West Africa Rising: Visits by Cameron, Merkel speak to Africa's growing economy

British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have been touring the region – and oil-rich Nigeria in particular – to boost free trade and energy partnerships.

Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel stands with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan after inspecting the honor guard during a visit at the presidential villa in Abuja on July 14.

West Africa Rising is a weekly look at business, investment, and development trends.

The leaders of two of the biggest economies in Europe have made stops in sub-Saharan Africa in the past week, with both urging a new focus on “trade, not aid.”

David Cameron, the British prime minister, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, paid separate visits to the West African powerhouse of Nigeria during fly-by tours of the continent. Their aim: to build trade ties with the continent’s biggest oil producer and most populous country.

“In the past, there were marches in the West to drop the debt. There were concerts to increase aid,” Mr. Cameron wrote in South Africa’s Business Day magazine. “But they have never once had a march or a concert to call for what will in the long term save far more lives and do far more good – an African free trade area."

“The key to Africa's progress is not just aid,” he added. “It is time for some fresh thinking.”

The UK will invest more than $250 million over the next four years to help free up trade on the continent, targeting ten key border crossings for improvements.

Cameron is in Nigeria today, the second and final day of his African tour, which began with a stop in South Africa on Monday. The prime minister cut his visit to just two days due to the phone hacking scandal back in Britain, which he’ll return to this evening.

Tellingly, Britain’s minister of trade and industry, Stephen Green, as well as the country’s development minister, Andrew Mitchell, are accompanying Cameron on his African tour. In Nigeria, the prime minister is also joined by a private sector posse that includes the CEO of Barclays Bank, the communications director of England’s Premier League soccer conference, and executives from major firms like Vodafone and Waitrose, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported.

“The business delegation that Cameron heads is an important statement of the coalition government's objective to have a more balanced relationship with Africa: trade and aid,” wrote Alex Vines, the head of the Africa Program at Chatham House, the British development think tank. “At long last Britain is breaking away from neo-colonial guilt and beginning to engage with African states as a normal international partner.”

Meanwhile, Germany is focusing on building its energy partnerships in Africa, especially in oil-rich Nigeria. Ms. Merkel met with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja, the country’s capital, on Thursday after making stops in Kenya and Angola.

“I have decided that we further intensify relations between Nigeria and Germany,” Merkel said, according to a report from Bloomberg. “Energy partnership will no doubt constitute a very important area for that intensified cooperation.”

There’s plenty to attract European firms to the country: the economy of Nigeria, which has a population of more than 150 million, is set to grow by 8.5 percent this year. Trade between Germany and Nigeria is expected to reach $3.5 billion, up from $2.8 billion in 2009, with Germany buying Nigerian crude oil to fuel its cars and manufacturing and Nigeria importing German-made machinery and industrial goods to build its infrastructure.

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