Germany’s Tendency to Enhance its Presence in Africa: Limits and Motives

Ahmed Askar | 19 Jul 2020


After its relative absence until recently, Africa has become increasingly important for Germany. A number of major shifts have played a role in the continent’s rise to the top of the priorities of Germany’s political policy agenda, mainly the outbreak of the refugee crisis and the migration of Africans to Europe in 2015, in addition to the rise in the activity of terrorism and organized crime networks in Africa, and Berlin’s desire to play a greater role in the continent. This has driven Germany to pay more attention to Africa. This was manifested at several levels in light of Germany’s growing interests and motives with respect to Africa. This would enhance Germany’s future influence in the continent.

Germany’s interests in Africa

  • Political interests: these are embodied in Germany’s desire to build a political and economic influence in the African continent[1] and to become a driving force in Europe’s policy for peace and security in Africa, thus creating a leading role for Germany in the African continent. Berlin has a global tendency to widely participate actively and effectively in the emerging global crises and challenges, particularly in Africa, which would enhance its international status and influence. Berlin also seeks to enhance its political relations with African countries in light of its awareness of Africa’s increasing importance in the international order.
  • Economic interests: Germany pays greater attention to intensifying economic relations with Africa and seeks to play a significant role in the development process and improving the investment climate in Africa, especially that Berlin’s policy focuses on developing trade and investment in the continent and rests on the principle that enhancing economic relations constitutes a significant part of the framework of resolving the phenomenon of illegal migration and of the increasing number of African migrants heading for Europe, thus enabling Berlin to limit their flows at the medium and long terms. Germany also seeks to find its way into the African market as a promising market for global exports. That is why Germany seeks to acquire a significant share of the African market by paving the way for major German firms in Africa. Berlin seeks to increase competition in the field of economic cooperation with African countries due to the increased presence of China and some other actors such as Russia in the continent in the last few years. Berlin also aims at securing access to strategic mineral resources such as the Congolese cobalt, South African platinum, and energy in Nigeria and Angola.[2]
  • Strategic interests: the issue of illegal migration and the flow of African refugees to Europe is of critical importance for Germany as it tops the agenda of German concerns in Africa. That is why Germany seriously seeks to take all the necessary measures and means to reduce those flows, considering that they pose a critical challenge to European countries. Germany is also intensively involved in combating terrorism in the continent, particularly in the Sahel region and West Africa with the aim of eliminating organized crime networks and enhancing security and stability in countries of the region, thus preventing an increase in the numbers of African migrants to Europe.[3]
  • Security interests: conflict prevention, sustainable peacekeeping and dispute settlement are among the priorities of German foreign policy in Africa. Berlin seeks to play a central role regarding this issue. That is why some German troops are stationed in a number of African countries such as Mali, Central Africa, Democratic Congo, and Cameroon, in addition to the Horn of Africa within the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations (UN) and individually for security and military support and training purposes. At the security level, Germany is present in Africa through providing all forms of support in the face of terrorist threats in the Sahel and West Africa regions, being transit areas for migrants to Europe. The conflicts in Africa do not just amount to a humanitarian catastrophe; they also generate flows of migrants and refugees to Europe.[4]

Motives of the German orientation towards Africa

Numerous motives have incentivised Berlin to turn to Africa for establishing its geopolitical interests. The most prominent of those motives are the following:

  • Making Africa one of the axes of interest of German policies after it had been on the margins over past years.[5] Germany’s political, economic and military influence at the international level drives it towards scrambling with major powers in Africa rather than standing on the sidelines, watching and waiting for others to act.[6]
  • Increased geostrategic competition between major powers in the continent and consequently countering the steady progress made by China in Africa, as well as containing the threats of Turkish and Russian moves in the continent and countering the measures of the trade war between Washington and Beijing through driving German companies to invade African markets and benefit from investment opportunities therein.
  • Balancing the French role in the continent, particularly after the UK’s exit from the European Union (Brexit),[7] although cooperation and coordination exist on the issue of illegal migration and counter-terrorism in the Sahel region.
  • Making up for the lack by individual countries of the European Union (EU) of sufficient clout in Africa.[8] On the other hand, Germany assumes responsibility for enhancing EU partnership with Africa, not just at the bilateral level but also with regard to the EU’s policy towards Africa.[9]
  • Combating the causes of escape and illegal migration, limiting their waves in Europe and striving to contain them through involvement in Africa and providing all means of support that would improve the socioeconomic conditions of Africans.
  • Increasing investment and reviving economic relations with African countries, enhancing economic growth in those countries, benefiting from the huge size of their market, and increasing the involvement of German companies and investors in African markets.[10]
  • German interest in diversifying energy sources and benefiting from mineral and oil resources in Africa as a main issue for Germany which is one of the largest industrial countries in the world while seeking to enhance Germany’s exports in this sector through providing technology to African energy companies.[11]
  • Enhancing arms trade and military industries with African countries such as South African companies.[12]

Germany’s gateways into Africa and the nature of German moves

Berlin adopts a number of gateways for enhancing its presence and influence in Africa, mainly:

 The political and diplomatic gateway: Africa is of increasing importance in Berlin’s policy. Chancellor Merkel’s frequent visits to a number of African countries and the adoption of the new strategy are signs of the government’s awareness of Germany’s increasing strategic interests in the continent. Merkel’s political rhetoric also indicates that it is necessary to take interest in Africa’s destiny and that the wellbeing of the continent is in Germany’s interests. This constitutes a change in Germany’s strategy and its shift from showing sympathy to practising realpolitik. Germany continues its efforts to exercise its power in Africa. Berlin held three main conferences for Africa in the period between 2017 and 2019.[13] German officials also paid multiple visits to Africa during that period. Merkel went on a number of tours to countries of the continent, such as her two tours in 2019 to some countries such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Ghana, and Nigeria. She also visited South Africa and Angola in February 2020 with the aim of enhancing relations and showing solidarity with regard to critical issues such as illegal migration.[14]

It can be said that this wave of German diplomatic moves in Africa explains the extent of the deep impact of the illegal migration crisis on Germany’s foreign policy.[15]

The economic gateway: Germany aims to reinforce its economic relations with Africa and develop feasible policies regarding development and limiting illegal migration. Germany continues to develop its relations with African countries where it invests nearly 9 billion dollars in Africa annually.[16] Furthermore, Germany’s trade volume with countries of the continent is worth nearly 50 billion dollars annually.[17] South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Angola are Germany’s largest five economic partners in the continent. There are nearly 1,000 German companies carrying out business in Africa,[18] and 5 percent of the other companies plan to invest in the future.[19] German-African economic relations encompass more than one area and not just energy. The most prominent of those areas are consumption goods, logistical services, infrastructure development, machinery, chemicals, industrial and agricultural products, and business administration.[20]

A number of German establishments and companies operate in Africa, such as the Adennauer Foundation[21] that operates in Democratic Congo, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)  such as Hansgrohe AG, Schwenk Group that operates in the field of construction materials and has successfully set up a cement plant in Namibia, and Siemens.[22] Some companies have also been involved in the construction of the Mongomeyen airport in Equatorial Guinea.[23] Germany constitutes South Africa’s second largest trade partner; more than 500 German companies operate in that country.[24]

Berlin’s interest in Africa reveals an increase in its awareness of the importance of economic development and its role in changing the rules of the game for African countries at multiple levels, mainly preventing the loss by those countries of their youth and saving the youth from falling prey to migration.

The security gateway: in addition to its rising political, economic and humanitarian role in Africa, Berlin wishes to play a greater military role in the continent. This was manifested in the enhanced German military presence within the UN peacekeeping missions. In early 2020, Germany extended two military missions in Mali and the Horn of Africa and provided support to some African countries in the field of military training and counter-terrorism. It has also been studying the possibility of deploying its troops in Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger in the stage ahead.[25]

Germany has been enhancing its military position in a number of African regions with the aim of securing its interests in the continent and balancing the roles of rivals.[26] German military troops are stationed in countries such as Mali, Central Africa, Libya, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Djibouti. Berlin also provides some military assistance and material support to some African countries such as Niger.[27] On the other hand, Berlin maintains some military bases in Djibouti and Niger to preserve its military presence, enhance its influence in the continent, and provide logistical support to UN operations.[28]

Thus, Germany has given up its reservations regarding military intervention in Africa to bear its responsibility as a major European power, particularly after Brexit. Germany is also strongly driven in that direction by the prevention of the phenomenon of illegal migration and the flow of African refugees to Europe and combating terrorism in the African continent, particularly in the Sahel and West Africa.

Adoption of a strategy for Africa and the announcement of a number of initiatives: in 2014, Berlin announced a strategy towards Africa to replace the old strategy adopted by the federal government in 2011. This aims at achieving a qualitative shift in the German presence in the continent. This strategy is based on five main areas, namely peacebuilding, development, combating illegal migration, working with African partners, and increasing cooperation with the civil society in Africa.[29]

Within the framework of the model shift experienced by the German government in its cooperation with Africa, in 2017, Berlin launched more than one initiative, namely the German Marshall Plan with Africa, Compact with Africa, AfricaGrow, and ProAfrika,[30] with the aim of shifting from the traditional development policy to the stage of partnership with the African countries and redefining the German-African relations. The Marshall Plan constitutes an ambitious framework of the German government towards Africa with the aim of increasing trade and development in the continent and reducing the flows of mass migration to Europe. It also focuses on fair trade, increasing private investment, economic development, and creating job opportunities.[31] The Marshall Plan goes beyond the idea of economic reform to comprise peace and security as a second pillar, and democracy and the rule of law as a third pillar.[32] The Compact with Africa initiative also constitutes an alternative to aid programmes that prevent economic growth in the continent rather than enhance it. The initiative has been signed by nearly 12 African countries,[33] and constitutes a good step towards sending more German companies to invest in Africa and establish partnerships with it.[34] Those initiatives are also characterized by having a common denominator relating to the role that Germany wishes to play with regard to African development that goes beyond the traditional tools of development cooperation. Migration dynamics cannot be successfully controlled unless the economies of African countries provide enough incentives for the young.[35]    

All this was associated with a number of guidelines that were launched by Berlin in March 2019 for Germany’s policy towards Africa. These comprise the following five objectives: sustainable development, promoting peace and security, strengthening a rules-based global order, managing migration, and deepening civil society partnerships.[36]

The moral and ethical gateway: Berlin’s policy in Africa is based on establishing some values and principles, such as respect for human rights, democracy, rule of law, and peaceful resolution of disputes. This was manifested in some of the principles of the strategy and initiatives launched by Berlin. The German government is increasingly required to strengthen economic relations and increase investment in Africa, provided that this is not done at the expense of human rights, supporting good governance, and democracy as a priority to enhance stability and conflict prevention.[37]

Combating illegal migration: illegal migration constitutes a source of concern not just for Africa but also for Europe. The average net number of migrants to Germany in recent years has reached nearly 500 thousand annually. It reached its peak in 2015 with more than one million migrants. Germany has acknowledged that the issue of illegal migration cannot be resolved in isolation from African collaboration and support.[38] Therefore, partnerships with African countries were launched with the aim of enhancing training, employment and economic development to deal with the root causes of migration.[39] This crisis has driven Berlin to underline the need for a development policy that serves to stop the flow of migrants from African countries. The beginning was with the implementation of programmes within the framework of the Development Investment Fund for Africa worth 1.1 billion euros in 2019.[40]

Counter-terrorism: enhancing support for counter-terrorism in countries of West Africa has become a principal axis of Germany’s policy towards Africa in light of Germany’s commitment to help in dealing with the rise of terrorist activity. The interest of both Germany and the EU has increased through putting pressure to improve the security situation and the economic conditions in the region, particularly considering that poverty and conflicts are among the main factors that lead to migration to Europe, and also through undertaking to provide logistical and material support and training to the armies of countries of the region such as Burkina Faso, Niger, and the Group of five Sahel countries (G5S).[41]

Development aid constitutes an important gateway for enhancing German policy in Africa in light of the hard economic and humanitarian conditions witnessed by many African countries despite Berlin’s efforts to introduce a different model into Africa that would be an alternative to development aid with the aim of taming the migration crisis.[42] Berlin has provided humanitarian aid to some African countries such as Sudan (worth 6 million euros), Somalia (worth 65 million euros) in 2019, and Democratic Congo (worth nearly 48.7 million euros) in 2018.[43] It also works closely with UN organizations such as the World Food Programme.[44]

Opportunities for and challenges to enhancing the German role in the continent


  • Africa constitutes the continent of opportunities, considering its enormous potential and wealth. It is home to half of the world’s 20 fastest growing economies. By 2035, Africa will boast the world’s largest potential labour force. It is also a wide market with enormous consumption potential. Besides, its population is expected to double by 2050 with an average age of 22 years.
  • German capabilities to develop a new method that aims to prevent African disputes and contribute to settling them and benefit from acceptance by Africans of Germany as a neutral and fair mediator in some disputes.
  • Continued operations to support counter-terrorism in Africa and participation in reconstruction economics in post-conflict countries.
  • Benefitting from German experience in the issue of enhancing continental and regional integration in Africa.
  • The continental context in Africa with respect to advancing towards the implementation of regional economic integration and the continental free trade area constitutes a favourable opportunity for Germany to enhance trade relations with Africa in the period ahead.[45]
  • Supporting strategic partnerships in all fields with the continent’s major countries.
  • Giving effect to the “win-win” principle with the aim of raising the degree of African acceptance of German existence and German investments.
  • Introducing the German model in the manufacturing sector and benefitting from the existing experience of successes and challenges, especially in the energy field.
  • Germany has multiple opportunities in the future with respect to formulating a new European approach to Africa in light of the dynamic changes that emerge in the European political scene, particularly after Brexit.
  • Germany constitutes a kind of preferential partner for Africa. It has the appreciation of Africans and a good reputation at the African level in terms of German work ethics, meticulousness, reliability, respect for social standards, and support of sustainable development.
  • The possibility of putting forward the launch of a Mediterranean Union as an initial step towards the establishment of a free trade area that encompasses the EU and African countries with the aim of enhancing future cooperation.


  • The security fragility characterizing most African countries is an issue that has a notable impact on Europe with regard to the illegal migration crisis.
  • The spread of corruption in most African circles and bureaucratic complexities, in addition to the lack of political transparency which causes the concern of German investors.
  • The continued implications of the spread of the COVID-19  pandemic and its negative effects on the future of most African economies.
  • The lack of a consistent German policy towards Africa, which slows Germany’s action in the continent, in addition to the fluidity of political concepts in the German decision-making circles on Africa.
  • Berlin is highly behind the world’s major economic powers in terms of presence and impact in Africa. Thus, the lack of knowledge regarding the continent’s potential constitutes one of the important obstacles to a rapid expansion of German investment in Africa.
  • Rising international competition between cross-border international companies, such as Chinese companies that control several areas, including infrastructure, and seize most bids related to investment projects in Africa.[46]
  • The existence of a state of uncertainty over and risk and fear of issues of security, terrorism and instability in Africa and the lack of a favourable environment for investment, which increases the concerns of most German companies and investors regarding investing in the continent.
  • Fear by some German banks that have rejected supporting investors in the energy and transport sectors in Africa as those banks believe that the risks are too high and, therefore, there is not enough assurance of care for German companies.
  • Criticism by some Africans of German plans and initiatives in Africa, such as the Marshall Plan and the Compact with Africa initiative, considering that they lay the foundations for a new colonialism that aims to control Africa and does not achieve sustainable growth in their countries, in addition to doubts regarding the seriousness of Germany’s interest in supporting the structural adjustment of African economies and societies.
  • The historic heritage related to the issue of recognition of the genocide in Namibia. The colonial history puts multiple pressures on relations between Germany and Africa. Besides, bearing political responsibility for the genocide constitutes a critical issue in terms of Germany’s credibility in African countries.

Future of German presence in Africa

  • Over time, Germany becomes more willing to establish its presence in and enhance its impact on Africa in the period ahead to maximize its global influence. Perhaps this requires an overall awareness of Africa’s map with all its interactions, balances, opportunities and challenges to build a suitable strategy for Germany through which it can achieve its strategic interests and identify African needs.
  • The issue of illegal migration and increased numbers of refugees remains the main concern for Berlin and its policy towards Africa going forward. This hinders Germany’s progress towards enhancing its presence in the continent in favour of the other rival international powers.
  • The German government finds itself facing a significant challenge that relates to assuring German companies and investors to head for the African market in the period ahead to enhance economic relations between Germany and Africa, increase German influence, and seek to balance the role of the other major powers in the continent.
  • With the reliance by Berlin’s advanced manufacturing sectors on some strategic resources from African countries, the period ahead may witness a shift in German policy towards more militarization to secure its strategic interests in the continent, in addition to contributing to fighting terrorism and reducing the flows of illegal migration to Europe.


[1] Henry Ridgwell, Britaiin, France, Germany Vie for Influence in Africa, Voice of America, 3 May 2019, available at:

[2] South World, Germany. Military and strategic interests in Africa, September 2014, available at:

[3] Chase Winter, Germany's Bundeswehr mission in Mali, DW, 30 July 2017, Available at:

[4] German Information Centre Africa, National and regional challenges, 27 February 2019, available at:

[5] Daniel Pelz, Germany's new Africa policy yet to be implemented, DW, 7 June 2018, available at:

[6] Peter Schwarz, German big business continues its new scramble for Africa, World Socialist website, 22 November 2019, available at:

[7] Comfort Ero, Tough but Essential: Germany’s Political Engagement with Crisis Prevention in Africa, International Crisis Group, 22 September 2016, available at:

[8] Julia Leininger, WHY EUROPA AND AFRICA SHOULD DISCUSS ABOUT SUSTAINABLE SOCIETAL MODELS, German Development Institute, 18 November 2019, available at:

[9] Niels Keijzer, GERMANY’S NEW RESPONSIBILITY IN THE EU’S AFRICA POLICY POST BREXIT, German Development Institute, 25 February 2019, available at:

[10] The Federal Government, How Germany and Africa work together, 29 August 2018, available at:

[11] Germany Africa, Germany-Africa Relations Warm Up, 11 January 2017, available at:

[12] South World, Ibid.

[13] Christina Okello, Germany's Merkel urges more investment in Africa, rfi, 21 November 2019, available at:

[14] Henry Ridgwell, Ibid.

[15] BBC News, Africa 'a priority' as Merkel's Germany aims to stem migration, 11 October 2016, available at:

[16] Germany Africa, Ibid.

[17] South World, Ibid.

[18] Bob Koigi, Africa has mixed reaction to Germany’s ‘Marshall Plan’ proposal, EurActiv, 7 December 2016, available at:

[19] DW, Boost Africa investment, Germany's Merkel tells 'Compact with Africa' summit, 19 November 2019, available at:

[20] African Business, Germany In Africa: Time To Play Catch-Up?, 31 October 2012, available at:

[21] South World, Ibid.

[22] African Business, Ibid.

[23] Germany Africa Business Forum, How German firms can tap into Africa’s diversification drive, 3 February 2017, available at:

[24] Hassan Isilow, South Africa, Germany hold talks to strengthen ties, Anadolu Agency, 6 February 2020, available at:

[25] Idem.

[26] Peter Schwarz, Ibid.

[27] South World, Ibid.

[28] Gregor Link, Germany and EU expand military deployment in Africa, World Socialist website, 2 June 2020, available at:

[29] German Information Centre Africa, New Chapter in German-African partnership, 21 May 2014, available at:

[30] Daniel Pelz, Ibid.

[31] Bob Koigi, Ibid.

[32] Julia Leiniger, New wine in an old bottle? The German ‘Marshall Plan with Africa’, The Broker, 2 March 2017, available at:

[33] European Views, Does Africa need Germany’s Compact with Africa?, 2 December 2019, available at:

[34] Andrew Green, Germany's €1B push into Africa, devex, 13 November 2019, available at:

[35] Arndt Hopfmann, Development Aid for Investors: Germany’s new Africa Policy, Review of African Political Economy, 28 June 2018, available at:

[36] Andrew Green, Ibid.

[37] Le Consortium pour les infrastructures en Afrique, Foreign policy: Germany's all inclusive package for Africa, 2 June 2014, available at:

[38] Eckart Naumann, Angela Merkel’s state visit to South Africa: its significance amid the current Germany-South Africa trade relationship, tralac, 12 February 2020, available at:

[39] Kirsten Grieshaber, Germany’s Merkel urges more investment in African nations, AP News, 19 November 2019, available at:

[40] Andrew Green, Idim.

[41] German Information Centre Africa, Merkel kicks off West Africa tour pledging support in fight against terrorism, 3 May 2019, available at:

[42] Bob Koigi, Ibid.

[43] German Information Centre Africa, Ebola in the crisis region of eastern Congo, 22 February 2019, available at:

[44] German Information Centre Africa, Rapid and effective humanitarian assistance for Somalia, 5 April 2019, available at:

[45] Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, Germany’s role in the 2030 Agenda: A view from South Africa, The South African Institute of International Affairs, 25 January 2017, available at:

[46] Global Construction Review, German builders fret over China’s dominance in Africa, 24 February 2020, available at:


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