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The New Africa Strategy of Germany’s Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development: More Self-Critical, Credible and Values-Based?

Megatrends spotlight 21, 07.02.2023

The BMZ has presented its new Africa strategy. The strategy turns away from focussing on private sector development, our authors comment in this Megatrends Afrika Spotlight. It promises global structural policy and multilateral cooperation - and a more self-critical attitude towards development.

The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) presented its new Africa Strategy at the end of January. Set against the dawning of the new era of the “Zeitenwende”, the document makes a clear commitment to multilateral cooperation and European solutions as a means of countering the narrative of global divisions. In this new multi-polar world order, Federal Development Minister Schulze noted on the occasion, Germany and Europe would be well advised to act in a timely manner to establish and develop reliable alliances, networks and partnerships across continents. According to Schulze, only those capable of doing so would be able to shape change in a multi-polar world. Africa, she said, was increasingly becoming a global gravitational centre with whom it would be necessary to maintain close relations.

One primary new feature of the strategy, which otherwise provides continuity in many regards, sees BMZ indicate a willingness to address its own position on development issues in greater depth and reflect upon its role as a partner in a multi-polar world. The return to a global structural policy also entails stringent requirements, with Germany’s credibility as a partner to African states resting on its ability to fulfil them.

A Strategy for a Changing World

Reflecting the current times, the strategy responds to the consequences of Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine and the upheaval brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, it does not lose sight of long-term structural transformations: Efforts to tackle the causes of displacement through (private-sector) economic development were at the heart of the Marshall Plan with Africa (2017-2022). Other issues have since emerged, including a feminist development policy, health care and pandemic prevention. A renewed emphasis has also been placed on efforts to overcome hunger and poverty. The private sector plays less of a role in the strategy, with its involvement primarily limited to climate and development partnerships and infrastructure financing initiatives.

There is a trend in migration policy towards the promotion of legal migration routes. Reform partnerships are also set to expire and be replaced by sectoral cooperation. Civil-society actors and multi-stakeholder partnerships feature more prominently, alongside multilateral and EU partnerships. Whether this new emphasis will actually lead to an increase in the proportion of German bilateral development funding allocated to civil-society organisations, which has been comparatively small until now, remains to be seen.

Seeking to balance interests and values

The strategy sees Germany in clear competition with other actors such as China, Turkey, the Gulf states and Russia for influence on the African continent. The Federal Republic intends to distinguish itself from these other players through a focus on common interests and values in its cooperation activities with African partners. Whether bilaterally or as part of EU initiatives, Germany seeks to enhance its appeal as a partner by further stepping up its commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Engaging in “in-depth reflection on the consequences of the colonial era” should prove helpful in this regard. Such reflection forms part of the new feminist approach, which aims to dismantle not only structural inequalities between the sexes, but also racist and post-colonial structures. At the same time, the strategy rejects paternalistic tendencies within development policy in response to related allegations made recently by African nations during the controversy over voting behaviour of African states at the UN General Assembly regarding the Russia-Ukraine conflict and during discussions on the use of fossil fuels.

However, values-based policy could itself be understood as paternalistic. The only way for Germany to remedy this is by transparently weighing interests and values, including in public discourse. The question arises as to whether limiting cooperation to countries with shared values and interests runs the risk of effectively excluding a large number of partners. BMZ needs to find clear and practicable answers to the progressive autocratisation process taking place in many African countries.

A Return of Structural Policy

A global structural policy devised in cooperation with Africa and a commitment to global debt management are at the forefront of the strategy. This evokes memories of the red-green coalition government in power in Germany over 20 years ago.

Global structural policy means shared responsibility and can only be created through multilateral cooperation. This is expressed clearly in the announcement that existing asymmetries in trade and agricultural policy will be addressed, as well as in BMZ’s desire “that the voices of African states and the AU are heard appropriately within multilateral fora”. Germany needs to defend this position more vigorously if it is to boost its credibility.

Cross-Departmental Coherence Remains a Challenge for the German Government

The Africa Strategy offers many starting points for advancing an interministerial approach by the German Government to its relations with Africa. The strategy underscores this point by making reference to the Federal Government’s Africa Policy Guidelines and expressing a commitment to working closely with other ministries and EU instruments. The few specific examples mentioned include the proven Interministerial Steering Committee on Africa, the Team Europe approach, joint programming, and the Global Gateway Africa – Europe Investment Package. As stressed in an evaluation of reform partnerships carried out last year, there is a particular need for better coordination between BMZ and the Federal Foreign Office if Germany is to be viewed as a reliable partner.

The strategy covers a broad range of topics, but is often more descriptive than strategic. It reads like a manifesto for an active partnership with Africa that questions old ways of thinking and highlights common ground. There is, however, one question that remains unanswered – namely how to pursue a values-based foreign and development policy in countries whose governments do not share Germany’s priorities. There are no easy answers here; rather, such a policy must be pursued pragmatically and, now more than ever, will require Germany and the EU to adopt a coherent and determined approach to their work around the world.

This article was published in amended form as Current Column of the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS) on 30/01/2023.