernau said Nigeriens would likely want Scholz to dissuade France from deploying more troops there.
Since 2018, Germany has been training Niger’s special forces itself as part of “Operation Gazelle”, which is due to end at the end of 2022.
The operation was celebrated by the German Ministry of Defense as an example of successful international cooperation. During her visit to Bundeswehr troops in Niger in April, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht called it a “showcase project”.
Such praise has fueled speculation that Niger could become the next base for a successor to the European Union training mission in Mali.
The Nigerien special forces were trained by the German army
Germany as a partner
Military cooperation alone will not be enough to solve the security problems of the Sahel. “Interventions and peacebuilding initiatives on the ground that could be led by Germany would be the logical next step,” said Singh of the ISS. Singh added that such efforts could help Germany “build confidence.”
Volker Treier, head of foreign trade at the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce, told DW that Scholz’s first visit to Africa came at the right time. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns have highlighted how overly dependent Germany is on certain countries, Treier said, especially for its energy needs.
“We have to find ways to trade with many countries in different ways and to make deals on energy and also on security policy,” Treier said.
Africa has huge potential for solar power generation, like in this project in Kenya
Africa has a lot to offer Germany in terms of diversification of energy sources – and not just in terms of fossil fuels such as liquid natural gas. Senegal has recently invested heavily in solar energy and could be a pioneer in this field.
Energy will also play a big part in the final leg of Scholz’s tour. Singh said South Africa was heavily dependent on coal imports and should diversify its energy sources and move towards more environmentally friendly fuels. Since 2008, the country has struggled to meet energy demand.
“There is an incredible opportunity for South Africa and countries like Germany to partner and work with each other… to seek investment, expertise, knowledge, know-how technical,” Singh said.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa welcomed former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and will also welcome her successor
Another recent development in Africa will also be important for future cooperation, Treier said. The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement entered into force in early 2021.
Treier said the deal was similar to the European single market and had great potential. This would provide a better basis for German companies to invest in Africa and create jobs, he said. It would also allow products made in Africa to play a greater role in international supply chains and move the continent away from simply supplying raw materials.
This article was originally written in German.