Education Minister Johanna Wanka announced a change of course for German development cooperation in Africa last Friday (20 June). In the future, projects in science and research should be regionally targeted. EURACTIV Germany reports.
Signs of success in African development have inspired Germany to redesign its strategy for promoting growth on the continent. On Friday (20 June) in Berlin, Education Minister Johanna Wanka announced a paradigm shift, in a joint statement with the Commissioner of Human Resources, Science and Research from the African Union, Martial Ikounga.
Last year, growth was at 4.8%, according to statistics of the World Bank. This year, the rate has risen to 5.3%. In 2012, four African countries made it to the worldwide ranking for the top ten countries with the highest growth rates according to GDP.
This success story is something the German government hopes to promote, and it has devised a new route to take. Speaking in Berlin last week, Wanka said that education and research projects will be coordinated on equal footing and in agreement with the African Union (AU) in the future, partnering with African countries.
As an example of innovations, she mentioned the common structure of two regional competence centres for climate change and adapted land management in southern and western Africa. There, input and support from the African countries are not only appreciated but expected, she said.
The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has already allocated €76 million for new projects, Wanka said, indicating that these funds will not only be concentrated in the continent’s few well-developed countries, like South Africa and Egypt.
“The partnership between Germany and Africa in education and research has existed for more than 30 years. Now we hope to rethink and realign cooperation,” the minister said.
Over the last seven years alone, Wanka indicated, more than 500 educational and research activities were implemented in Africa. German scholars are cooperating with partners from 39 of of Africa’s 54 countries.
New focal points among the BMBF’s projects are resource management and raw materials, as well as innovation. “We want to support the countries in efforts to process products that are attractive for the world market, thereby creating more jobs”, said Wanka.
Africa desires equal footing
Ikounga praised the German government’s new concept as a “decision-making framework that takes the interests of both partners into account”. Lately, there has been a growing interest among African partners, he said, to cooperate with Germany on science and research.
Most of all, Ikounga emphasised the AU’s hopes for a stronger international partnership in expanding higher education. Particularly in the areas of science and technology, Ikounga said Africa is currently losing many scientists.
“African students of economic affairs studying in Europe are writing their Master theses on European and not African problems.” This intensifies the challenges involved in building own expertise and in development, Ikounga said.
Education in particular must be promoted
Initial steps toward reversing this trend were already introduced last year. The AU announced the building of the Pan African University (PAU) on the continent, a network to be added on to existing higher education institutions across Africa.
Dirk Niebel, German development minister at the time, agreed to contribute €20 million to help finance the project.
The PAU’s purpose is to support higher education, science and technology at an advanced level. The project comes amid a backlog in this area: Currently only 8% of school graduates in all of Africa attend a university, or move into the research sector afterwards. Meanwhile, half of the African population, close to 1 billion, is under 18 years of age.
Infrastructure deficiencies for growing conurbations
Infrastructure solutions are becoming more and more important for Africa in congested urban areas, caused by increasing urbanisation. In terms of infrastructure development, Germany also supports numerous projects. It is predicted that by 2030, more than 750 million Africans will live in metropolitan areas. Today, the number is only around 400 million, and infrastructure is already showing signs of being overburdened.
Germany’s push for more sustainable development aid in Africa may also be driven by economic interests. Up until now, only 2% of Germany’s foreign trade is with Africa, but German companies continue to only invest sparingly in the continent.
Siemens is among the largest German companies that have invested in Africa, for several years. The corporation, which is currently working on developing wind and solar projects in Africa, announced in 2010 that it intended to invest around €200 million to expand business and distribution centers.
Compared to other European countries, Germany is the still the largest contributor to the EU’s development budget. Pledging just under €4.5 billion, Germany contributes 20.5% of the tenth European Development Fund (EDF) for the period from 2008 to 2013.
To ensure that these funds are efficiently spent, Brussels and Berlin work closely together. Their goal, as they have defined it, is to find a common denominator and create one voice from the variety of interests in the Commission and the 28 member states.