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German Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development Gerd Müller

A new report published by the German Institute of African Affairs questions the German federal government’s foreign policy toward Africa, saying German development assistance is undermined by European agricultural policy that harms African agriculture.

The report, “New Horizons for Germany’s Africa Policy,” written by Robert Kappel of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA), also questions German assistance to ‘authoritarian’ regimes, saying it is inconsistent with the ‘value‐oriented politics’ that Germany purports to practice.

Kappel, a senior research fellow at GIGA and also the former president of the thinktank, focuses his critique on German Development Minister Gerd Müller’s 33-page ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa, which was released in January 2017.

The ‘Marshall Plan’ is a policy blueprint for German development funding and private investments in Africa in areas such as education, trade, business development, and energy. Kappel says the plan casts Germany as a charitable benefactor on the African continent without being honest about the “power-politics” involved in German-African relations.

“The BMZ (Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development) wants to shed its image of the Good Samaritan and become an actor guided by its interests and an orientation towards being a civil power. This is good. Nevertheless, the concept is infused with a Samaritan approach that conceals Germany’s power‐politics interests behind a facade of a ‘benign hegemon,’” writes Kappel.

His main beef is with agricultural subsidies in the European Union that he says make it difficult for African agricultural exports to be competitive.

“The European governments and the EU Commission do not behave fairly. As long as the EU significantly subsidises its agriculture, African farmers stand no chance in European markets, except those providing products that are not produced in Europe, such as coffee or cocoa,” argues Kappel.

Robert Kappel

The German scholar recommends that relevant German ministries reexamine the question of agricultural subsidies and adopt a trade policy that reduces trade barriers for African exports. He further calls for support for European-African chambers of commerce to market African products in the European Union. He says this should be the priority rather than supporting ‘consultation networks’ for German companies in Africa, as proposed by the Marshall Plan.

According to Kappel, “This agenda would also conceptually counter an increasingly protectionist USA (‘America first’) with a cooperative strategy, contributing to the reduction of Africaʹs growing dependency on China. It is not enough to vaguely state that trade relations with Africa are to be ‘ambitiously driven forward’. Although this sounds good, it is of little substance.”

Democratic values vs economic development

A challenge for a coherent German foreign policy in Africa is that economic development and democratic development and human rights do not always go hand-in-hand. Kappel calls Germany’s political focus on the latter area ‘value orientation,’ saying that it is part of German foreign policy but not always consistently.

“It is to be welcomed that the authors of the Marshall Plan have deliberately addressed this issue. However, the deliberations are not really convincing. A value-oriented policy requires clear rules. These are formulated rather vaguely in the Marshall Plan. Consistently pursuing a value‐oriented policy requires criteria that enable a distinction between reform and non‐reform states, and between authoritarian and democratic countries,” reads the thinktank report.

‘Germany’s self‐defined funding criteria were breached.’

Kappel goes on to cite historical examples of German development funding that he says may contradict the ‘value orientation’ to which the Marshall Plan aspires: “For example, for many years autocratic Ethiopia received large amounts of funding for developmental aid, and thus the (German) government’s self‐defined funding criteria were breached. The Marshall Plan identifies Togo, Algeria, Egypt, and Benin as reform states. This indicates that a fundamental, value-based concept is not being consistently applied.”

“Increased cooperation with Ethiopia and Rwanda – which is apparently planned – runs counter to the approach of the Marshall Plan and raises doubts concerning value‐oriented policies.”

Kappel recommends that Germany should be more honest about when it is supporting authoritarian regimes and why. “This would make transparent why realpolitik and cooperation with authoritarian countries is necessary… If there is to be cooperation with these authoritarian states, then clear rules and conditions are required.”

GIGA’s full report is available here.

Report The Messenger, 19 May, 2017