It is an inaugural visit intended to convey something of continuity in turbulent times: It was not until February that the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine forced Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to prematurely end his trip to Africa in Senegal – and this is exactly where Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz is picking up the thread again followed by visits to the important partner countries Niger and South Africa. Since then, Russia has been a subliminal topic in all foreign policy undertakings in the Federal Republic.
First, the Federal Chancellor, who has been in office for almost six months, is traveling to two countries that play an important role as anchors of stability in crisis-ridden West Africa: Senegal, which currently holds the presidency of the African Union, is a new partner country of the G7. As a military partner and transit country for migration to Europe, Niger has long been an important key country in Europe’s Africa strategies. Both countries border on Mali, which is ruled by putschists and whose recent decisions have increasingly distanced itself from its European and African partners.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the EU-Africa summit in Brussels in February – investments worth billions were negotiated here
A military partner and the fear of side effects
Until a year ago, the EU, under French leadership, relied on cooperation with Mali in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel. Then Paris ended the French military mission Barkhane after disagreements with junta leader and interim president Assimi Goita. The EU has suspended its training mission. Niger, which already hosts soldiers from several Western countries – including French troops transferred from Mali – could provide a new base for this or subsequent missions. The government in Niamey has so far sent positive signals.
Even if the security of the forces is unclear due to France’s withdrawal, the German Bundestag recently approved the participation of the Bundeswehr in the UN mission in Mali for another year. “Germany is not carrying the same baggage as France in the Sahel,” says security expert Priyar Singh from the South African think tank Institute for Security Studies (ISS). The former colonial power France was repeatedly criticized for pursuing its own agenda in West Africa. “Germany is likely to be a somewhat more neutral partner than France, also because it has so far focused on economic relations,” Singh told DW.
The Nigerien population is very reluctant to allow international troops to remain in the country. This is emphasized by Olaf Bernau, who is a member of the steering committee of the German civil society network Focus Sahel. In talks by his network with people in Niger, the fear that international troops could spread the conflict with jihadist groups further into the Sahel state prevailed, Bernau told DW. The message from the population to Chancellor Scholz could only be a request to dissuade France from moving its troops to Niger.
Perspective: military training and strengthening of civilian mechanisms
Germany itself has been training Nigerien special forces in Operation Gazelle since 2018. The operation, which according to previous plans is due to end at the end of the year, is being celebrated by the Ministry of Defense as a successful prototype of international security cooperation. During her visit to the troops in April, Federal Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht spoke of a “flagship project” – fueling speculation that Niger could become the site of a follow-up mission to EUTM.
But experts agree that military cooperation alone will not solve the security crisis in the Sahel. “The logical step would be local peace-building measures under German leadership,” says security expert Priyar Singh. Germany has relevant experience in this area. “It could build trust and give new impetus to grassroots movements,” Singh said.
Win-Win: Ways out of dependence in the energy sector
Business representatives also have high hopes for the Chancellor’s inaugural trip. It comes at exactly the right time, says Volker Treier, head of foreign trade at the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, in a DW interview. The Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, but also the ongoing lockdown in Shanghai, have illustrated one-sided dependencies, for example in the energy sector. “We have to exchange ideas with many countries in a different way, conclude framework agreements for energy and also on security policy issues,” emphasizes Treier.
Africa has gigantic potential for solar power – here in Kenya – which can be used to produce green hydrogen, for example
In these areas, Africa offers Germany important approaches – and not just with a view to fossil energies such as liquid gas. Senegal has invested heavily in solar energy in recent years and could play a pioneering role here.
Energy investments desired
The energy transition also plays a major role at Scholz’s last station, in South Africa. The country is heavily dependent on coal imports and has a great need to diversify its energy sector, says security expert Singh: “South Africa has been in an energy crisis since at least 2008. The supply does not meet our requirements. There is incredible potential for a partnership between South Africa here and Germany in terms of investments or the transfer of technical know-how.”
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa was one of the hosts on Angela Merkel’s last chancellor’s trip to Africa – and is now welcoming her successor Scholz
According to DIHK foreign trade chief Volker Treier, a positive development on the continent is playing into his hands: he predicts that the African free trade agreement AfCFTA, which came into force at the beginning of 2021, could develop a potential similar to that of the European single market. This gives a better basis for German companies to invest in Africa and to create jobs. In addition to raw materials, African products could then also increasingly play a role in international supply chains.