Germany wants to intensively pursue gas and renewable energy projects with Senegal, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said last week Sunday during his first trip to Africa, against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine and its impact on energy and food prices. Scholz kicked off the three-day tour in Senegal, which has billions of cubic metres of gas reserves and is expected to become a major gas producer in the region.

Germany is seeking to reduce its heavy reliance on Russia for gas following the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine. It has initiated talks with the Senegalese authorities about gas extraction and liquefied natural gas, Scholz said. “It is a matter worth pursuing intensively,” he said at a news conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall, adding that progress in the talks was in the two countries’ common interest.

A German government official has said that Germany could help explore a gas field in Senegal. Sall said Senegal was ready to work towards supplying the European market with LNG. He forecast Senegal’s LNG output will reach 2.5 million tonnes next year and 10 million tonnes by 2030. Germany has invited both Senegal, which currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the African Union, and South Africa to attend the G7 summit it is hosting in June as guest countries.

Both countries abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sall said he would visit Moscow and Kyiv in the coming weeks. Scholz made a stop at Niger, from where he will fly to Johannesburg on Monday evening for the final leg of his tour.

Russia’s invasion has brought to the fore how dependent European countries are on Russian gas, which limits how they respond to Russian actions. Moscow’s appetite for using its gas supply for political leverage has made a change in tack all the more imperative. This has led Italy to look towards Algeria, which also supplies Spain with LNG.

The flurry of agreements being signed is likely to be a boon for Africa’s gas industry as it means the investments would enable it to reach its potential: conservative estimates put Africa’s potential peak gas production to be 470 billion cubic metres by the late 2030s; while this would only be 75% of what Russia is expected to produce this year, it would go a long way to replace Russia as the primary supplier. In the meantime, Europe would have to utilise gas from other sources, chiefly the Middle East, Norway and Azerbaijan to meet short-term needs.

It is in this light that Herr Scholz’s first Africa trip differs from the last one by his predecessor Angela Merkel. Frau Merkel had migratory routes in mind when she visited Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal in 2018. This was the height of the migrant crisis and her decision to break with her Eastern EU colleagues by opening Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees made her a moral authority for Africans. In contrast, Mr Scholz’s shuttle diplomacy is geared toward securing energy supplies as Germany and the EU look to diversify away from dependence on Russian energy following that country’s adventurism in Ukraine.

A gas deal with Senegal is something Nigeria has to look on the sidelines at with envy. The tripartite gas deal between Algeria, Niger and Nigeria is yet to step up to the challenge of providing Europe with Atlantic alternatives and has thus ceded the initiative to both Morocco and Senegal who are now looking to make their cases independently. While a trans-Saharan pipeline from Nigeria which passes through Niger and Algeria to Europe will be fraught with security challenges from the restive Sahel, the Gulf of Guinea where Senegal will transport its gas to Germany is not exactly free of existing security concerns as it is still grappling with piracy.

The good news is that increased international presence in that part of the Atlantic has brought a little bit of respite, security-wise, to commercial shipping operating in the area. Long term, Africa is clearly the play that European capitals are betting on. Who are the eventual winners and losers will largely depend on how this current round of shuttle diplomacy, occurring within an environment of increased geopolitical competition, shakes out.