"New opportunities are emerging in Sub-Saharan Africa"

Africa is becoming increasingly relevant and presents new opportunities despite major challenges. On 13 January 2021, the Federal Council adopted the Sub-Saharan Africa Strategy through which it intends to implement the Foreign Policy Strategy in the countries south of the Sahara. For the first time, Switzerland is consolidating the various policy areas into a coherent overall approach. The aim is broad-based cooperation with its African partners on an equal footing.

Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis on his Africa trip smiling as sits on the floor with a group of children.

Young people represent Africa's greatest potential. The image shows Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis talking to a school class in Mozambique. © FDFA

Africa's image as a continent of poverty and conflict persistently endures. Yet Africa has tremendous political, economic, cultural and scientific potential. For instance, several African countries are among the fastest growing economies in the world. Over the past two decades the sub-continent as a whole has achieved impressive growth rates of up to 6.5%, even though major differences exist between individual countries. By way of comparison, economic growth in Switzerland stood at 1.1% in 2019.

"The region is becoming increasingly important, also for Switzerland. It would be misguided to reduce Sub-Saharan Africa to its – albeit significant – challenges and to view it one-sidedly from a migration perspective. Many new opportunities are emerging in Africa," underlined Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, summing up the trend.

Many new opportunities are emerging in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis

The new Sub-Saharan Africa Strategy is based on the contrasting view of Sub-Saharan Africa as a region with great potential but facing major challenges. Switzerland will focus its efforts on four thematic areas derived from the Foreign Policy Strategy 2020–23:

Peace, security and human rights

Humanitarian aid supplies are loaded onto a plane at Bern-Belp airport.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, humanitarian aid for victims of conflicts and disasters is particularly important. © FDFA

Switzerland is engaged in Sub-Saharan Africa with its good offices such as dialogue promotion and mediation, as well as with civilian and military peacebuilding. This encompasses the prevention of armed conflicts and violent extremism, dealing with the past and the fight against impunity. Switzerland also works to ensure respect for human rights and compliance with international humanitarian law and is actively engaged in the UN Human Rights Council. As part of the implementation of the UN’s "Women, Peace and Security" agenda, Switzerland promotes the equal participation of women and young people in peace and reconstruction processes and fights against sexual violence. Democratisation and the rule of law are additional crucial activities undertaken by Switzerland. Switzerland supports state and civil society initiatives, strengthens judicial cooperation between Switzerland and the African states, helps to reinforce local justice systems and criminal prosecution authorities in the fight against criminality and assists the International Criminal Court in regards to crimes under international law.


Addis Abeba’s skyline in the dawn.
Economic growth for all: Switzerland promotes a stable economic environment and dignified jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa. © Keystone

Switzerland fosters sustainable economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. As part of its international cooperation activities, it develops innovative approaches in basic education and vocational training and is stepping up cooperation with the private sector. Jobs are vital in terms of providing perspectives for the young and growing population. Supporting the provision of basic services in healthcare and education and the equal access for women, minorities and youth to the labour market enhances the economic potential of the states, which in turn also benefits Switzerland. The Swiss economy is showing increasing interest in the African market. The economic opportunities are clearly evident, even though challenges remain. With its contribution to the improvement the economic environment in the partner states, Switzerland creates more opportunities from which both local businesses and Swiss companies benefit. Under stable economic conditions, the economy can flourish and dignified jobs can be created. To do so, Switzerland also uses trade diplomacy. Switzerland also ensures the development and effective implementation of global standards to prevent and combat illicit financial flows. In relation to the restitution of illicitly acquired assets (asset recovery), Switzerland continues to seek development-related solutions which benefit communities.


An African woman stands in a field holding vegetables in her hands.
Africa is strongly affected by climate change, adaptation measures are necessary, also in the agriculture sector. © SDC

In the framework of the 2030 Agenda, Switzerland aims to ensure sustainable development in Sub-Saharan Africa, notably in the three dimensions of environment, economy and society. It supports the fight against climate change and its impacts. Switzerland continues to promote effective healthcare systems and in particular the sustainable management of and access to clean water and sanitary facilities. With regards to the rapid urbanisation, Switzerland's focuses increasingly on energy and other basic services, urban planning and the management of climate-related risks. It seeks to better identify and address forced displacement and migration caused by natural disasters and the consequences of climate change. During humanitarian crises, Switzerland aims to ensure the sustainable management of resources.


An person holds a smartphone in his hands.
Switzerland promotes digital self-determination. © SDC

Digitalisation has the potential to bring about fundamental economic and socio-political changes also in Sub-Saharan Africa. Switzerland seeks to use digital tools for international cooperation projects and programmes to achieve development goals more effectively and quickly. Further, Switzerland focuses on digital governance. This involves the digital transformation of partner countries in the region, so that they make use of the digitalisation in the economy, society and administration for the benefit of their population. Here, Switzerland focuses on digital self-determination and underlines the importance of internet access for all. Switzerland also supports companies in the creation of innovative financial services for African societies and aims to strengthen the position of International Geneva as a global centre for digital governance. Switzerland promotes the participation of the economy and science in relevant international forums. African actors in particular should increasingly be able to participate in discussions on digital governance.

Sub-Saharan Africa and COVID-19

COVID-19 is also affecting the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. While some states in the region are coping comparably well with the health challenges thanks to their rapid responses and their experience of pandemics, the global economic crisis triggered by COVID-19 affects everyone. Most countries in the region only have limited means for supporting their population and economy through state measures. The economic crisis risks wiping out the development progress made in recent years. The crisis nevertheless also presents opportunities, especially for digitalisation and economic transformation.

Priority regions


The Sahel region is notable for its cultural, linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity. In the past decade, various states in the region have achieved successes in terms of democratisation, economic development and inclusion of civil society. This progress is being endangered, in particular by political instability and the increase in armed conflicts in the Sahel and the Lake Chad region. Many states in the region are faced with poverty, social inequality and high population growth as well as being severely affected by climate change. The region has experienced strong economic growth in recent years. However, this is excessively dependent on the commodities sector and does not always benefit the wider population.

In the context of the new Sub-Saharan Africa Strategy, Switzerland is mainly focusing on the following areas in the Sahel and the Lake Chad region:

  1. Civilian and military peacebuilding
  2. Protecting human rights and compliance with international humanitarian law
  3. Tackling the root causes of irregular migration
  4. Improving basic services for the population
  5. Promoting the participation of women in decision-making processes
  6. Sustainable management of and access to natural resources

Greater Horn of Africa

The Greater Horn of Africa is one of the most dynamic regions in the world, but it is also one of the most unstable and conflict affected regions. Its geographical, historical, political, cultural and religious diversity represents tremendous richness, yet also makes the region susceptible to conflicts within and between states. The region is also severely affected by climate change and is frequently hit by natural catastrophes, and faces further humanitarian, economic and social challenges. The states in the Greater Horn of Africa have experienced strong economic growth over recent years and potential still exists in the exploitation of natural resources. However, these positive developments have not eliminated the major social disparities, even though there are significant differences between states.

In the context of the new Sub-Saharan Africa Strategy, Switzerland is mainly focusing on the following areas in the Greater Horn of Africa:

  1. Implementing peacebuilding initiatives and the prevention of violence
  2. Supporting the political transition
  3. Providing humanitarian aid
  4. Improving the general economic environment
  5. Protection of refugees and tackling the root causes of irregular migration
  6. Protecting human rights
  7. Ensuring the provision of basic services
  8. Mitigating the impacts of climate change

Great Lakes region

The Great Lakes region has experienced conflicts and tensions for decades caused by economic, ethnic, historical and political factors and disputes over access to resources. These conflicts have resulted in major migratory movements and forced displacement. There are long-standing humanitarian crises and humanitarian requirements continue to rise. The region is also severely affected by transmittable diseases and neglected tropical diseases. Climate change and climatic events threaten people’s livelihoods. At the same time, the extensive forests and bodies of water in the region are crucial for biodiversity and climate stability. The economy is still primarily based on the exploitation of commodities. The region also possesses tremendous potential in terms of agriculture and hydropower. However, the general economic conditions are challenging.

In the context of the new Sub-Saharan Africa Strategy, Switzerland is mainly focusing on the following areas in the Great Lakes region:

  1. Peacebuilding and the prevention of violence
  2. Protecting human rights and compliance with international humanitarian law
  3. Promoting good governance
  4. Creating dignified jobs and prospects through education
  5. Stepping up economic cooperation
  6. Encouraging responsible corporate management, especially in the raw materials sector

The economic lionesses

In a similar way to the Asian tiger economies, states in Africa with high economic growth can be referred to as "lionesses". These include the traditional heavyweights South Africa, Nigeria and Angola as well as countries with stable economic growth and favourable economic conditions such as Kenya, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and Ethiopia. The smaller but dynamic economies of Senegal and Rwanda are also of interest. The regional engines of economic growth also attract a large number of usually young migrants in search of income. In some cases, the economy in these states is heavily dependent on the commodities sector. Economic diversification and intra-African trade could be increased. In this regard, there is potential which may be realised increasingly through the newly created African Continental Free Trade Area.

In the context of the new Sub-Saharan Africa Strategy, Switzerland is mainly focusing on the following areas:

  1. Strengthening economic relations with Switzerland
  2. Creating an optimal environment for new trade and investment opportunities
  3. Supporting Swiss companies in African states
  4. Promoting responsible corporate management
  5. Strengthening cooperation in combating corruption
  6. Stepping up cooperation on climate protection
  7. Seizing the opportunities presented by the digital transformation

Regional organisations

The African states have set up important regional organisations to promote peace, security and economic development, notably the African Union (AU) and the Regional Economic Communities. As a continental organisation, the AU is pursuing the objective of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa. Particularly for peace and security, the AU is the UN's key partner in Africa. Another major actor is the African Development Bank which aims to achieve sustainable economic development and social progress, thereby contributing to poverty alleviation.

In the context of the new Sub-Saharan Africa Strategy, Switzerland is mainly focusing on the following areas:

  1. Cooperation on conflict resolution and prevention as well as on migration and climate change.
  2. Strengthening multilateralism in Africa
  3. Strengthening the African Development Bank
  4. Seizing the potential of the African Continental Free Trade Area

Enhance the partnership-based relations

Sub-Saharan Africa is becoming increasingly important on the global political stage as well as more economically relevant. Switzerland has a long-standing tradition of partnership with the states in the region and wishes to intensify these relations in a forward-looking way. Building on development cooperation, relations have diversified over recent years. The time has come to consolidate the extensive cooperation in a strategy and to position it for the future. Cooperation should be mutually beneficial and meet both the needs of the partner countries and Switzerland's interests.

Trust in Switzerland and interest in cooperation is high.
Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis

Switzerland focuses on areas where it can offer outstanding expertise, for example in economic, financial and scientific relations or through its peace policy. As an independent and solidary actor with a strong reputation as a competitive and innovative nation, and as defender of human rights and international humanitarian law, Switzerland also is a much sought-after partner south of the Sahara. Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis underlines this point: "Trust in Switzerland and interest in cooperation is high."

Coordination of strategies ensures a coherent foreign policy

In late January 2020, after analysing the current state of the world and evaluating the trends that could shape the future, the Federal Council published its Foreign Policy Strategy 2020–23, setting out its overarching objectives.

The next step involves implementing these objectives in line with the situation in the various regions of the world. Although the objectives remain the same, they cannot always be implemented in the same everywhere – whether in Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, the Americas, the Asia/Pacific region or sub-Saharan Africa. Hence the need for regional strategies such as the Sub-Saharan Africa Strategy.

In addition, there are the thematic strategies, such as the International Cooperation Strategy 2021– 2024, which also defines sub-Saharan Africa as a priority region. The two strategies complement and are aligned with one another. This ensures Switzerland's foreign policy activities are more effective, avoids any overlaps and harnesses synergies between the various involved bodies of the Swiss Confederation and external partners.

Coordination of the strategies is important to ensure that Switzerland can implement its foreign policy in a coherent manner in all parts of the world. The Foreign Policy Strategy 2020–23 sets the general course with the overarching objectives. This means Switzerland is represented in a coherent and unified way.

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