Horst goes to Africa

To Accra, to be specific. The German President Horst Köhler headed a delegation of 170 Germans at the Partnership with Africa conference that included several African heads of state and international leaders: Presidents John Agyekum Kufuor (Ghana), Festus G. Mogae (Botswana), Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (Liberia), Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria) as well as Alpha Oumar Konare of the African Union. The focus of the conference was on leadership development – perhaps the most important aspect of development aid. Besides the big-wigs, the conference brought together 50 African and European “young leaders” for networking and for brainstorming about the future of the Africa, and Germany’s role in it. The event took place at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana’s capital Accra on Jan 12-15.

The fact that Köhler bothered to attend this event is a good sign, maybe. And considering his IMF background, it makes sense. I think Germany, and the rest of Europe, may begin to realize that they need to engage African countries and their people in constructive ways, in order to strengthen the relationship between the two continents. The problem right now is that Europe is trying to fence itself off from Africa, and that is a dumb idea. Europe needs the immigrants from the South, to bolster its dwindling workforce. Those immigrants send substantial amounts of money back home, which supports local economies and builds buying power of consumers in Africa. And if Africa’s ties to Europe are strong, chances are African consumers will want European products. China has discovered Africa as both a labor pool and a market for Chinese products. Europe is going to have to get on that train, or it’ll leave the station. If China has the stronger ties with Africa in the upcoming years, China will have better access to the wealth of resources in Africa, as well as to African markets.

From a European perspective, it’d be a shame to loose out on access to Africa. But if the Chinese wins this one, they deserve it, as they clearly take Africa very seriously. From the African perspective, a strong relationship with Europe must be desirable, because of the geographic proximity and because so many Africans already live there. And competition between Europe and Asia for access in Africa would certainly benefit African economies.

And that’s where the leadership development comes in. Africa has to develop its pool of civic leaders, at every level, from farmer’s coops and teachers to national parties and government. Every community needs a handful of civic leaders, men and women with a clear, progressive vision for the future of their community and their country. These people are the seeds of democracy, and a true, participatory democracy is the best recipe for successful, sustainable economic development. Aid, and debt relief may help, but only in combination with leadership development and local, broad empowerment initiatives. If Germany is serious about its engagement with African countries, that’s where it should start. Germany has a strong tradition of civic leadership and civic life, and it should be quite possible for German leaders to leverage this tradition to help build a new generation of civic leaders across Africa. I think that Germans will find a lot to learn from their African counterparts, and I am sure that such a collaboration would benefit both sides tremendously. And that would make development a two-way street, and a win-win proposition.

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