Potential partners - and what connects us to them

Sub-Saharan Africa

Even before the appearance of the new coronavirus, the introductory words in the German government's coalition agreement on cooperation with Africa left no doubt about the relevance of this world region for German foreign policy: In no other region of the world are changes in international politics as drastic as in Africa. Working in partnership with the states of Africa is a central task of our time.

Status quo

Even before the appearance of the new coronavirus, the introductory words in the German government’s coalition agreement on cooperation with Africa left no doubt about the relevance of this world region for German foreign policy: In no other region of the world are changes in international politics as drastic as in Africa. Working in partnership with the states of Africa is a central task of our time. It is in our own economic, security and migration policy interests to contribute to reducing the development and prosperity gap.[i] It can be assumed that the coronavirus crisis will further exacerbate existing challenges due to the enormous strain on the healthcare systems, economies and individual livelihoods in Africa. Against this background, the German government again underlined the importance of cooperation in April 2020. The fact is that major transformations are taking place on the continent. The truth of the matter is that the geostrategic rise of China, Russia and Turkey is upsetting traditional constellations on the continent.

In order to identify potential partners, there needs to be differentiated consideration of the heterogeneous developments on the neighbouring continent. However, certain trends can be discerned. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) includes 49 African nations in Sub-Saharan Africa. More than 1 billion people live in these countries, which are characterised by linguistic variety and rich traditions. The German Foundation for World Population forecasts that the population is likely to double to more than 2.1 billion people by 2050. This means that the region has the highest population growth rate in the world. Moreover, the rapidly growing population in Sub-Saharan Africa is not only the youngest in the world, but it also often leaves rural areas to move to the cities. As a result, nowhere in the world are cities growing so quickly. This resource-rich region of the world is disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change and is suffering from the most civil wars and non-state conflicts. Depending on how the statistics are interpreted, many African countries are characterised as the poorest and least developed in the world – and yet also as states of which almost half are now middle-income countries. However, most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are still a long way from the often predicted “demographic dividend”. Some of the growth rates of African economies are very high by global standards. However, this does not, per se, mean inclusive growth that is reaching the population. Definite conclusions are only possible in the context of diverging, country-specific factors, such as demographic development, institutional stability and macroeconomic orientation. Based on heterogeneous contextual factors, widely differing levels of development potential and obstacles to development can be expected in the individual countries. This has various implications for the relevance of the Sub-Saharan Africa region and for the structure of potential cooperation.

In terms of trade, the current importance of the region is relatively low by global standards. Goods imported from Sub-Saharan Africa to Germany had a value of 15 billion euros in 2019. This corresponds to approximately 1.4 percent of the total import volume. Goods exported from Germany to Sub-Saharan Africa amounted to less than 14 billion euros in 2019, i.e. 1 percent of total German exports. About two thirds of these exports were to South Africa. These amounts have hardly changed in the past two to three years. Direct investments amounted to 8.3 billion euros in 2017, or 0.7 percent. This means that they are lower than German direct investment in Ireland; here, too, South Africa benefits the most at almost 80 percent. Nevertheless, the objective of German development policy to strengthen private sector involvement and to promote framework conditions for economic development is a correct approach, and an important one. Economic diversification is lacking in many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Often African economies cannot keep up with the demographic challenges: there is a lack of high-quality education and a shortage of jobs in the formal economy.  Limited incentive mechanisms, bureaucratic hurdles, rampant corruption, insufficient legal certainty, poor access to capital, and an inadequate infrastructure pose numerous challenges for entrepreneurs and for the population. However, there is no shortage of innovative ideas – examples of this are the lively start-up scenes, such as can be found in Ghana and Kenya.

At the same time, the wealth of natural resources and mineral deposits in Sub-Saharan Africa is increasingly moving into geopolitical focus as a result of technological developments. The Chinese interest is unmistakable. South Africa, for example, has various metals and minerals that are relevant to electromobility. The DR Congo is one of the most resource-rich areas in the world. The eastern part of the country is believed to contain a large proportion of the world’s coltan deposits, which play an important role in the production of mobile phones and computers. The Congo Basin is also home to the second largest rainforest area in the world, which is of great importance for the timber industry. However, it is threatened by illegal and unsustainable deforestation, e.g. for the benefit of mining. This also has an impact on the stabilisation of the global climate, since the area functions as an important natural carbon sink. On the African continent which, when compared with the rest of the world, emits relatively few greenhouse gases, South Africa produces by far the most CO2 emissions, but it is also pursuing ambitious goals for the expansion of renewable energies and offering German companies investment opportunities in this sector.

Climate change-related threats to livelihoods, for example in the Lake Chad region, are leading to mass internal migration. Weak state authority and the growing power of terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, are also leading increasingly to the destabilisation of large areas within Sub-Saharan Africa. This has a significant impact on the security situation within Africa and, consequently, on the stability of Europe. Germany, as an integral part of the EU, NATO and other multilateral alliances, is called upon to take action here: this involves both the promotion of peace, security and stability and a reduction in the causes of migration and flight, along with the regulation of illegal migration flows.

[i] German Federal Government 2018: A new departure for Europe – A new dynamic for Germany – A new cohesion for our country, 12 March 2018, Berlin, p. 152.

The German government’s Africa policy guidelines form the conceptual umbrella for German Africa policy. The formulated goal of an in-depth partnership with Africa on an equal footing implies replacing a donor-recipient mentality with the expansion of a partnership-based cooperation, which includes taking initiative and personal responsibility. The German government’s approach to Africa policy is broad and has a variety of strategies and instruments at its disposal. It claims to be “coherent, coordinated within the German government, and anchored in the European and multilateral context.”[i] However, experienced players complain of institutional and thematic fragmentation and call for greater rigour and strategic coordination.

In the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and in the Agenda 2063 of the African Union (AU), Germany and the African countries commit themselves to a rules-based world order and to the multilateral system, with the United Nations (UN) as a central element. Internationally agreed goals and agreements with international approval, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), serve as an essential yardstick. Fundamental values from a European perspective include respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights, including minority rights. Pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice and solidarity as part of the normative structure of potential partner countries are thus crucial conditions for a genuine partnership based on values.

The Compact with Africa (CwA), adopted under the German G20 presidency in 2017, forms a central element of bilateral German Africa policy. The initiative supports reform programmes to generate growth and jobs in the CwA partner countries of Ethiopia, Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Rwanda, Senegal and Togo. Development investment funds from the BMZ (AfricaConnect and AfricaGrow) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) (Africa Business Network) with a value of 1 billion euros are available to support private investment. Through its special initiative on training and employment, the BMZ is also providing 250 million euros for training and job partnerships, for example in the textile sector in Ethiopia. As part of the Marshall Plan with Africa, the BMZ is facilitating partnerships for reform with CwA member countries. Democratic and constitutional reforms in the country are prerequisites for selection as a reform partner country. Reform partnerships currently exist in Sub-Saharan Africa with Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal.

With the concept of Pro!Africa, the BMWi is also funding various instruments to build partnerships worth 100 million euros; these include digitisation and innovation partnerships and strong foreign trade promotion. Within the scope of risk coverage for exports and investments for the promotion of foreign trade, it also plays a leading role in the design and granting of state export credit guarantees for goods and services (Hermes Cover) and investment guarantees for German companies, with special incentives for CwA countries. In 2019, credit guarantees were granted for exports to South Africa (approx. 200 million euros), Angola (approx. 112 million euros), Kenya (approx. 87 million euros) and, to a lesser extent, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Togo. In 2019, the German federal government also assumed investment guarantees for projects in Ethiopia, Ghana and Tanzania. In addition, the Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF) is negotiating the expansion of double taxation agreements. To promote innovation and strengthen employability, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is also providing at least 300 million euros for German-African cooperation in education, science and research as part of its Africa strategy.

In order to promote trade, European trade policy is based on reciprocal trade agreements such as the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) and unilateral generalised systems of preferences for tariff reductions such as the Everything But Arms initiative. Negotiations on EPAs in West Africa have so far led to agreements with Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana and to a regional EPA awaiting ratification, which has been signed by all West African states except the economic giant, Nigeria. Cameroon is the only Central African country to have ratified an EPA, the implementation of which is still under discussion. In eastern and southern Africa there are EPAs with Mauritius, Madagascar, the Seychelles and Zimbabwe.

An EPA has also been signed with the Southern African Development Community (SADC). A regional EPA with the East African Community (EAC) has so far only been ratified by Kenya; further steps remain unclear and require additional statements from the EAC. In addition, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) entered into force in 2019, the specific implementation of which the African countries have yet to negotiate. Due to its complexity, this process, which involves negotiating derogations and rules of origin, is likely to take a long time. When and to what extent the AfCFTA will come into effect is therefore still to be determined.

Various instruments embedded in the internationally agreed SDGs and the Paris Agreement are available for resource conservation, mitigation and adaptation. The International Climate Initiative (ICI) is a central funding programme of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) within the framework of Germany’s funding commitments to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). It currently supports more than 75 projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to the consequences of climate change, preserve natural carbon sinks and protect biodiversity in Sub-Saharan Africa, for example in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. Other BMU initiatives include the West and East African Alliance on Carbon Markets and Climate Finance, in which Tanzania, for example, is participating, and the Partnership for Market Readiness programme for the introduction of CO2 pricing instruments in South Africa. The BMWi also maintains an energy partnership with South Africa, and Africa is also the focal continent of the BMZ’s involvement in the energy sector. An expression of this is the Green People’s Energy for Africa initiative for the development of a decentralised energy supply based on renewable energies. Measures to expand renewable energies are being taken in Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa, for example. It can be assumed that, based on the European Green Deal and the proposals for the new EU-Africa strategy published in March 2020, considerable additional funds will be made available for climate and energy initiatives.

Domestic crises, conflicts and terrorist activities in countries such as Nigeria, Mali, Cameroon and the African Great Lakes region, along with potential criminal threats from, for example, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea present the continent, but also Europe and other regions of the world, with immense challenges that need to be solved together. German foreign policy is anchored in the UN and the EU. The German Armed Forces are an integral part of German security policy and are involved in various missions for security, stability and peace in Sub-Saharan Africa. These include the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the EU anti-piracy mission Atalanta in the Horn of Africa, and the UNMISS mission in South Sudan. Mali and Nigeria are also priority countries in the German government’s 2016 Enable & Enhance Initiative (Ertüchtigungsinitiative), which is implemented by the Federal Ministry of Defence (BMVg) and the Federal Foreign Office (AA) and includes civil and military measures for crisis prevention, crisis management and post-crisis rehabilitation. The funding allocation for the period 2016 to 2019 was more than 400 million euros. To strengthen regional cooperation and in the fight against terrorism, human trafficking and people smuggling, Germany is also supporting the G5 Sahel Alliance, consisting of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, with 1.7 billion euros (2017 to 2020). The German government, together with other European states and international organisations, additionally comprises the so-called Sahel Alliance for security, stabilisation, humanitarian aid and development cooperation. It was founded by Germany, France and the EU in 2017 to help improve coordination of the numerous initiatives in the region. To regulate global migration flows, EU migration partnerships were established in 2016 with the five African priority countries of Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Senegal.

[i] German Bundestag 2019: Information from the Federal Government: Update and further development of the Africa Policy guidelines of the Federal Government, printed matter 19/8765, 29 March 2019, Berlin, p. 1.

The change in direction from classic development aid to development cooperation based on partnerships focusing on specific promotion of the private sector, the idea of entrepreneurship and the principle of responsibility, is fundamentally a major gain for German-African cooperation.

However, more is needed to generate long-term success: namely, functioning state structures and reliable players who do not tolerate obstacles to development such as corruption, mismanagement and despotism, who recognise good governance as a basic prerequisite for sustainable development, who accept democracy and the rule of law as integral parts of their constitution and actions, and who are open to a market-based economic order. This must find greater expression in German foreign and development policy. Ghana, for example, is a suitable partner, as a country with stable democratic conditions and a reform-oriented economic policy. The German government also emphasises that it wants to work to ensure that the AU, EU and its Member States coordinate their positions more closely in international institutions and multilateral forums, and that they work together for a rules-based world order. Ethiopia, with the headquarters of the AU Commission in Addis Ababa, offers a gateway for this and is considered a potential partner.

South Africa has the most intensive trade relations with Germany and is already a reliable partner. In order to expand trade relations, which are relatively weak by global standards, and to initiate necessary economic transformation processes, it is essential to create incentive structures and institutional framework conditions (such as the formalisation of the large informal sector and the reduction of subsidies) and to promote principles such as solidarity and subsidiarity. Many places show innovation potential. Kenya, for example, is characterised by an export-oriented agricultural industry and a vital start-up scene. The M-Pesa mobile payment system developed in Kenya is now established in many African countries. The information and telecommunications industry is growing rapidly on the continent. The start-up scene is also booming in Ghana. Sub-Saharan Africa may also develop into an important sales market in the long term. With regard to this, the subject of demography should be given more attention. To strengthen the resilience of African economies as a contribution to stability in the region, Germany should work at the European level for trade agreements with African countries, strengthen African regional organisations, such as ECOWAS, EAC and SADC, which are sometimes characterised by fragmentation and discrepancies, and continue to provide constructive support for implementation of the AfCFTA.

Nigeria, with its diplomatic and economic clout and ECOWAS headquarters, and as one of the priority countries of the Enable & Enhance Initiative (Ertüchtigungsinitiative), is an important player and potential partner for containment of the enormous security policy threats to the region and Europe. Establishing and expanding state structures and the Enable & Enhance Initiative is of great importance for strengthening the effective and efficient presence and capacity to act of state and security players. As one of the initiative’s priority countries, Mali also has potential for intensifying relations and, together with Niger and the other Sahel states, which on the one hand are transit countries for migration from West Africa and on the other hand are affected by Islamist terrorism and the existential consequences of climate change, is considered an important partner for German foreign policy.

In addition, the special attention devoted to climate protection, green transformation and sustainable energy supply at the European level offers Germany the opportunity to expand partnerships in these areas. South Africa is considered an experienced partner in this respect, with whom a great deal of expertise has already been exchanged. Other potential partners include the DR Congo with its considerable biodiversity and Kenya, where the UN Environment Programme is based.

There are many starting points at both the instrumental and institutional level. Germany has the opportunity to position itself in the search for allies in such a way as to strengthen partnerships and to fine-tune the strategic focus of German Africa policy. The EU Council Presidency offers an influential framework for this endeavour.

Stefanie Brinkel is Desk Officer for Central Africa and Climate in the European and International Cooperation Department.



as a partner for strengthening a values and rules-based world order

Despite its relatively small population of approximately 28 million inhabitants, Ghana is growing in relevance for Germany. This is evident not least of all from the fact that Ghana has been included in the Compact with Africa project since 2017, and became one of Germany’s reform partner countries in the same year. Ghana’s willingness to accept reforms in the economic and fiscal policy sector, along with its general conditions, which are relatively stable compared to many other Sub-Saharan African countries, made Ghana an interesting partner for the G20, and especially for Germany (as a reform partnership).


as a partner for safeguarding our prosperity via free trade and innovation

Kenya is the most stable country in East Africa and is an economy that is oriented toward the west. With consistently strong economic growth in the twelve years before the coronavirus crisis and a GDP of just under 88 billion US dollars (2018), Kenya is the largest economy in East Africa and a growth engine for the entire region. Thanks to the port of Mombasa and the airport in Nairobi, the country is an important hub for trade and finance. Many international companies have chosen Kenya as the seat of their (East) Africa branches.


as a partner for the security and stability of Europe, its neighbourhood, and other regions of the world

With a population of around 200 million, Nigeria is not only the largest country in Africa, but it has also been the continent’s largest economy for some years now. The country is rich in oil and gas and is one of the largest oil exporters in the world. Nonetheless, Nigeria faces immense security and economic problems, which are worsening as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and could further destabilise the entire region in the medium to long term, posing major challenges for Europe. This applies both to the European interest in supporting the Sahel states in their fight against terrorism and to reducing irregular migration from Africa.


as a partner for the securing essential natural resources and protecting the climate

According to Federal Minister Müller, Africa is to become the “green continent of renewable energies”. South Africa, the continent’s most developed economy, is pursuing ambitious goals in this area, similar to those being debated in Germany, for example, drastically reducing CO2 emissions, reducing the massive dependence on coal and introducing a carbon tax.


as a partner for regulating global migration flows

The unstable security situation throughout the Sahel region reveals the weakness of state authorities in the region. Niger’s security forces are also struggling to exercise effective control of the country. Several terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State or Boko Haram, regularly attack military bases and also civilians. Niger is also one of the poorest countries in the world and is dealing with numerous governance problems, including regular accusations of corruption against government representatives or officials. There have even been deaths during demonstrations by young people against the rampant corruption and bad governance. The Nigerien government’s measures against the coronavirus, especially the closure of mosques, have also led to violent clashes between mainly young demonstrators and the security forces. Amnesty International is also protesting against the use of the controversial cybercrime prevention law to suppress voices critical of the government in the context of the coronavirus pandemic.