Germany's new development minister is on the right track, but involving private companies is not the appropriate policy in Africa. Instead, building up local regional markets should be the aim, says Left Party MP Niema Movassat.
Niema Movassat is the chairman of the Left Party's (Die Linke) delegation for economic cooperation and development in the German Bundestag and the group's spokesman for world nutrition. He spoke to EurActiv Germany's Daniel Tost.
Recently, there have been many calls for Germany to play a stronger role in international politics. Regarding this, Germany's development minister, Gerd Müller, believes that development policy "is taking on a completely new meaning, a renaissance". Do you share this view?
A new tone can be detected in the minister's announcements that at first generate optimism. He spoke of a necessary paradigm shift, of clear boundaries for economic activity and that Africa could feed itself.
But all of that is still quite vague and it remains to be seen what he concretely means by this. If it is intended to be progressive, we must also wait to see whether he can even get this past his colleagues in the cabinet. So far, the military component of the German government's foreign policy is gaining strength, as well as a connection between development and defence policy, an aspect which Mr. Müller also did not question.
Die Linke would definitely welcome the idea of Germany focusing its international engagement on promoting sustainable and independent development. One of the cornerstones here would be to create conditions for food security in African countries.
What role should the development ministry be given in this regard?
Among the ministries, the development ministry should be given a key role on this. It should ensure that all initiatives in Germany's Africa policy are really supporting development. Such an upgrade of the role of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in relation to the foreign, economics and defence ministries is hardly conceivable, simply because of the staffing in these other departments. But even such an upgrade of the BMZ would not be enough. There would have to be a fundamental change in German development policy.
While the budget intends to allocate more money for development aid, there has not been a significant increase in resources. We are still far from the 0.7% target.
You have said, the goal of the new Africa strategy should be to help African countries build-up their own structures and social protection systems. But Gerd Müller says this as well. Where do your approaches differ, what do you demand of the new strategy?
As I said, it is right for Mr. Müller to strike a different tone in his rhetoric. Nevertheless, we must wait to see which features he will really emphasise. As state secretary in the agriculture ministry, he was responsible for export promotion in the German food sector, among other things. But these exports destroy existing structures in Africa instead of building them up. The disastrous effects of exports in German poultry remnants and milk surplusses on African markets is well-known.
Meanwhile Müller - just as his predecessor - insists on close cooperation with German companies in development aid. I am still doubtful over how the involvement of Bayer or BASF is supposed to help Africa build up its own structures. Instead, it simply creates new dependencies on [German] seed and fertiliser.
Die Linke calls for a coherent policy for African states.
To stick to the poultry example, German development assistance calls for the construction of a poultry slaughterhouse in Benin. At the same time, Europe is inundating the country with cheap poultry parts from European slaughterhouses, which nobody wants to eat here. Poultry breeders in Benin cannot compete with European dumping prices, meaning the planned poultry slaughterhouse will likely remain unused. That is simply absurd! Real development aid should help African countries win back their own room for manoeuvre.
Instead of forcing integration on the global market, Germany should support African countries in establishing their own local and regional markets. This way, added value can be preserved by organising the whole process in their own country, on-site, from the extraction of raw materials all the way to the final product.
So there is still enough leeway for us, as the opposition, to take the minister at his word when he promises something positive, to push him forward when we see something in a fundamentally different way, or when his words remain nebulous or without real substance.
Do you see any difference so far in the development policy positions of Gerd Müller and those of his predecessor, Dirk Niebel?
At least Müller has rhetorically broken away from the belief in the healing power of the free market. He says, the market needs rules. We have been saying that for a long time now.
At the same time, Müller wants to continue significant parts of Niebel's policy, like close cooperation with private companies as well as private foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. These companies as well as the foundations pursue their own agenda. Above all, their activities aim at exploiting new markets. We clearly reject that position.