Aktion Afrika – sport as the ‘motor’ of German expansionism

LOMÉ/OUAGADOUGOU/BERLIN (Own report) – The German Foreign Ministry has presented a new continental political program to aid in its struggle to obtain hegemony over Africa. Over the past 3 days the 20 million Euro program, “Action Africa,” was introduced in three West African States. The program consists of proposals in the realm of education, culture and sports and will contribute to Germany’s advantage over its rivals among the world powers on this continent rich in resources. One of the proposals is the establishment of new German schools abroad, to orient the nation’s future elite toward Germany. In the framework of these projects, Berlin wants to send more soccer coaches to these poverty-stricken African nations – a step, political advisors see as an integrating mechanism for controlling the poverty-stricken African populations. Last Monday, during his tour in West Africa, the German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier attempted to abate tensions that, over the past 15 years, had soured relations to Germany’s former colony Togo. Only three years ago demonstrators violently attacked the Goethe Institute in Lomé, in protest of German support of the Togolese opposition. In Togo and Burkina Faso, where the foreign minister stopped Tuesday, Germany stands in competition with its most important EU partner, France, and is therefore using its “Action Africa”.

Target group: The elite

With “Action Africa” Berlin renewed its attempt to get an advantage over its great power rivals on the African Continent. Twenty million Euros have been made available this year for this program. The program is mainly comprised of projects to establish links to the African elites. For this purpose the foreign ministry envisages the establishment of new German schools abroad and the promotion of German courses in indigenous schools.

With a better transmission of knowledge of the language, “even more African youth will have the possibility to attend German universities,” writes the foreign ministry – an indication that exposes the character of the program.[1] Since the populations in most African nations have English or French as their mother languages, in principle, their chances of getting enrolled into excellent British, US-American or French universities are good. The new program is not intended to provide urban elites with educational possibilities they already have, but to provide the possibility for a reorientation toward Germany.

Interest in Germany

Other projects within the framework of “Action Africa” will serve the same objective. For example a scholarship program for young African scholars will be enhanced. This corresponds to the wishes of German enterprises who, for years, have been predicting a lack in specialists, and therefore demanding that the EU be opened to African personnel.[2] The program will provide those elites remaining on the continent two new Goethe Institutes (one in the booming petroleum producing nation, Angola [3]) and four “liaison offices” of German cultural policy abroad. “It is important that our proposals awaken an interest in Germany,” writes the Ministry of Foreign Affairs about “Action Africa”.[4]


“Action Africa” is an aspect of the restructuring of the so-called development policy. As the Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) announced, the number of countries receiving financial aid from its budget will be significantly reduced.

Affected by these cuts will above all be African nations such as Mali, Guinea and Tchad.[5] Programs, including infrastructure projects, will be discontinued that had previously assisted poverty-stricken rural populations. These countries are being dropped because Berlin’s new policy will focus on a smaller group of priority nations and on the cultural political linkage to their urban elites, who are indispensable for gaining prominence against rivals.

Bread and Circuses

“Action Africa” also provides an opening for low-cost integration of the poverty-stricken masses. In the framework of the program, “sports experts” will be dispatched and “African coaches” will be trained.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier ostentatiously watched the Finals of the Africa Cup – pointing out that the trainer of the Cameroonian team is German. Several African teams are already being trained by Germans. Through the efforts of the Foreign Ministry in Berlin, this will be extended. In Berlin, the ministry wants to promote “sports, as the motor of social coexistence.”[6]

Already at the time of the 2006 World Cup, German political advisors had analyzed soccer’s importance for African societies. “Africa is hoping to receive the acknowledgement that the continent otherwise is denied” states one study. “If the national team wins, the people are in the streets and celebrate, they accept mistakes and setbacks from their governments easier, they are content – bread and circuses!”

Furthermore, soccer provides “in the context of poverty (…) one of the few possibilities for personal advancement.” “In an environment of limited perspectives, alone the presence of this sort of hope has a system-stabilizing effect.”[7]

German-French war

Besides the presentation of “Action Africa,” the German foreign minister’s tour served, above all, to settle the contingencies with Togo. This country that, beginning in 1884, was a German colony, and French after the First World War, has repeatedly been the theatre of power struggles between Berlin and Paris.

Since the 1960s, France had consistently backed the dynasty of the long-time autocrat, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, and his son, Faure Gnassingbé, who today is ruling. The German government, on the other hand, had supported the leader of the opposition, Gilchrist Olympio, whose father Sylvanus Olympio had been the Togolese president from 1960 – 63.

Early in 2005 the German/French confrontation escalated into an unsuccessful coup attempt, and when the coup leaders fled into the German embassy, the filial of the Goethe Institute in the capital Lomé was destroyed. (German-foreign-policy.com reported extensively, among other things on the partisan stand for the opposition taken by the German ambassador.[8]) A Togolese observer remarked at the time “Germany and France are waging war in Togo.”[9]

Alignment of power

Even though the conflicts were not resolved in the presence of the German foreign minister last Monday, they were calmed. Frank Walter Steinmeier, ostentatiously visited the Goethe Institute, which had been rebuilt by the government, and, according to the foreign ministry, “engaged in an intensive exchange on German culture with former and current scholarship holders.”[10]

Steinmeier spoke also to representatives of the opposition, among them a member of Gilchrist Olympio’s party, which is represented by 27 of the 81 parliamentarians in the national parliament, since the elections last fall. According to the pro-French government press reports from Lomé, the German Foreign Minister warned that democracy also means that the party, defeated in elections and its supporters should “not be threatened” of being ‘“completely shut out of public life.”[11] The pro-German Togolese opposition stands to gain from this purely altruistic hint, whose application would essentially mean a new German/French alignment of power in Berlin’s favor.

Liaison office

On Tuesday, the German Foreign Minister terminated his tour in Burkina Faso, a former French colony, still considered by France as part of its sphere of influence (“Francophonie”). Also here Berlin has reinforced its position.

“Burkina Faso wishes to have a close cooperation with Germany, during the period of its membership on the UN Security Council” (2008 – 2009) announced the country’s Foreign Minister following his meeting with Steinmeier.[12] The German government will use the means of its “Africa Action” program to reinforce its position in relationship to France in this country. The Burkinabé elites in the capital, Ouagadougou will receive one of the four new liaison offices of the Goethe Institute.


[1] Aktion Afrika – Kulturelle Zusammenarbeit auf Augenhöhe; http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de

[2] see also Lagerrevolten and Rekrutierungsbüro

[3] see also Advisor in Angola and Näher an Afrika

[4] Aktion Afrika – Kulturelle Zusammenarbeit auf Augenhöhe; http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de

[5] Deutschland verliert Einfluss bei Entwicklungshilfe; netzeitung 12.02.2008

[6] Aktion Afrika – Kulturelle Zusammenarbeit auf Augenhöhe; http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de

[7] Fußball in Afrika: Mehr als ein Spiel; GIGA Focus Afrika Nr. 6/2006

[8] see also The Struggle for Hegemony in Africa, Für Kriegsschiffe nutzbar, Besonders bedrückend and Interview mit Peter Sebald

[9] see also Für Kriegsschiffe nutzbar

[10], [11] “Demokratie verlangt Großzügigkeit”; http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de

[12] Mehr Engagement in Afrika; http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de

Source: http://www.german-foreign-policy.com/en/fulltext/56133

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