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Africa - Germany

Merkel pleads for Africa's development to stem migrant flow

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a speech at the Day of German Industry 2016 conference in Berlin, Germany, October 6, 2016.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a speech at the Day of German Industry 2016 conference in Berlin, Germany, October 6, 2016. Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch

German Chancellor Angela Merkel kicked off the second leg of her African trip in Niger on Monday, pledging more support for the continent. Her three-day tour, which began yesterday in Mali and ends on Tuesday in Ethiopia, is designed to stem the flow of migrants fleeing Africa and, in so doing, repair her reputation at home.

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“The well-being of Africa is in Germany’s interest,” Merkel said in her weekly video podcast Saturday before jetting off to the continent.

Her three-day tour has already taken her to Mali and Niger and she was due to visit Ethiopia on Tuesday. All three countries are considered major transit points for migrants crossing into Europe.

"This is one of the major reasons why our German chancellor is now visiting Africa," Volker Treier, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the German Chamber of Industry and Trade (DIHK) in Berlin, told RFI.

"It is always helpful when a global leader of a country is visiting important other countries. This is a door opener also for business with Africa, Germany has a huge potential ahead."

But with conflicts and insecurity raging in several parts of the continent, investors are staying away and many Africans are fleeing to seek better job opportunities.

That's a cycle that Angela Merkel wants to break.

Economic and military aid

On Monday she pledged 77 million euros in financial aid to Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, to support its fight against human traffickers and armed Islamists. The promise comes after Germany's announcement that it would build a military base in Niamey to support the UN mission fighting jihadists in neighbouring Mali.

The day before in Mali, Merkel pledged more support to authorities in Bamako to help them curb future waves of migration. 

"I welcome the fact that Africa is more on the German agenda now," Charles Huber, a member of Merkel's CDU party and one of the country's first black MPs, told RFI by phone from Senegal. 

Indeed, Africa is seen as "central" in resolving the migration issue. And for Merkel that will only come once the continent is stable.

African development could cut migration

Boosting Africa's development will not only reduce the incentive for migrants to leave for Europe but could help boost her popularity at home.

Merkel, who has yet to declare whether she will run for a fourth term next year, has seen her approval ratings slump since last year when she opened the doors to thousands of migrants.

A European Union agreement with Turkey has helped stem the flow from the Middle East and Asia, but thousands are still risking their lives at sea.

"I'm in Senegal right now," says Huber, "I built a high school here for 500 kids and from 10 guys, 10 young men I'm talking to, 10 are ready to leave. I mean, if the continent is empty, we already have a huge brain drain, nobody will be able to develop the continent."

In addition to traditional development aid - around three billion euros in 2014 - Merkel says she will work to help create conditions for private investment. But how?

Aid, rights and democracy

"German companies are in short fall," recognises Treier, before insisting that Berlin has bilateral chambers in 15 countries, which act as a first port of call for potential investors looking for business opportunities.

"We spend a lot of money in development and aid grants. This money, though, is not dependent on good governance structures in the countries, which are preconditional for more investment and closer business relations, so we have to strengthen this."

The irony is that a country like Ethiopia, where anti-government protests over land rights in Oromia are being crushed, is able to benefit from 200 million euros from the European Investment Bank to provide refugees with job opportunities.

That means refugees stay in Africa but it is not necessarily good for democracy.

"I think we really have to change not just our view to the situation of refugees, but our relationship to Africa," reckons Charles Huber.

Until we do that, "we cannot blame the young Africans who see no future on their continent, that they want come to Europe," he said.

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