5 Aug 2014

‘Great Power’ Germany can be good for Africa

by Adekeye Adebajo

IF FOOTBALL is the continuation of war by other means, then Germany’s recent World Cup triumph has restored the country to Great Power status.

The centenary of the start of the First World War this year recalls the conflict whose aftermath sought to resolve the "German question" by shrinking its territory and crippling it economically through the punitive Treaty of Versailles. The weakness of the Weimar Republic led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War. The Bonn Republic after 1945 saw the partition of Germany, and western Europe’s overriding concern was to keep the Germans down, the Americans in, and the Russians out. West Germany pulled off a spectacular Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle), and today’s reunified Berlin Republic represents Europe’s most powerful and prosperous country.

Germany’s unemployment rate of about 5.4% is less than half of the European Union (EU) average, it is the paymaster of the EU, and the largest creditor in the euro currency zone. The Franco-German axis, which traditionally drove the EU, has now been replaced by the dominance of Chancellor Angela Merkel. As Germany reviews its foreign policy, it remains an economic giant and political dwarf, constrained by a past history of aggressive conquest. Berlin has historically sought to act as a "civilian power" that relies on multilateral institutions and trade rather than military force, promoting democratic governance, peaceful conflict resolution and sustainable development. Its allies have criticised this approach as an abdication of global responsibility by the world’s fourth-largest economy, and Berlin must find a way to harness its Friedenspolitik (policy of peace) to an enhanced political and security role legitimised by multilateral organisations in which it plays a more active leadership role.

German exports of machine guns, tanks, and submarines expose the contradictions of this Friedenspolitik. Berlin is now the world’s third-largest conventional arms exporter after the US and Russia. Germany has deployed troops to the Balkans and Afghanistan for more than 15 years, though a strong pacifism still remains among its population. Today, 5,000 German soldiers serve in 13 missions globally.

Germany’s Africa policy has traditionally been conducted through the EU, and Berlin’s total bilateral trade with Africa reached €44.9bn last year. Africa is the world’s fastest-growing continent, with a market of 1-billion consumers. Berlin can reduce its dependence on gas imports from Russia by importing more from Algeria and Nigeria.

Germany’s own reunification required transferring ore than $1-trillion to the east. It should, therefore, urgently meet the United Nations (UN) target of contributing 0.7% of gross domestic product to aid. Berlin has increased its trade with Asia in the past decade, with Beijing now accounting for about 38% of total German exports to the region, and Merkel paying her seventh visit to China this month. Germany has supported Beijing’s leading trade role in Africa and should help to promote EU policies on the continent that are not mercantilistically seeking to exclude China.

In 2003 and 2006, France and Germany respectively led EU forces to support UN peacekeeping efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Germany has also provided military trainers to support the present French intervention in Mali. There appears to be a bargain in which Berlin backs a French EU leadership role in Africa in exchange for Paris supporting Germany’s leadership of EU policies in eastern Europe. But Germany must be more discerning in aligning itself too closely with the increasingly discredited French military role in Africa. The recent interventions in Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, and the Central African Republic have, in fact, revived fears of Gallic neocolonialism in Africa.

As the third-largest contributor to the UN, Germany must continue to push for reform of a 15-member Security Council that is increasingly losing its legitimacy. About 60% of the council’s deliberations focus on Africa, while 75% of the UN’s peacekeepers are deployed on the continent. Berlin realises that council reform can occur only with the support of the organisation’s 54 African members. In a council vote in 2011, Germany’s abstention from the Anglo-French-led intervention in Libya now looks visionary, as anarchy reigns in the country, having spread its deadly lava across the Sahel into Mali.

Finally, Germany has Europe’s oldest population, and its workforce will be reduced by 6.5-million in the next decade. It will thus be forced to turn to immigration to fill this gap, which could radically alter its demographics. This is already evident in die Mannschaft that won the football World Cup in Brazil with four players of Turkish, Polish, Tunisian and Ghanaian ancestry.

Adekeye Adebajo is the executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR) in Cape Town, South Africa

The views expressed here are those of the author and not of ECDPM

Photo Courtesy of the President of the European Council 

This article originally appeared in Business Day Live


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