Chancellor Angela Merkel left Germany on Wednesday morning for a multi-day diplomatic mission which will take her to the West African states of Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria.
The trip follows close on the heels of an announcement by Berlin to reduce obstacles to German-African trade and underscores the growing importance which the federal government attaches to the continent in its foreign policy. Talks between Merkel and local dignitaries in Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria are expected to focus on migration, trade and investment.
“The economic perspective is so important for most countries in Africa because there are many young people in need of training and jobs,” the chancellor said during her latest weekly podcast.
During recent years, West African countries have become a major source of irregular migration to Germany. Officials estimate that there are currently 14,000 citizens from Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal living in the federal public without a valid residence permit.
Germany is now such a popular destination for Nigerians that they accounted for seven percent of all new asylum applications filed with German authorities during the first half of 2018. As a consequence, the country ranked third behind Syria and Iraq in a table of places of asylum seekers’ origin compiled by the government.
Merkel has come under intense political pressure to toughen her stance on asylum policy. Her own interior minister Horst Seehofer has vowed to implement a “migration master plan” which will lead to a sharp reduction in the number of asylum seekers coming to Germany. The chancellor is hopeful that leaders in Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria will hereby cooperate with Berlin in taking back migrants who have failed to obtain residence on humanitarian grounds.
Germany is already funding so-called “migration advisory centers” in Ghana and Senegal where failed asylums seekers who return home voluntarily are offered assistance during their job hunt. A further center is scheduled to open in Nigeria in the course of the year. Once passed, some West Africans may also benefit from new legislation which is currently being drafted by Merkel’s cabinet to attract more skilled labor from abroad.
Nevertheless, Berlin has also repeatedly clashed with local authorities in the issue area of migration. While German authorities complain about a West African bureaucracy which they say works slowly, governments in the region have insisted that they must be completely certain that the deportees are genuine citizens of the country in question.
Aside from the sensitive topic of deportations, Merkel will also raise the G20 “Compact with Africa” initiative which it has launched to promote investment on the continent as a potential means to address the root courses of emigration. West African leaders have previously expressed a desire to increase their volume of trade with Germany and reduce a current imbalance between high levels of imports from, and relatively small amounts of exports to, the European country.
Stefan Liebling, the president of the German-African Business Association, recently announced that German companies are planning to ramp up their investments on the African continent during the coming years. According to his association, new investments by German companies in Africa will rise by more than 10 percent to a total of more than one billion euros.
Back in June, the federal government also eased the conditions which must be met for domestic small- and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) to access export guarantees in trade with certain African countries. Towards this end, Berlin lowered the insurance excess shouldered by these firms or the banks they work with in international trade between Germany and African states. The new regulations apply to countries which have joined the G20 “Compact with Africa” initiative.