Merkel's Africa trip wasn't just about migration & investment, it was a signal to EU partners & German voters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel wrapped up a three-day tour to West Africa at the end of August visiting Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria. The trip was seen as part of a new German diplomatic effort to strengthen ties on the continent with a focus on migration and investment. At the end of the trip, Merkel said that “every country is different”, but she had seen that the continent has “a generation that wants a future in their own countries”. Discussions on irregular migration come at a time when the European Union is taking measures to stem the flow of African migrants who cross the Mediterranean seeking a better life. Talk of greater German investment in Africa is also framed in the context of China’s continuing push on the continent and the British Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent charm offensive. Spotlight on Africa spoke to Julia Leininger, head of the German Development Institute’s research programme…
What do you think of Angela Merkel’s choice of these three countries in particular – Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana?
Angela Merkel’s choice is one of shifting priorities in German-Africa policy and it's a clear choice to cooperate more with countries where lots of migrants coming to Europe and Germany are from. So this is probably the first point why she chose these three countries. The second reason why she chose these countries is that Germany aims to foster the private sector and engage more in private sector investment. These three middle income countries are a good context to do so.
Much of the commentary on her West African trip has focused on migration – do you see this as the main reason for the visit?
First of all, on this shift that we’re facing at the moment of German-Africa policy, yes it has a lot to do with the so-called migration crisis in Europe. Because although the migration flows are decreasing, migrants coming from Africa, the numbers are increasing. So there is this new focus on the African neighbour and I think migration was a driver for various political initiatives of the German government like the compact with Africa, the Marshall plan with Africa – all initiatives that were launched last year. So the driver is migration, but at the same time it has a lot to do with the relationships between EU member states as well. Increasingly France wants Germany to cooperate on security, Theresa May in Great Britain is looking for a more independent role from the European Union since they leave the European Union. So the two main drivers are really the changing political game within Europe, but also migration flows to Europe.
Some in the German media saw the trip as an effort to please voters back home – how does this fit in to the political narrative in Germany?
In Germany, media, but also parts of the population think that there will be an increasing migration from Africa because of the demographic change in Africa. Meaning that by 2050 we expect two billion people to live in Africa, more than 50 per cent of them younger than 18, meaning that there are a lot of people without jobs who might want to go somewhere else to find jobs. That’s actually the standard picture of Germans and German politicians at the moment. So German-Africa policy is very much into job creation in order to create conditions for people to stay in Africa. Travelling to Africa is a signal to Angela Merkel’s constituency that she taking care of what’s perceived as a problem in Europe – it’s expectation management and signalling that, ‘I’m doing something, we’re are aware of the problem’. Actually, I wouldn’t say it’s a problem.
Did the chancellor’s trip reflect an alternative to the EU’s solutions to migration? In particular, policies such as detention centres, or processing centres, as they describe them, which are set to be established in North Africa.
So far Germany has supported the larger EU policy. But for the first time in Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria the chancellor talked about regular migration with the other heads of state. So they had illegal migration on the agenda but also regular migration which is a slightly different approach.
Merkel travelled with nearly a dozen CEOs, linking the issue of irregular migration to the possible solution of investment and job creation. Do you see German companies really ramping up investment in these three countries - Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria?
So far, it has been very difficult to incentivise German companies to invest more in Africa. Most of German investment still goes to South Africa. But since the state has given some guarantees, some insurance that if business doesn’t work, the state comes in, there is more willingness for the private sector to engage. But still it’s not about big numbers and big changes. It’s rather about individual companies –now we see Volkswagen opening in Ghana and Nigeria plants where new cars are assembled. The interest is increasing, but it’s not reflected in more investment. And we shouldn’t forget that Nigeria is a very big market and competition is very high. On the other hand we’ve got Senegal, a francophone country, with very strong French firms, enterprises. They are already closed markets, so it’s important for Germany to find a niche in these markets, which has not taken place yet.
The statistics are quite revealing – some 400,000 German companies operate abroad, but just 1,000 of those in Africa and if you remove South Africa from that number then less than half of that operate in Africa.
Yes, the German private sector is still very hesitant because of the risks and high levels or perceived high levels of corruption. The private sector is still very hesitant to invest in Africa. There is this big strategy of improving, supporting the private sector investments from Germany and elsewhere, or growing new markets in Africa with supporting small enterprises in Africa. But it will take time before the German private sector really comes in.
Merkel’s trip came at the same time as a visit by the British Prime Minister Theresa May. China, France and the US have also been influential foreign actors on the continent. Where do you see Germany fitting in?
If you look at the past, Africa hasn’t been - like in the case of France or in the case of Great Britain, as former colonial powers in Africa – it has never been a high level political issue. So for the first time the chancellor and the German government wants to be visible on the African continent. First, it’s about letting the other European partners know, we are there, letting one of the main allies in Europe, President Macron of France, know we support your approaches, we want to cooperate, and we are there. But it’s also about competition with China and others, exploring new markets and the idea of not being there despite of this global competition on the African continent. That’s the motifs for the German approach, but where does it fit in? It will be difficult or it is difficult for Germany to find a niche and the comparative advantages of German enterprises to come into the market – there’s solar energy, one very big advantage is producing in a sustainable way. Sustainability and we’ll have more sustainability standards in the future global economy. That’s what Germany is good at. That’s a market where Germany can help African governments and get African economies to improve and be more competitive on the global market by producing in a more sustainable way. So this is an investment in the future of African economies, but also of Germany.
Forest conservation efforts in Madagascar making poor people even poorer
New research investigating conservation efforts in Madagascar says some 27,000 people are suffering from restrictions aimed at maintaining tropical forest. The study, published in the PeerJ journal, suggests that people living in the protected area have not been fully compensated and their incomes are affected as a result. The Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor, in eastern Madagascar, is part of a pilot project under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) scheme supported by the World Bank. The REDD scheme aims to protect forests as part of the fight against climate change. The project is being implemented through a system of World Bank safeguards and as such is supposed to compensate local people for the impact that conservation restrictions have on their income. The study is not suggesting that conservation efforts should be stopped, instead it is calling for forest dwellers to be properly compensated for the impact conservation has on their livelihoods, in particular on traditional agricultural practices. The study is based on interviews and testimonies of more than 600 people spanning several communities over two years. Spotlight on Africa spoke to Julia Jones, an expert in conservation science at Bangor University, one of the lead researchers…
A Ugandan team of inventors has won 28,000-euro prize for a device that could revolutionise malaria testing. The Matibabu device tests for malaria without drawing blood using a beam of red light that determines changes in the shape, colour and concentration of red blood cells. The African region has the highest share of malaria cases worldwide and it is hoped Matibabu will be easier and faster than examining blood under a microscope. Spotlight on Africa spoke to Brian Gitta, one of Matibabu’s inventors, to find out about bringing the device to market and increasing the device’s accuracy up to 90 per cent…
Zimbabwe's informal workers eye July poll for change
Zimbabwe’s informal workers hope to make their voices heard in the country’s presidential election in July. They've been doing so through town hall meetings across the country to urge candidates to take them seriously.
They make up the bulk of Zimbabwe's workforce, and yet for many years, workers in the informal sector have operated on their own, outside traditional structures. Now they're hoping national elections on July 30 will give them a voice.
Informal workers include vendors, street traders, cross-border traders, farmers, to hair dressers, and for the past two weeks, they have gathered in several towns in Zimbabwe, including the capital Harare, to put their demands to the various political parties.
All were invited, including the ruling Zanu-PF, and the main opposition party the MDC-alliance.
"The purpose of these town halls is to allow the candidates to come along and listen to what the informal economy has to say," Mark Oxley, the field representative in Zimbabwe for the Center for International Private Enterprise, (CIPE), told RFI.
Oxley says that lack of knowledge about the informal sector is what pushed CIPE to partner with the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations, (ZCIEA) to spread awareness.
"I’ve been through the election manifestos, only four of them, as far as I can make out, contain anything on the informal economy. The manifestos of the two major parties have very little, and none of the parties appear to have any clear policy or idea with what to do with the informal economy," he said.
Nor do they appear to know what to do about the challenges facing informal workers either, says Wisborn Malaya, ZCIEA secretary general.
Coming out of the fringes
"We're subjected to harassment by police and are treated like illegal operators, with our goods confiscated," he told RFI, adding that the criminilisation of informal workers was being encouraged by outdated laws.
"There are outdated laws, which go as far back as 1968, 1978 that are governing the current operations of informal workers. Such laws can no longer fit the scope of the current operational environment in the country," he said.
The informal economy compared to the formal one is the second largest in the world after Bolivia, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but suffers from poor representation.
"There needs to be greater linkages between the formal sector and the informal economy," reckons Oxley. "If one can integrate and link the informal economy more to the formal economy it would mean significant measured economic growth," he says.
Ninety four percent of all workers in Zimbabwe work in the informal economy according to the 2014 Zimbabwe Labour force. As a result, argues Wisborn Malaya, they can no longer be excluded.
No more partisan politics
"We talk of somebody who is selling in the street. We want this person to be added to the main value chain, that this person pays fair dues to the local authorities and that this money is used to develop or improve the work space that that person is operating under," he says.
The July 30 polls will be the first elections without longtime leader Robert Mugabe, and the first, hopes Malaya, without partisan politics.
During the Robert Mugabe regime, "one person would hold 5 or 6 market places and people would pay money to him," he told RFI.
"People were allocated market places along partisan lines, or when they’re allocated that market place, somebody from a party would come to collect some form of revenue every single day from these people, which is outside what they would pay to local authorities."
Issues like these were put to the different candidates. For the first time since Zimbabwe's independence, they're more than 20 competing for the top job.
"Such democratic space has never been there before in Zimbabwe," says Malaya.
"It is a result of that democratic space that we’ve managed to do the town hall meetings, that we’ve managed to bring all these different political candidates and also tell them our demands," he said.
Holding leaders to account
Now that this form of grassroots democracy is over, what next?
"This is a process of advocacy," says Mark Oxley.
"We will be producing based on the recommendations from these town hall meetings a full informal economy agenda, which will be submitted to the new government," he told RFI.
Informal economy stakeholders remain optimistic that the July 30 polls will be an impetus for change, despite a bomb blast targeting President Emmerson Mnangagwa that has soured a political environment characterized by greater democratic space.
"It's time the informal economy was at the table, not on the table," continues Oxley, in the words of Lorraine Sibanda, president of the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations.
Sibanda, during one town hall meeting in Gweru, in the centre of Zimbabwe, urged informal workers to hold their officials to account, through a song called Hokoyo.
"The meaning of the song is to tell to politicians, ‘hey watch out, we’re watching you," explains Malaya.
"We now know we have the power to remove you and put in someone who can do what we want. If you don’t do it, we will remove you and put in someone who can," he said.
Community radio fights Uganda’s LRA legacy
During the 20-year war between the Lord's Resistance Army and government forces in northern Uganda, community stations like Radio Wa used “come home messaging” to encourage abducted children to defect. Today, their broadcasts for peace are working to heal the north's hidden scars.
"When the radio began, there was a lot of insecurity," Radio Wa's director Magdaline Kasuku told RFI.
It was in late 2001. "There was a lot of violence, there was a lot of killings and one of the biggest weapons they [the rebels] used was children."
Between 1986 and 2006, Joseph Kony kidnapped thousands of children into his rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), turning the girls into sex slaves and the boys into child soldiers.
At the height of the conflict, community stations like Radio Wa in Lira, northern Uganda, began to emerge, offering locals isolated in towns and villages, a different message to the one being played out on their doorstep.
The programme they came up with was Karibu.
"Karibu is a kiswahili word that means 'welcome'," explains Kasuku.
"Many parents would come through the radio to complain, saying 'Look, my child has disappeared, I don't know where he or she is. Could you help me find out where my child is?'," she says.
The programme was so popular in reaching out to communities in the north that it came under threat from the LRA.
In 2002 the rebels burnt it down.
It would take less than a year for Radio Wa to be rebuilt, owing to public outcry over its destruction.
"It went beyond Uganda," comments Kasuku. "The whole world was wondering how a small community radio which is trying to empower the people in a wartorn area, can be burnt down, so it really became a national issue."
Avoiding propaganda trap
So much so that even Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni came to inspect the damage, promising to rebuild Radio Wa.
"They said, Tthis radio is so powerful in reaching out to the community here.' So they gave us a wider coverage," recounts Kasuku.
"Normally, community radios are given to cover a kilometre or a kilowatt. That day, he [Yoweri Museveni] promised that we are going to be given four kilowatts."
But in its bid to promote peace did Radio Wa not fall into the trap of toeing the government's line and promoting its anti-LRA propaganda?
For Kasuku, the aim of Radio Wa's Karibu programme went beyond partisan lines.
"Parents would come to the station and make an appeal: 'I want to talk to my child, my daughter, my son, wherever they are, if they're still alive, I want them to know that I still love them. I know that they might have done so many bad things, killed people, and all that, but they should be able to know that I love them,'."
The formula encouraged more than 1,400 abducted children to break with the LRA and return to their families.
After the war former LRA combattants questioned by police said they had been encouraged to return home through listening to stations like Radio Wa.
Hearing their mother say "Wherever you are, my child, just come back, we love you, we forgive you," helped persuade them, explains Kasuku.
Children who were abducted, came back, to tell their story and pull the lid off the atrocities they endured under the LRA.
More than 10 years on, after a peace deal was signed in South Sudan, does Radio Wa's message of peace still ring true in the Uganda of today?
The scars of war may be healing but the country is still grappling with kidnappings and killings, this time of young women in the Kampala capital.
Healing the scars
"There are no more gunshots, yes," Kasuku says. "But, when we interact with the community, you find that they have so many unfinished business. There are so many people who up to now have never let go of what their experiences were."
The appearance of LRA commander Dominic Ogwen at the International Criminal Court at the Hague has stirred up painful memories.
Kasuku says, many survivors still live with trauma and insists programmes like hers are necessary.
"We want to continue encouraging people and letting them know they can overcome the trauma, the pain, the violence, all the bad things they went through in life. And they don't need to retaliate."
Ugandan authorities are also keen to document the country's past and are planning a new war museum to this effect.
"People need to start the healing process," reckons Kasuku.
"That is the message that we keep on passing. Even today, despite the fact there is no more war. So, I think at Radio Wa, we realise we have even more work now than we did before," she says.