Merkel’s Africa tour: Preventing migration from “upstream”

Friday, 2018-08-31 11:46:36
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Migration from West Africa to Europe looms over Merkel's Africa tour.
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NDO – One of the prime targets of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Africa tour is to control the influx of refugees into Europe. Having been criticised for her open-door migrant policy, Merkel is working to promote African aid projects in an effort to relieve the pressure of the waves of migrants seeking a better life in Europe via a strategy of “blocking them from the upstream”.

The German Chancellor’s visit to three African countries, including Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria, from August 29 to 31, is seen as an active step to realising the commitments of Germany and the European Union (EU), to their African partners. Merkel’s decision to open the door to refugees in 2015 once caused divisions in German society and throughout Europe as well. Over the past few years, the issue of migration has been a source of crisis for Merkel’s government on several occasions. Therefore, it is not difficult to see that the focus of the visit is to boost economic cooperation with Africa, aiming to help Germany and Europe control the influx of refugees into the “old continent.”

Recently, German officials repeatedly put forward their comments and called on Europe to support the idea that in order to prevent waves of refugees from African countries in a sustainable manner, there is a need to “block from the upstream”, which in effect means containing the flood of refugees within the continent of Africa, in addition to controlling the EU borders and implementing individual measures of each member nation within European borders. In the implementation of this strategy, the German government has increased its support for African countries, focusing on vocational training for young people in order to help them to stay in their countries and give up the dream of finding opportunities in the “European promising land”. Cooperation on migration with African countries will also help Germany and Europe better ensure security and mitigate threats, as it has been suggested that terrorists and extremists could disguise themselves as refugees in order to enter Europe and carry out terrorist attacks.

Africa is a priority in Germany’s foreign policy. Berlin has developed many plans and commitments to Africa, most recently the “Marshall Plan” to aid this region. However, bilateral relations have not yet been promoted to level desired by both parties. In terms of economics, trade between Germany and Africa has increased slightly recently but still remains at a very low level, with the trade balance in favour of Germany. In 2017, Africa accounted for only 1.1% of Germany’s total trade revenues with the world. Many leading German companies have been operating in Africa for years, but are yet to achieve the desired results.

Africa is a large market and is referred to as a sleeping giant of economic potential. The continent will be home to an estimated one-quarter of the world’s population by 2050, making Africa a huge consumer market and a source of abundant labour supply for German and European businesses. The three major destinations of the German Chancellor’s Africa tour are the most dynamic economies of the continent. Senegal has reported an economic growth rate of 6-7%, Ghana has maintained a steady growth for many years, and Nigeria is Germany’s second largest economic partner in Africa.

With such great potential, Africa is an attractive destination for many outside partners. Russia is forging ahead with its “Return to Africa” ​​plan, and Asian economic powers are also accelerating their steps forwards into the continent, with China having overtaken the United States to become the most important partner of African countries, while India has attached increasing importance to opportunities in this region. Even Germany’s neighbour, France, has relentlessly leveraged the relationships from colonial times with African nations, in terms of both politics, economics and military. Meanwhile, despite being less keen on projects in Africa, US President Donald Trump has recently appointed an assistant secretary of state in charge of African policy. That context has further urged Germany to strengthen its presence in Africa, so as not to fall behind its counterparts.

Experts commented that the African policy is closely linked to Germany’s role and position in the international arena. Aid projects for Africa not only help Berlin mitigate its security and refugee fears, expanding economic, trade and investment opportunities in such a vast market, but they also work to further strengthen Berlin’s soft power in a region which is emerging as a location for the world’s powers to vie for influence.