German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged more investment in Africa, saying that economic growth there is needed to fight the poverty that is driving the mass migrant influx to Europe.
She was speaking at a conference with 10 African leaders in Berlin held as part of Germany’s presidency of the Group of 20 big economies, which holds a summit next month.
“If there is hopelessness in Africa, then its young people will of course say they will seek a new life elsewhere in the world,” Merkel told the meeting.
More than half of Africans are aged 25 years and under, and the population is set to double by mid-century, making economic growth and jobs essential for the young, Merkel said.
“If we work together with them for their countries, then we also create more security for ourselves,” she said, stressing she wants to put out of business human traffickers taking the desperate to Europe.
Germany has taken in more than 1mn asylum-seekers since 2015 – most from the Middle East, but also tens of thousands from Ethiopia, Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa.
Hundreds of thousands more have trekked through the Sahara into lawless Libya, hoping that people smugglers will take them in rickety boats across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara said the solution “lies in the massive creation of jobs through strong and inclusive economic growth,” adding that “young Africans will feel better in Africa than elsewhere”.
The two-day Berlin meeting groups the leaders of Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, and Tunisia, as well as the heads of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the African Union.
They discussed a plan to team up African nations willing to reform with G20 nations and private investors to bring business and jobs to a continent where instability and corruption often scare off foreign companies.
More than 100 banks, companies and other potential investors are attending.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde said that “having people flee from many sub-Saharan countries to reach better shores is not a sustainable response”.
“Creating the economic circumstances where people can live, grow, be educated and create value for themselves and their families at home is the way to go,” she said.
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said African countries must boost governance and the rule of law, shift from raw materials to value-added exports and drop the “mindset of aid dependency, charity and handouts”.
He said that, “understandably, the youths are willing to risk everything to earn a decent living”, and “taking harrowing risks around the Mediterranean, trying to reach a better life”.
Unemployment was “the major social issue of our time in Africa”, he said, adding however that young people, given education, training and digital technology, “will make our continent great”.
Critics have dismissed the latest multilateral Africa initiative as a half-hearted effort without a major aid commitment, but organisers say it could help boost prosperity and reduce the mass flight and brain drain.
Under the G20 compacts plan – which several African leaders dubbed “the Merkel plan” – an initial seven African nations will pledge reforms to attract more private sector investment.
Those countries will then receive technical support from development institutions and their G20 partner country, which will also promote the effort to its own industrial sectors.
Germany will team up with Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Tunisia, while other G20 members will support efforts by Ethiopia, Morocco, Rwanda and Senegal.
Berlin is offering an additional €300mn in support for countries that fight corruption, set up transparent accounting and tax systems and protect human rights, said Development Minister Gerd Mueller.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame said that “traditional aid, while useful, is never going to be enough to bring about sustainable development” and stressed that the “private sector is absolutely central to prosperity”.
He said there was a need “to dispel the notion that Africa is inherently riskier than other developing markets”.
“Business conditions have gotten better,” he said. “Contracts are respected and the continent is increasingly stable, governance, transport and internet connectivity have all significantly improved in recent years. Companies are doing well in Africa and not only in extractive industries.”
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