What’s behind the G20 focus on Africa

It’s half-time for the German G20-presidency. A good moment to reflect on what may be hidden behind the declared focus on Africa. Under the watchword “create a networked world”, task forces have taken up work with the aim to “foster sustainable economic growth in Africa”. The conservative German Development Minister Gerd Müller said that “we need a paradigm shift and must understand that Africa is not the continent of cheap resources, but that the people there need infrastructure and a future”. At the main summit in Hamburg on July 7 and 8, economic progress in Africa is supposed to be leading the agenda. Where does the sudden high interest in Africa come from?

While all eyes are on the crisis in the middle East, several other severe crises in Africa seem almost forgotten among the 20 major economies. There are many ongoing violent conflicts on the African continent, widespread hunger, millions of refugees, and yet the most basic help mechanisms of the international community are essentially underfunded and international mediation efforts like the one for Syria cannot be seen. In Syria, geopolitical interests are at stake, in Africa not so much, it seems. This could be one explanation. Another could be that Africans, at least in Europe and North America, were for a long time seen as very different people very far away. Is this really changing now?

Looking at Donald Trump, who announced his presence at the summit, hopes must be tamed. He recently announced large cuts in overseas aids, half of the countries under his Muslim ban are African, he is not a great fan of the United Nations and from his past it is known that he has racist tendencies. Joint efforts to support Africa also become more unlikely because of Britain’s solo run and pull-out from European initiatives. Controlling migration was one of the big arguments of the Leave-Campaign in the UK, which hints at the core of the new interest in Africa, especially from the side of Germany.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is working hard to avoid another scenario like in 2015, when the influx of refugees threatened her political stability. By now, most people crossing the Mediterranean to migrate into Europe are Africans. Over 180,000 refugees made their way via this route to Europe in 2016 and predictions do not see these numbers going down in the near future. The motivation of development policy in Germany and the EU at large has been to curb migration for the past few years. A lot of development money has gone to border security within Africa, or –  as critics call it – to “bribes” for local governments in return for holding back migrants. Security strategies to further merge military and development efforts are also a sign of Europe’s strong desire to control migration before it hits the own shores.

The full dimensions of globalization were recognized in Europe by 2015 at the latest. Leaving one world region behind will have an impact on the other. With the German G20-initiative “Compact with Africa”, also named “Marshall Plan”, it is intended to provide private investment, economic growth and sustainability, investment in infrastructure and renewable energy, capacity-building for employment opportunities and knowledge-sharing associated with climate change. If this really helps, or if the plan will silt like so may others before, remains to be seen. Now that Africa became Europe’s problem, there is a strong will on the EU’s side to help Africans build a future in their home countries. Non-EU members of the G20 must either truly be driven by humanitarian intentions, or afraid of Europe’s destabilization as an effect of immigration in order to fully support the project. However the intentions for this “Compact” may be, if Africans take up the opportunity and coordinate this “Marshall Plan” effectively, there may be prospects for success.

Anton Scholz is a German Africanist and journalist. He also works in political communications and the German Policy Forum and the One Campaign are among his former employers. He specialises in cultural and political relations between the Global North and Global South, and especially Africa.