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Pivot to Africa

Migration brought Africa back into the limelight. But tackling the root causes of migration should not turn into a root cause for frustration

By Lindiwe Mazibuko, Munich Young Leader 2016; Former Leader of the Opposition, Democratic Alliance, Parliament of South Africa, Cape Town


While the US pivoted to Asia, Germany pivots to Africa! The continent’s development featured prominently in Germany’s recent political debates as well as election manifestos of the major political parties in the run up to 2017’s parliamentary elections.

Undoubtedly, this renewed interest in Africa has its roots in domestic concerns. The most recent example includes the Christian Democratic Union’s electoral devastation coupled with the robust performance of the right-wing populist Alternative für Deutschland in September’s parliamentary poll, which analysts in Europe and abroad have attributed to persistent voter discontentment over Chancellor Merkel’s immigration policies. Already before the elections, German policymakers have therefore shifted their attention to Africa in search for means to address the so-called “root causes” of economic migration from Africa.

But while migration is the catalyst for renewed European interest in Africa’s development, Chancellor Merkel should not allow what is essentially a symptom to distract from a broader and systemic malaise. Fully 33 of Africa’s 54 states have been designated Least Developed by the United Nations. Africa’s youth population, already the largest on earth, is set to double from 226 to 452 million by 2055, while economic opportunities for the vast majority are few and far between. A lack of basic infrastructure providing access to transport, electricity and clean drinking water magnifies poverty and depravation. An age gap of two to three generations between political leaders and citizens serves to amplify the deficit of trust that already exists between governments and their people. Finally, all of these development failures are underpinned by a lack of capable, transparent, and accountable public institutions, which are committed first and foremost to advancing the interests of ordinary people. Thus, Africa’s challenges are as diverse and heterogeneous as the continent itself, and sustainable solutions to these cannot be sought without a commitment to supporting a range of structural reforms, both political and economic. There are no quick fixes for the reasons that pressure African citizens to take the treacherous trip to European shores.


The “Marshall-Plan for Africa”, as the G20 Compact with Africa has been popularly labeled, therefore represents a welcome effort by Chancellor Merkel to accelerate development in Africa through a combination of funding, policy instruments and private investment incentives. But as the plan aims to address a historical challenge, it is of no surprise that the risks are buried in the small print. As a plan centered primarily on the demand driven stimulation of private sector investment, the G20 Compact risks benefitting those African developing economies with solid institutional arrangements, high levels of competitiveness or disproportionate access to natural resources, over least developed economies. This has the potential to further entrench economic inequalities within the continent, while failing to target the very fragile states whose citizens are predominantly migrating towards Europe. Also, the largely government and private sector-focused approach to economic cooperation could risk excluding the very constituents these plans should be designed to support: young Africans.

Tacit support of government security apparatuses through financial injections also risks emboldening repressive states in fragile political circumstances. This will not help to promote peace and security in Africa’s most conflict ridden and least developed nations, which should be a corner stone of any policy to address the push factors of migration. Instead, it actually accelerates the rate of migration to Europe by those fleeing state repression and human rights abuses. G20 and EU-Africa cooperation must therefore prioritize long-term political reforms to support socio-economic stability, rather than providing financial incentives for repressive governments. There should also be adequate room for substantive engagements with civil society organizations and grassroots movements that authentically represent the interests and concerns of young people.

Finally, the G20 and the EU should not turn a blind eye on their own governments’ role, and that of their most prized multi-national businesses, in the spread of corruption, maladministration and illicit financial outflows that deny African citizens access to the economic benefits from international investment. In addition to strengthening independent institutions, parliaments and free media in Africa, the G20 Compact should thus also prioritize legislation in EU and G20 member states to curb and penalize corrupt business practices in and illicit financial outflows from Africa. Political reforms must therefore be accelerated on both sides. An admission of complicity and commitment to reform on the side of the G20 and the EU will go a long way towards securing multi-lateral consensus on necessary reforms in African states that often regard developed nations as hypocritical and unaccountable.

At a time when the politics of Europe and North America have largely been dictated by the rise of populist nationalism, Angela Merkel deserves credit for pursuing productive economic partnerships with Africa that address the causes of economic inequality and international insecurity. She has continuously resisted an oversimplified and disappointing discourse revolving almost entirely around the notion of African migration as an economic and political burden to Europe. After her reelection, hopes are high that she will continue on this path. Despite good intentions, large scale initiatives that do not encourage substantive economic and political reform will fail to achieve sustainability in the long term.

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