Berlin “We have to listen to each other,” says Annalena Baerbock (Greens) and looks at the audience in the Weltsaal in the Federal Foreign Office, and “address the wounds of the past”. In the context of Germany’s G7 Presidency, the Foreign Minister invited eight African states. In front of their representatives, Baerbock gives a speech in which a lot revolves around the “legacy of colonialism”.
Baerbock’s words show how much has changed in relations with African countries. The balance of power and dependencies are no longer as clearly distributed as they used to be when Germany was the donor and Africa’s states were petitioners. The Ukraine conflict has also changed the view of the resource-rich continent. At least since the Russian war of aggression and the search for alternative sources of energy and raw materials, Africa has increasingly come into focus.
The continent is also becoming increasingly interesting as a sales market and trading partner. The head of Deutsche Bank, Christian Sewing, recently reported in the Handelsblatt Bankengipfel that many of his customers are currently trying to reduce their business’ dependency on China. In the search for alternatives, one region has become particularly important: Africa.
But the German economy is late in looking south and is clouded by prospects of competition with China. Because the People’s Republic has not only secured access to important infrastructure in Africa for a long time through projects worth billions, but also to raw materials. According to research by The New York Times in late 2020, 15 of the 19 cobalt mines in Congo were owned or funded by Chinese companies. Cobalt is used in batteries for electric cars, for example.
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The federal government has long been critical of Beijing’s growing influence. According to information from the Handelsblatt, German embassies from all over the world have sent detailed wire reports on China’s activities on the continent in recent months at the request of the headquarters in Berlin.
Tout Germany’s advantages
Development cooperation in particular is also an important lever for Berlin to strengthen its presence on the African continent and to emphasize the advantages of cooperation with Germany. According to information from the Handelsblatt, the new Africa strategy planned by the German Development Ministry (BMZ) by the end of the year will be revised again. Release is currently scheduled for late January.
The reason: The geopolitical influences of Russia and China should be given even more attention in the strategy than originally planned.
Beijing has two advantages over lenders from Europe: Unlike most European countries, the People’s Republic has no burdensome colonial past on the continent, but above all: Beijing is bringing money with it on terms that are very accommodating to many African rulers.
>> Read here: China’s debtors trapped
On the other hand, China exploits dependencies in a targeted manner to make countries politically inclined – so that they vote in Beijing’s favor when voting on the international stage at the United Nations, for example. An analysis by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (Ifw) published on Tuesday shows for the first time how Beijing is sending aid deliveries to African and Asian countries to politically inclined countries. The authors of the study evaluated Chinese customs data from the years 2017 to 2021. According to that, China exported aid worth a total of 4.2 billion US dollars. “The more relief supplies flow into a country, the more politically it is in line with China,” says the survey.
For years, Beijing has been financing infrastructure projects worth billions via its Silk Road Initiative (BRI) – according to a survey by the German foreign trade promotion agency GTAI, 140 BRI projects were closed in Africa in the first half of 2022 alone.
“A central lesson from the Russian war of aggression for our China policy is that we must no longer make ourselves dependent on any country that does not share our values,” says the Federal Foreign Office. “At the same time, we are committed to ensuring that not only we, but also other countries with which we want to work, do not become too dependent.”
The calls for a more strategic orientation of development cooperation are also getting louder in Germany. “The federal government must think more about the countries of the Global South when it comes to the China strategy and also gear development cooperation more closely to German interests,” says Andreas Fuchs, Professor of Development Economics at the University of Göttingen and researcher at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. “We are in a time of system competition and it is important not only to provide help, but also to put more emphasis on how much help we provide,” he demands. European aid exceeded that of China in most African countries.
“At the moment there is also a battle between the political systems on the African continent,” agrees Wolfgang Stefinger, development politician for the Union faction. China creates dependencies through infrastructure projects and loans, Russia through military cooperation. Europe must counter that.
development funds for the economy
Some business representatives are therefore even in favor of a partial reallocation of development aid. The managing director of the German-African Business Association, Christoph Kannengiesser, calls for a rethink of development policy and for BMZ funds to also be used to “secure entrepreneurial projects in developing countries” – in order to dovetail development cooperation and foreign trade promotion more closely.
The development policy spokeswoman for the Greens parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Deborah Düring, does not think this is a good idea: BMZ’s Africa policy was already being driven too much by economic policy interests in the grand coalition, for example through the Marshall Plan of the then Development Minister Gerd Müller (CSU). . That didn’t work.
“Instead, we should ask ourselves why the partnership with the Chinese is still so attractive,” said Düring. “We have to break down colonial dependency structures and communicate with our partners on the ground at eye level, instead of primarily promoting economic and domestic political interests.”
Global Gateway is an instrument with which the federal government wants to reduce the dependencies of African countries on China at European level. The project aims to make investments in Africa worth 150 billion euros possible over the next five years.
More: Five graphs showing Germany’s dependence on China