LONDON — Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel are conducting separate visits to Africa this week, the latest in a flurry of visits by European leaders and officials as Western states look to expand their engagement on issues like trade, migration and security.
Chancellor Merkel is visiting Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, and pledged more than $68 million to support police and security services. More than 1,000 German troops are deployed in West Africa as part of United Nations peacekeeping and European Union training missions to defeat Islamist terrorism.
“We from the European side have to become faster with our commitment,” Merkel told reporters after meeting Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore Wednesday.
Meanwhile Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is in the region to launch a new diplomatic push, announcing plans to open new embassies in Niger and Chad and investing $5.2 million in English language teaching.
“The economic opportunities we see right now in Africa are tremendous, with enormous potential to grow. We must not see African nations as recipients of our charity, but rather as partners and destinations for our investment and trade,” Hunt told an audience in Ghana earlier this week.
Much of the region is Francophone with close historical links to the former colonial power. But Paul Melly, with the London-based policy institute Chatham House, says Britain is not trying to muscle in.
“I think the one thing it’s not is an attempt to outcompete France. All European countries are aware that they need to develop links with a continent that is fast-growing in economic terms, in population terms. And it has a major impact in terms of issues such as migration,” Melly told VOA.
French President Emmanuel Macron signed investment deals worth $2.2 billion with Kenya during a March visit to East Africa, a region with closer historical links to Britain.
Melly says London is looking to export its financial services skills after it leaves the European Union and tries to carve a new role in the global economy.
“Those skills are things actually that rather tend to compliment the things that other European players are doing.”
China is Africa’s biggest trade partner and investor in infrastructure financing. But there is a growing wariness.
“Very often, China will make a contribution in terms of funding big infrastructure things that some other partners feel cautious about doing. But often, this is on soft loan terms, which down the line produces a heavy debt obligation,” Melly says.
American companies are the biggest source of foreign direct investment in Africa, and the U.S. government is the continent’s biggest aid donor. White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump visited Ethiopia and the Ivory Coast last month as part of a project to provide support to 50 million women in developing countries by 2025.
“We believe that investing in women is smart development policy, and it is smart business. It is also in our security interest. Because women, when they are empowered, foster peace and stability,” Trump told reporters during the trip.
Analysts say the race to build economic and diplomatic clout on the continent is gathering pace.