It rarely happens that after state visits, different positions are discussed in clear terms. It was the same at the meeting between Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa in Pretoria. Between the lines, however, the mutual criticism of the position on the war in Ukraine was clearly formulated.

Like Senegal, the first stopover, South Africa belongs to the impressive phalanx of African countries that have chosen a rather neutral position towards Russia. At the latest after the disproportionate international travel bans following the discoveries of the beta and omicron variants of the corona virus, South Africa is rarely reluctant to criticize the West anyway. In this respect, the third station after Senegal and Niger was probably the most complicated during Scholz’s first trip to Africa as Chancellor.

At the press conference with Scholz, Ramaphosa spoke consistently of “the conflict” when he meant the situation in Ukraine. Since the beginning of the war, his government has avoided using the word war – and specifically assigning blame. Scholz resolutely countered: “It’s a Russian war of aggression,” he said. “That must be clear to anyone assessing this situation.”

Unsurprisingly, there was no consensus when Germany solicited support for international sanctions against Russia and arms deliveries to Ukraine. Ramaphosa left no doubt as to his position. The sanctions would have “an overarching effect, including on other countries,” he said. Diplomacy is “the only solution” to settling the “conflict”.

In parts of his ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), the Russian propaganda seems to fall on open ears: According to the narrative, global consequences of the war of aggression, such as the shortage of grain, are not due to the Russian port blockade of the large grain producer Ukraine. But on Western sanctions. This reasoning is not an official government position in South Africa, but it has found its way into an ANC working paper.

It was clear to everyone involved in advance that no common position would be found on this issue. And of course it would be wrong to reduce the three-day trip to the topic of Ukraine. Topics such as the industrialization of the continent, a common energy policy and security policy in the Sahel are too relevant for that.

The visit to Niger was absolutely logical. After the refugee crisis in 2015, Scholz’s predecessor, Angela Merkel, built up an intensive relationship between Germany and the last transit country before Libya. At the time, current President Mohamed Bazoum was interior minister and was in charge of implementing EU-funded measures to strengthen border security – an important reason for the decline in the number of West African migrants arriving in Europe since then.

The poorest country in the world, according to the UN, has since gained in strategic importance, after all, European combat troops from Mali were recently transferred here. And Germany remains present, Scholz announced that the mandate for the deployment of 200 Bundeswehr trainers, which expires in December, will be extended: “This is long-term.”

Geopolitically, however, Senegal and South Africa were probably the more important stations. You are one of the five guest countries at the G-7 summit in Bavaria in June. Senegal currently chairs the African Union (AU), and South Africa’s word always carries weight on the continent. Of course, one hopes for a clearer distance between Africa and Russia.

Despite Russia’s historical influence in South Africa through its support of the ANC in the anti-apartheid struggle, South Africa’s relations with Germany and other western countries are quite resilient. The constitution is one of the most liberal in the world, and the European Union is South Africa’s most important trading partner.

Despite some differences of opinion, Germany regards South Africa as its most important strategic partner in Africa. Politically, but also economically. The state is an important location, especially for the German automotive industry. It produces in South Africa primarily for the American market, which can be supplied duty-free from Africa.

Accordingly, both sides tried to ensure that the Ukraine war did not completely dominate the visit. Scholz was received with extensive military honors at the South African seat of government. He was upgraded from a working visit to an official visit (19 cannon shots instead of 14), the second-highest level of protocol – and unusual for a stay of just a few hours.

Ramaphosa accompanied Scholz to an appointment at the oil and chemical company Sasol, where a German-South African research cooperation is trying to develop a climate-neutral aircraft fuel. Scholz praised the “modern industrial country”. Driving through Johannesburg and Pretoria, he became aware of “the progress that has taken place here”, knowing full well that the two economic metropolises are not necessarily representative of the country plagued by rapidly increasing national debt and record unemployment.

Scholz had already emphasized the expansion of economic cooperation with Africa in Senegal. Of course, the focus is on the gas resources that have been discovered off the coast. There is great interest, after all, Europe is looking for a replacement for Russian gas. All too often, Germany is hesitant to invest in Africa, and that could change now – even though Italy is already much further along. In the past few weeks, gas supply contracts have already been signed with Angola and Algeria.

Incidentally, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, in his capacity as AU chairman, will soon finally be traveling to Ukraine, where hardly any high-ranking African politicians have been to the country since the beginning of the war. Perhaps that was also interesting information for the Chancellor, who was known to be hesitant about this route.