German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Cyril Ramaphosa during  a press conference at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Picture: AP
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Cyril Ramaphosa during a press conference at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Picture: AP

Germany also wants a piece of Africa

By Victor Kgomoeswana Time of article published Feb 9, 2020

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There is a curious coincidence in the official visit to South Africa by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and our first week as chair of the African Union (AU) for the next 12 months.

Both President Cyril Ramaphosa and Merkel oversee their regions’ respective leading economies; equally hamstrung by tensions within their ruling parties or coalitions. At least, Merkel’s headaches exclude the Christian Democratic Union, while Ramaphosa must walk the taut rope that is Luthuli House daily.

Merkel can focus on running Germany and marshalling the European Union (EU), while her South African counterpart must defer Jesus Christ’s second coming, watch out for a palace coup, reignite the stagnant economy, etc.

Ramaphosa was a shrewd negotiator in the mid-1990s and before as a union leader, but of late, he was more of a businessman. Merkel has an extensive track record in the affairs of Europe. She has been president of the European Council and participated in forging and strengthening transatlantic economic relations.

Merkel survived the 2008 financial crisis and has navigated the emotive issue of immigrants within the EU.

Steering an economy that is not only pivotal to G7 but to the EU as well is by far superior experience in statesmanship. So, why was she here; at this stage, to be precise?

Unlike Ramaphosa, Merkel has called time on her political career, come 2021. Her counterpart has the imminent ANC National General Council to ponder. Sovereign credit ratings are always looming, SAA, Eskom, SABC and many other dysfunctional state-owned enterprises need urgent fixing. Back to the coincidences.

Why would Ramaphosa invite Merkel to South Africa now? That brings Brexit into the equation. A couple of weeks ago, Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosted the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London; in preparation for life outside of the EU; the very EU that Germany is a major component and leader of.

When Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, was laying the foundation for the continuation of UK-Africa trade links post-Brexit, she also visited South Africa. The last state visit by Germany was in November 2018; three months after May.

Reading too much into this?

“South Africa is Germany’s largest trading partner in Africa,while Germany is the third-largest source of overseas visitors to South Africa”, according to Ramaphosa.

He adds that 72 bilateral trade agreements underpin “approximately 600 German companies represented in South Africa” and total trade of R235 billion in the 12 months to end of November 2019; while South Africa exported R108bn.

Both Johnson and Merkel need Ramaphosa’s ear and loyalty over the next 12 months, as he occupies the ceremonial position at the AU.

South Africa and the AU are going to be the battlefield for control as the US, China and its BRICS peers, India, the UK and the EU jostle for control.

It is the scramble for Africa one more time. Probably not. Everyone seems to have a plan for Africa except Africa itself. Ramaphosa, better remember your pan-African obligations and prioritise that intra-Africa trade and collaboration.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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