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Aerial skyline view of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 3 November 2021.

Aerial skyline view of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 3 November 2021.

Great Expectations, New Ideas, and Many Unanswered Questions: On the Conclusion of Joint Futures

Blog Joint Futures 47, 15.02.2024

On the Joint Futures blog, German, European, and African authors addressed a variety of topics that are relevant to Germany’s Africa policy. Have we made the work on the new guidelines easier or more difficult? Here we take stock.


With the blog series Joint Futures, Megatrends Afrika began to accompany Germany’s revision of its Africa Policy Guidelines in September 2023. The topics and opinions reflected in the 46 blog posts are as heterogeneous as the continent itself, and as complex as the challenges facing Germany’s Africa policy. Possibly, the blog, with its diversity of topics, may have made the task of decision-makers more difficult, rather than easier. After all, their job is to weigh issues against each other and prioritise them. Even if these are guidelines and not a strategy, effective cross-departmental action requires a clear direction and clearly defined goals.

However, the contributions also show that it is precisely this diversity that needs to be accounted for. The main challenge for the Africa Policy Guidelines is to do justice to the heterogeneity of the continent. While emphasising the continent’s economic growth, the role of private investment, the need for greater mobilisation of private capital and while recognising Germany’s economic interests, it is also important to not lose sight of security challenges and Europe’s limited influence in conflict resolution and mediation. And then there are the big questions of the future: cooperation on migration, energy and raw materials, and climate foreign policy.

Great expectations

It is clear from many contributions that there are great expectations on both the African side and the German side for a reorientation of Germany’s Africa policy. Perhaps these expectations are exaggerated. Everyone agrees that new approaches are needed in view of global power shifts and rapid change on the continent, as well as a German society whose relationship to its colonial past and its attitudes towards media reporting on Africa are evolving. However, what exactly a new German Africa policy could look like often remains vague.

This applies, for example, to the recurring call for German diplomacy to turn the page and finally deal with African partners on an equal footing. This demand risks turning into a cliché, as it is seldom based on a clear diagnosis of what exactly was wrong with Germany’s Africa policy in the past. There is also the open question of how to encourage German companies to embrace dynamic African markets more strongly, lest they be left behind. And although it is now undisputed that Germany’s security engagement in the Sahel region alongside France has failed, it remains unclear what a more promising approach could be.

New ideas

Despite such unanswered questions, the contributions also provide new inspiration and topics that are worth considering. For example, there has been a lot of talk recently about the need for Europe to take a strategic view of infrastructure investments on the African continent. However, what exactly this means and what conflicts of interest may arise as a result has rarely been considered to date, but two contributions offer some pointers. It is also worth considering the proposal to involve African voices in an advisory capacity early on in processes that concern them, and to use the African diaspora in Germany as a bridge. A detailed examination of the African digital market – even beyond major infrastructure projects – can help to promote new economic partnerships, especially between SMEs, and a trustworthy exchange of data between the two continents. Further contributions provide suggestions for a reorientation of trade policy and cooperation on migration.

Domestic political changes in African countries and, above all, a rapidly increasing reordering of the international system call for a rethink of – and adjustments to – relations between Germany and its African partners. Agreement on this point does not yet help answer the questions of what exactly new policies should look like, how they should be implemented, and where they should lead to. The core concern of Joint Futures was to accompany the process of thinking through these questions. As an ideas lab and discussion space, we sought to initiate debates and highlight neglected issues. At the same time, a blog like this can only be a starting point, a reference point for the necessary public debate required to find answers to the challenges facing Germany’s Africa policy.

Benedikt Erforth (IDOS) and Wolfram Lacher (SWP) are project directors of Megatrends Afrika.

Responsibility for content, opinions expressed and sources used in the articles and interviews lies with the respective authors.