Potential partners - and what connects us to them

Sub-Saharan Africa

Even before the Covid pandemic broke out, 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 the changes in international politics as drastically apparent as in Africa. Working in partnership with the countries of Africa is a key task of our time.

Status quo

Even before the Covid pandemic broke out, 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 the changes in international politics as drastically apparent as in Africa. Working in partnership with the countries of Africa is a key task of our time. It is in our own interest, in terms of economic, security and migration policy, to contribute to narrowing the development and prosperity gap.[i] The Covid crisis is making existing challenges even harder to tackle given the enormous strain the crisis has put on the healthcare systems, economies and individual livelihoods in Africa. In this situation, the German government again underlined the importance of cooperation. The fact is that the continent is undergoing major transformations. Part of this new reality is the geostrategic rise of China, Russia and Turkey that is upsetting traditional constellations on the continent.

In order to identify potential partners, a differentiated perspective of the heterogeneous developments on the neighbouring continent is needed. However, certain trends can be discerned. According to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Sub-Saharan Africa includes 49 African nations. 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 population figures are 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 there is also a sizable migration from rural to urban areas. As a result, cities are growing faster than anywhere else in the world . This resource-rich region of the world is disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change and suffers from the most civil wars and non-state conflicts worldwide. Depending on how the statistics are interpreted, many African countries are characterised as the poorest and least developed in the world – and yet almost half of African countries are now classified as middle-income countries. However, most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are still a long way from collecting the often predicted “demographic dividend”. The growth rates of African economies are sometimes very high by global standards. This does not, however, automatically mean inclusive growth that reaches the population. Drawing definite conclusions is only possible if you take into account diverging, country-specific factors, such as demographic development, institutional stability and macroeconomic orientation. Based on heterogeneous contextual factors, wide differences can be expected in the individual countries regarding development potential and obstacles to development. This has various implications for the relevance of the Sub-Saharan Africa region and for the structure of potential cooperation.

Judged by 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 13 billion euros in 2020. This corresponds to approximately 1.3 percent of the total import volume. Goods exported from Germany to Sub-Saharan Africa amounted to less than 11 billion euros in 2020, i.e. 0.9 percent of total German exports. About 60 percent of these exports went to South Africa. Direct investment amounted to 9 billion euros in 2019, or 0.66 percent. This means that they are lower than German direct investment in Ireland; here, too, South Africa benefits the most, attracting almost 77 percent. Nevertheless, the objective of German development policy to strengthen private sector involvement and to support a favourable environment for economic development is the right approach, and an important one. The economies of many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are not diversified enough. 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 security, poor access to capital, and an inadequate infrastructure pose numerous challenges for entrepreneurs and for the population. There is no shortage of innovative ideas, however – as illustrated by the lively start-up scenes, such as can be found in Ghana and Kenya.

At the same time, as a result of technological developments, the wealth in natural resources and mineral deposits in Sub-Saharan Africa is increasingly moving into geopolitical focus. The Chinese interest is unmistakable. South Africa, for example, has various metals and minerals that are relevant to electro mobility. 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. It is, however, threatened by illegal and unsustainable deforestation, e.g. to enable 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 emits relatively few greenhouse gases compared to the rest of the world, South Africa produces by far the most CO2 emissions, but also pursues ambitious goals for the expansion of renewable energies, offering German companies investment opportunities in this sector.

Climate change-related threats to livelihoods, for example in the Lake Chad region, as well as weak state authority and the growing power of terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State, Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab, are leading to mass internal migration and are increasingly destabilising large areas within Sub-Saharan Africa. This has a significant impact on the security situation within Africa and, consequently, on the stability of Europe as well. Germany, as an integral part of the EU, NATO and other multilateral alliances, needs to take action here, by promoting peace, security and stability by addressing the root causes of migration and flight and by helping to regulate illegal migration flows.

1: Bundesregierung (2018): Ein neuer Aufbruch für Europa – Eine neue Dynamik für Deutschland – Ein neuer Zusammenhalt für unser Land, 12. März 2018, S. 152.

The German government’s Africa policy guidelines form the conceptual umbrella for German Africa policy. The stated goal of an in-depth partnership with Africa on an equal footing implies replacing a donor-recipient mentality by an enhanced partnership-based cooperation, which includes taking initiative and personal responsibility. The German government’s approach to Africa policy is broad and includes a variety of strategies and instruments. It claims to be coherent, coordinated within the German government, and embedded in the European and multilateral context.”[i] At the practical level, however, experienced players complain about institutional and thematic fragmentation and call for greater rigour and strategic coordination. In 2020, the reform concept “BMZ 2030“ was introduced, which is designed to deploy development policy means and programs even more strategically and more effectively, thereby defining the profile of development policy more clearly [ii].

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 such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), serve as an essential yardstick. From a European perspective, fundamental values include respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights, including minority rights. Anchoring pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice and solidarity in the normative structures of potential partner countries is therefore a crucial condition for a genuine partnership based on values.

The Compact with Africa (CwA), adopted under the German G20 presidency in 2017, is a key 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. Up to 1 billion euros in development investment funds from the BMZ (AfricaConnect and AfricaGrow) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) (Africa Business Network) are available to support private investment. Through its special initiative on training and employment, the BMZ also provides additional funding for training and job partnerships, for example in the textile sector in Ghana. As part of the Marshall Plan with Africa, the BMZ facilitates reform partnerships with CwA member countries. Democratic and constitutional reforms in the country are criteria for being selected as a reform partner country. In Sub-Saharan Africa, reform partnerships currently exist with Ethiopia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal. In June 2021, Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dr. Gerd Müller also signed a reform partnership with Togo at the start of his trip to Western Africa.

Through its Pro!Africa concept, the BMWi also funds various instruments for building partnerships; these include digitisation and innovation partnerships and strong foreign trade promotion. As part of risk coverage for exports and investments for the promotion of foreign trade, the ministry also plays a leading role in designing and granting state export credit guarantees for goods and services (Hermes Cover) and investment guarantees for German companies, with special incentives for CwA countries. In addition, the Federal Ministry of Finance (BMF) is negotiating the expansion of double taxation agreements. In order to support innovation and strengthen employability, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) also provides funding for German-African cooperation in education, science and research as part of its Africa strategy.

In order to promote trade, European trade policy relies 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. Cameroon is the only Central African country to have ratified an EPA, whose specific arrangements are 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 only been ratified by Kenya so far. In order to make progress under the current process, steps for a bilateral EPA implementation with Kenya are being reviewed. In addition, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) entered into force in 2019, whose specific arrangements have not been finalised yet. Some customs tariffs and rules of origin still need to be negotiated. Notwithstanding, trade under already existing AfCFTA rules started on 1 January 2021.

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) as part of Germany’s funding commitments to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). This programme currently supports more than 90 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, Namibia and South Africa. Other BMU initiatives include the West and East African Alliance on Carbon Markets and Climate Finance, in which Tanzania, for example, participates, and the Partnership for Market Readiness and Implementation Programme for the introduction of carbon pricing instruments in South Africa. The BMWi also maintains an energy partnership with South Africa. Moreover, Africa is the priority continent of the BMZ’s involvement in the energy sector. An example of this commitment is the Green People’s Energy for Africa initiative for the development of a decentralised energy supply based on renewable energies. Programmes for expanding renewable energies are being implemented in Benin, Mozambique and Senegal, 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 piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, for example, represent tremendous challenges for the continent, but also for Europe and other regions of the world. These challenges need to be resolved jointly. German foreign policy is anchored in the UN and the EU. The German Federal 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) 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. For strengthening regional cooperation and fighting terrorism, human trafficking and people smuggling, Germany also supports the G5 Sahel Alliance, consisting of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad. Together with other European countries and international organisations, Germany is part of 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. In order 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.

2: Deutscher Bundestag (2019): Unterrichtung durch die Bundesregierung: Fortschreibung und Weiterentwicklung der Afrikapolitischen Leitlinien der Bundesregierung, Drucksache 19/8765, 29. März 2019, S. 1.

3: BMZ (2020): Reformkonzept „BMZ 2030“: Unsere Partnerländer – eine neue Qualität der Zusammenarbeit; URL: https://www.bmz.de/de/entwicklungspolitik/reformkonzept-bmz-2030 [Abrufdatum: 28.07.2021].

Basically, the change in direction from classic development aid to development cooperation based on partnerships focusing on specific support for the private sector, the idea of entrepreneurship and the principle of responsibility, is a big step forward for German-African cooperation.

For generating long-term success, however, more is needed: functioning state structures and reliable stakeholders who do not tolerate that development is obstructed by 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 be reflected more strongly 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 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. As the AU headquarters are in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia could play a major role in these efforts.

South Africa has the most intensive trade relations with Germany and is already a reliable partner. In order to expand trade relations, which are still relatively weak by global standards, and to initiate necessary economic transformation processes, it is essential to create incentive structures and an institutional framework (such as the formalisation of the large informal sector and the reduction of subsidies) and to promote principles such as solidarity and subsidiarity.

There is already some innovation potential in many countries. Kenya, for example, boasts an export-oriented agricultural industry and a lively 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. In the long run, Sub-Saharan Africa may also develop into an important sales market. In this context, more attention should be paid to demographic issues. In order 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 plagued by fragmentation and disagreements and continue to provide constructive support for implementation of the AfCFTA.

Nigeria, with its diplomatic and economic clout, as the home of ECOWAS headquarters and as one of the priority countries of the Enable & Enhance Initiative (Ertüchtigungsinitiative), is an important player and potential partner for containing the enormous security policy threats to the region and to Europe. Establishing and expanding state structures and the Enable & Enhance Initiative is key for strengthening the government’s and security stakeholders‘ effective and efficient presence and for boosting their capacity to act. Also Mali, Niger and the other Sahel states that are transit countries for migration from West Africa and are affected by Islamist terrorism and the existential impacts of climate change, ard considered important partners for German foreign policy.

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

There are many options for linking up with each other both at the level of individual tools and at the institutional level. Germany has the opportunity to assert its position in the search for allies with whom partnerships can be strengthened and has the chance to keep fine-tuning the strategic focus of German Africa policy.

Stefanie Brinkel will head the KAS Regional Programme Political Dialogue West Africa (PDWA) as from 1 September 2021. Previously, she has been Policy Advisor for Central Africa, the initiative “One World no hunger” and Energy Security and Climate Change in Sub-Saharan Africa in the KAS European and International Cooperation Division.

Last update: August 31th, 2021.



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.