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Armin Laschet, cabinet member in North Rhine-…

“Look beyond the dashboard”


German TV stars with roots in Ghana

German TV stars with roots in Ghana

In September, North Rhine-Westphalia – with some 18 million inhabitants by far the largest of the German Länder – twinned up with Ghana in an official partnership. Armin Laschet, the minister in charge of these matters in the Düsseldorf government, explains the background and goals.

Why is North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) active in global development issues?
Way back in 1962, the state-premiers of the German Länder promised to support the development policy of the Federal Government. North Rhine-Westphalia has been doing so for many years. We have recently updated our development guidelines, because our Land is really the crucial German Land when it comes to North-South relations. All major development agencies are based here, including civil-society bodies such as Misereor, Kindernothilfe or Deutsche Welthungerhil­fe/German Agro Action. We have around 3000 One World initiatives in civil society. Furthermore, the Berlin-Bonn Act expressly defined the former capital of the Federal Republic on the Rhine as the nation’s North-South Centre. Accordingly, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development is one of the ministries based in Bonn. Moreover, Bonn is also the only UN location in Germany. There really is tight-nit network here that we can rely on.

But the KfW Development Bank, the GTZ, and medico international, an important NGO, are based in the Greater Frankfurt Area. NRW does not have a monopoly on development agencies.

The State of Hesse is free to develop its own North-South profile. Development policy would only benefit. But what ever that Land does, we definitely feel that development is a forte of ours.

What are your developmental goals?

The goals of development policy are clear: combat poverty, promote democracy et cetera. However, we are looking at North-South inter-woveness at all levels. In the wake of the international Agenda processes since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, responsibilities have been shifted down from the level of national governments to include regions and towns as well. We in North Rhine-Westphalia want people to look beyond the dashboard and understand how North and South are interrelated. With our massive industrial base and as a provider of services, North Rhine-Westphalia is a also a major player in world trade, and I feel that our economic strength obliges us to deal with issues of global development and North-South dialogue.

In early November, you signed and announced a new partnership between your Land and Ghana. What is the goal?

So far, there was only one such partnership – the one between our neighbour Rhineland-Palatinate and Rwanda. I believe such partnerships are very helpful in raising awareness of North-South issues, because you are focusing on a single country. We chose Ghana because it is one of Africa’s model cases. It is a democracy and is heading for a socially responsible market economy. Moreover, one of the largest African diaspora communities in North Rhine-Westphalia is Ghanaian. We feel that the relatedness of migration and development should become a focus of development cooperation.

How many Ghanaians live in NRW?

We estimate that some 4500 people with a passport from Ghana live here, with an equal number of former Ghana citizens who now hold German passports. So that puts us just short of 10,000 Ghanaians in North Rhine-Westphalia. We have to take advantage of that potential when networking for business or education purposes, for instance. And that holds true here as well as in Ghana. In our partnership with Ghana, we intend to show what can be done. Moreover, the Catholic Diocese of Münster has long been a partner of Ghana’s, so we can build on a well-established foundation.

Ghana, however, is considered a “donor darling” that receives a lot of funds from official development assistance (ODA). Don’t other countries need NRW’s attention more desperately?

The point is not attention; we are not a major donor. The point is to network people and institutions, to get them in touch with one another. At the Land level, we are supporting what Germany’s Federal Government is doing in bilateral cooperation with Ghana.

What role does donor harmonisation in the OECD context play?

As a Member of the European Parliament, I fought for the 27 member states speaking in one voice to partner countries, rather than using 27 different voices. Coordination is necessary, no doubt. Therefore, I do not believe that 16 German Länder should now throw in their weight and complicate things even mores. Within the context of the OECD coordination and Germany's bilateral cooperation with Ghana, we therefore want to make a meaningful contribution. Our agreement with Ghana explicitely says so. Of course, our contribution will be a minor one.

How much money have you earmarked for the partnership with Ghana in your Land’s budget?

We do not have any figures yet. According to the OECD criteria, we spend some € 20 million on ODA every year. That figure includes university fellowships and much more. It is impossible to say how much of that goes specifically to Ghana. However, I am certain that it would be good for all 16 German Länder to twin up with a partner country in the developing world. That would put German development cooperation on a broader political foundation, and thus promote the interests of the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development too.

So you basically want to influence public opinion in Germany.

The core task of Germany’s Länder lies in education at home. We can achieve a lot by raising awareness among the general public about Ghana as a partner of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Questions by Hans Dembowski.