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The African perspective
“Africans dealt with two Germanys for decades.” African guests at a socialist youth summer camp in East Germany in 1986
Development aid towards Africa was highly politicised in the Cold War era. The post-World War II division of Germany was not just a German reality – it was also felt in Africa, the continent where many proxy wars were fought. African countries dealt with two Germanys and their respective political philosophies for decades.
East German solidarity
In its early years, the East German Democratic Republic’s (GDR) main diplomatic ambition was to be internationally recognised. The decolonisation of Africa, which resulted in seventeen African states gaining independence in one year alone (1960), offered a tremendous opportunity to increase diplomatic recognition. At the same time, the West German Federal Republic wanted to thwart its socialist rival’s ambitions. Thus, the initial impetus to focus on Africa came from the competition between the economic and political ideologies driving the two post-war German states.
Such competition, however, cannot fully explain the extent of the GDR’s “solidarity support” for Africa (the East Germans never spoke of “development aid” or “development cooperation”). After the GDR became a UN member in 1973, diplomatic recognition was not a big issue anymore. Many of the newly independent African states adopted some kind of socialist rhetoric, so “anti-colonialism” became a key concept for GDR support on the continent.
The GDR focused its solidarity support on socialist countries: Angola, Mozambique and Ethiopia, but it also cooperated with countries with a “socialist orientation”, such as Zambia, Tanzania and Guinea-Bissau. The support ranged from language, vocational and academic training (in East Germany and in the partner countries) and health, to support in strategic and highly political areas, like providing military advisors, military hardware and medical care for injured liberation fighters. In several cases, the GDR supported liberation movements that later became ruling parties such as SWAPO in Namibia or the ANC in South Africa.
High ranking (former) officials from these liberation parties still appreciate the early critical support they received from the GDR. In several formerly socialist countries, well skilled technical experts and labourers, who were trained in the GDR and speak German, are another legacy of this era. For example, German travelers in Mozambique may come across a “Djermani,” a former GDR scholarship holder.
The same, but opposite
In the Cold War years, West German aid was perceived as “the same but exactly the opposite”: it also focused on education, with a bias towards vocational training, and it also provided military expertise for politically critical countries. Several Africans think that West Germany should have been more neutral or supportive of independence movements and leaders such as SWAPO (Namibia) or Kwame Nkrumah (in Ghana), but Cold War logic prevented that.
If we narrow in on West German development cooperation, we observe that, like any Western donor, German aid followed the “international concert” of donors in partner countries in which the World Bank played an important role. Nonetheless, some specifics are worth mentioning: Germany was traditionally regarded as a good partner for government, local authorities and civil society due to its results-based orientation and long-standing stable relations. West German aid, moreover, had a “face”, as many German staff were present in country offices and provinces. This was mainly because German aid always had a strong technical dimension, it was essentially hands-on and results oriented. Much like German technology, development cooperation “made in Germany” carried a brand: solid, stable and well-established.
Over the past decade, the call for results-oriented development cooperation has grown louder in German embassies and the African offices of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), reflecting the general trend in the donor community. German development cooperation can indeed further increase its results-based orientation, for instance by learning from the Norwegians, who are willing to share their long-standing experiences. For example, there is a promising joint Norway-Germany pilot project in Malawi’s health sector. It was launched only recently, so it is too soon to draw conclusions, but Germany should use this as a case study, evaluate it carefully, disseminate the findings and replicate the concept, if the results are positive.
The emphasis on results is healthy for two reasons. Some western politicians are eager to show that taxpayers’ money was spent well. Their concern is legitimate. But results matter even more to African people. For them, they may mean the difference between good health care and no healthcare at all; safe drinking water or no water at all; a decent education or no education at all. Therefore, African stakeholders – not only in government, but in civil society and the private sector too – are increasingly engaged and meaningfully involved in ensuring that results are obtained. They know first-hand that they stand to benefit the most from successful development interventions. German development experts in African partner countries are well aware of the need for this focus on citizens in results-based programmes.
No doubt, the role of African citizens must be strengthened. All parties involved must cooperate to fight low expectations, poor standards and misuse of public funds. Time and again we at ONE are amazed at the creativity shown by African citizens in recent years, particularly in the use of new technology to raise their voices.
A good example is the use of cell phones to whistle blow against poor service delivery in Tanzania, where school kids can send text messages to a central number if teachers do not show up for class. Such information is published on a website, and helps to press for improvements. Conceivably such an approach can be replicated with German development cooperation, giving African partners of German development cooperation more say. This kind of grassroots monitoring should complement official evaluations because it would enhance transparency in the flow of aid money.
African partners observe another characteristic, though it is not unique to German development cooperation: the duplication of roles and overlapping mandates among various implementing agencies. The extent to which such overlap occurs differs from country to country. In some, but not all countries, KfW Developement Bank, German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), Capacity Building International (InWEnt) and German Development Services (DED) divvy up the tasks well and focus on their respective strengths. I know the latter three agencies were recently merged to form GIZ, but on the ground, they are still pretty much operating independently. The merger is most welcome, because the multitude of agencies was confusing and bewildering. All too often, African partners simply did not know who to turn to when they wanted to cooperate with Germany. Communication is now streamlined, and so is responsibility for implementing German policy in Africa.
Africans also see the merger as an opportunity to modernise some aspects of German development cooperation. In particular, all donors should make sure their interventions strengthen rather than undermine local authorities in countries with functioning bureaucracies. One meaningful way to do so is to make use of local procurement systems. In other countries, the effort could go further by reporting aid funds in the national budget, thereby allowing parliamentary scrutiny.
It has not gone unnoticed that Germany, in spite of some official development assistance (ODA) increases, has gone from the world’s second largest donor in 2008 to just the fourth largest donor in 2010. Looking at sub-Sahara-Africa only, Germany has been the fourth biggest donor over the past years, but Japan is closing in and will overtake Germany should the trends continue.
Over the past years, structured policy dialogues between partner country and donors at the country level have increased in effectiveness and frequency. I was recently the chair of the general budget support group of 14 major donors in Tanzania, during which time I also led the policy dialogue process between the donors and the government of Tanzania. I can attest to the fact that donors who align most with a country’s economic development strategies and integrate their development cooperation into national efforts usually have the best access and influence on policy decisions. Germany’s relative decline as a funder and its limited progress in using country systems means that other donors increasingly have more leverage in these dialogues.
German cooperation programmes support African health systems, build water supplies and develop African agriculture. This solid work should and will continue with much of the same efficiency, effectiveness and partnership oriented approach as in the past. But in addition to continuing time-tested approaches in development cooperation, Germany should embark on innovative approaches. These approaches may be riskier, but as with any investment, there is a positive correlation between risk and potential return. In a fast changing continent with impressive economic growth rates, riskier investments are poised to pay off.
Before it is time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the BMZ, Africa should no longer need ODA. This is a vision that several African leaders such as Paul Kagame in Rwanda are working hard to make real. Germany’s influence on Africa is manifold: as a trading partner it creates demand for African products and supplies critical goods for industrialisation. German companies invest in Africa and German experts advise African governments. Hence, Germany is well placed to remain a strategic development partner for the next 50 years. Investing in the “African decade” now through development programmes will solidify Germany’s partnership with Africa beyond the aid era.