Olaf Scholz signed deals that will see Germany help African nations build their infrastructure to extract and export oil and gas to Europe. He also promised to keep German troops in the Sahel.
It is hot in Tillia, Niger, with red sand as far as the eye can see. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz prepared well for his trip to the military base in the Nigerien desert where more than 200 German troops are stationed.
On his first trip to Africa since taking office, Scholz is looking for allies in Africa, promising to support democratic countries. His first stop was Senegal on Sunday, then Niger on Monday and onto South Africa on Tuesday.
“Africa is Europe’s neighboring continent and it is therefore essential that we make intensive efforts to maintain very good relations with all states in [the continent],” Scholz told DW
“It is also important that we strengthen our relations with all democratic states in the world. Democracy, the rule of law — these are important issues to us, and not just something associated with the so-called Western countries.”
German troops remain in Niger
The chancellor’s visit to West Africa also clearly shows how much Europe and Africa depend on each another.
Senegal and Niger want further support from Germany in security and development and Berlin is counting on close cooperation to stabilize the geostrategically important Sahel region.
Scholz announced in Tillia — which is about 80 kilometers from the Malian border — that Berlin will keep German troops beyond their current mandates to help in the fight against jihadists.
The European training mission for the Gazelle special unit has been running here since 2018.
“It’s important for us to identify a good follow-up project, but of course in unison with our local partners,” Scholz told journalists.
He is careful not to raise false expectations and at the same time show commitment: “For me it is important that we show our responsibility as a good partner here in Africa and it is all the more important in this country, because this is a democratic country.”
Creating a multipolar world
Germany considers Niger, with its almost 25 million inhabitants, as its most important partner in the fight against Islamist terror in the Sahel.
Niger’s democratically elected government of President Mohamed Bazoum is pursuing a pro-Western course.
Bazoum emphasized that his army appreciates the high-quality training provided by the German special forces. Scholz also promised Niger that Berlin will help build their education, healthcare and agriculture sectors.
The German chancellor emphasized the seriousness of remaining committed to the region in the long term. He wants to create a multipolar world in which not just two or three countries set the geopolitical agenda. To ensure this happens, Scholz wants to shift away from his predecessor Angela Merkel’s strategy of maneuvering politically and militarily under the shadows of France.
Niger’s former colonial power France is withdrawing from the “robust” operation against Islamist terror in Mali and the neighboring regions of the Sahel. Germany will no longer train any more forces as part of the EUTM mission in Mali.
In search of gas
Scholz’s goal remains to keep Europe’s neighborhood stable. But that doesn’t mean that Scholz isn’t pursuing strategic interests — especially in view of the Ukraine war.
In Senegal, Scholz signed a deal with President Macky Sall, not only to expand a solar energy farm in the West African country, but also about the possible exploration of new gas fields for export to Europe.
The state secretary for the German Green party, Michael Kellner, put it this way for his climate ministry: “We are in this situation: we never want to be as dependent on a country as we were and to some extent still are on Russia. So it makes sense that we look at where one can diversify.”
And Senegal is ready to deliver liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Germany and Europe. Senegal’s president said at a joint press conference with Scholz that he “could dance with joy.”
Sall — who is also the current chair of the African Union — announced that he would soon travel to Moscow.
Despite failing to condemn Russia in the UN Security Council resolution, Macky Sall said he would convey Africa’s displeasure with the war in Ukraine.
Strengthening diplomatic ties
At the same time, Senegal and the entire African continent fear that rising grain prices could drive many to starvation and throw democratic governments out of office.
Scholz showed great awareness of this dilemma. He said a rich country like Germany can always find a way out, where as other countries have no other options.
In the interview with DW, Scholz spoke of cooperation with the UN’s World Food Program to combat hunger in countries such as Sudan, Somalia and Niger.
He added that European countries in particular have a responsibility to improve relations and support to formerly colonized countries.
“Germany [and] all countries with a colonial past have to be very honest and admitting that this past is part of their history and that they have responsibility for better relations with the countries, for instance in Africa. And doing this is also the basis for a good relationship in the future,” he said.
G20 seat for Africa?
Regarding the inflated price of fuel, he said: “We are currently in talks with all these countries that produce oil and gas and are trying to persuade them to increase their capacity, which would benefit the world market.”
In Senegal, President Macky Sall used the opportunity provided by Scholz’s visit to press for G20 membership.
“If you look at the African economy as a whole, the gross domestic product is $2.6 trillion a year. That’s not small. In this respect, Africa should have its own seat there [in the G20], where the issues that affect the world are discussed,” Sall told DW.
South Africa — the last country on Scholz’s itinerary — is already a G20 member and one of Germany’s most important trading partners in sub-Saharan Africa.
On Tuesday in Johannesburg, Scholz drew an initial conclusion from his trip in the DW interview: “It was very good to discuss with the heads of state and government and to understand that they have a very similar view of the world, that they also have the will to collaborate and this is one of the outcomes of this trip to three countries.”
This article was originally written in German and adapted by Abu-Bakarr Jalloh.