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article imageMerkel's G20-Africa meet aims to reduce poverty, migrant influx

By Frank ZELLER (AFP)     Jun 12, 2017 in Politics

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hosts African leaders Monday for a G20 conference aimed at fighting the grinding poverty driving the mass migrant influx to Europe.

The idea is to team up African nations willing to reform with the world's biggest economies and private investors to bring business and jobs to a continent where instability and corruption often scare off foreign companies.

"The global community has an interest in the better economic development of Africa," said German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

Merkel is hosting the initiative as part of Germany's presidency of the Group of 20 biggest economies, whose leaders meet in the northern port of Hamburg a month later.

Invited to Berlin are the leaders of Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal and Tunisia, as well as the heads of the World Bank, IMF and African Union.

In Africa -- whose population is set to double by mid-century -- economies need to grow equally fast "and promise a future for young people, which would also help to ease migratory pressures," said Merkel's spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer.

Germany, Europe's largest economy, has taken in more than one million asylum seekers since 2015 -- more than half from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, but also many thousands from Ethiopia, Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa.

Hundreds of thousands more have trekked through the Sahara into lawless Libya, hoping that traffickers there will take them in rickety boats across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

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 told business daily Handelsblatt.

- 'Not about hand-outs' -

Merkel last year visited major migration transit countries Mali and Niger as well as Ethiopia, the seat of the African Union, and pledged 27 million euros ($30 million) in aid aiming to stop migrants heading for Europe in the first place.

"The well-being of Africa is in Germany's interest," Merkel said at the time.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has visited major migration transit countries
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has visited major migration transit countries
Pedro PARDO, AFP/File

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, especially of young people.

Under the G20 "compacts" plan, an initial seven African nations will pledge reforms to attract more private sector investment.

Those countries will then receive technical support from the IMF, World Bank, other development institutions and their G20 partner country, which will also promote the effort to its own industrial sectors.

More than 100 banks, companies and other potential investors are expected at the two-day conference.

"This is not about hand-outs or just money or cheap money, but about the opportunity to attract investment, profits and jobs," said a German finance ministry official.

Germany will team up with Ghana, Ivory Coast and Tunisia, while other G20 members will support efforts by Ethiopia, Morocco, Rwanda and Senegal.

Germany is offering an additional 300 million euros in support for countries that fight corruption, set up transparent accounting and tax systems and protect human rights, said Development Minister Gerd Mueller.

Non-government groups have criticised that the G20 club -- whose only member on the continent is South Africa -- is offering no bigger financial commitments of its own, and that international trade often hurts African farmers and producers.

About 1,000 anti-globalisation protesters marched through Berlin on Saturday, waving signs that said "Africa is not for sale" and decrying the conference as a neocolonial grab for African resources at a time Europe wants to slam the door on its migrants.

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