AFRICA – 2019

Two brief but nevertheless impressive visits to Addis Abeba and from there to Nairobi are reasons for that new reflections on Africa. In Ethiopia I met Stephanie Fenkart, the director of the International Institute for Peace, where she participated in a conference on Art and Peace. Together we flew to Nairobi where we took part in a „Learning Journey to Silicon Savannah“. During our visit we saw poverty and deprivation but also much optimism and energy. Both capitals are thriving cities with many new skyscrapers – often not – yet – finished. And in both cities we find also the effects of urbanization: higher education and less children per family. While Addis is much poorer and dusty, Nairobi shows clear economic progress and even wealth in many green quarters of the city. But for both capitals and their countries hope can be seen at the horizon.

In Ethiopia we see political changes which could overcome a partly horrible and nightmarish past. And in Kenya many new activities especially in the digital field give hope for jobs and increasing wealth.  Because I want to be fair and not paint a too raise picture I will also present some doubtful developments, where much more has do be done to initiate political changes or to transform such changes in economic success.  But let me start with the issues which are dominating the European debate.


Europe’s main concern: migration

In Europe Africa is still seen very much under the perspective of migration, predominantly immigration into Europe. The fewer people are coming to Europe or one’s own country the better. That migration is an important issue should not be denied. But migration should not be seen primarily as a threat to Europe. It is also a sign of political and economic mismanagement and imbalances in Africa, if migration is a mass phenomenon. This is a case not generally in Africa but in some countries this is a fact. The lack of political – democratic – development, conflicts between countries and tribes, terrorism as that committed by Boko Haram or Al-Shabaab – recently again also in Nairobi – and lack of economic development and climate change can lead to strong emigration. There is not a single reason why people try to emigrate or flee. And also between migration and trying to take refuge there are many grey zones.

Because of the multitude of causes for emigration it is not easy to influence the development in Africa – especially from the outside. Primarily, decisions on and implementation of the necessary measures have to be done by the African leaders themselves. And it needs a mix of measures and instruments to give the people a chance to earn their living in Africa itself. But Europe certainly has an obligation and an interest (!) to support a sound political and economic development. Of course this is much more difficult than just to announce the closure of the „Mediterranean route“. What happened is anyway primarily not a closure of the route but a displacement of emigration via Libya into Italy to emigration via Morocco into Spain.

Fact is, that less people tried to cross the Mediterranean in 2018 than the years before, although still a lot of them die in the Sea. And many migrants/refugees are mistreated on the inner-African transit routes and in Libya. So we shouldn’t dramatize emigration as such but we should fight against the different causes and against the suffering and death of many migrants. And an improved economic cooperation between countries of the EU and of Africa is one step towards a reasonable strategy against forced emigration.

In this respect it can be seen as progress that the Austrian Presidency of the EU organized a conference in Vienna with the economic cooperation between EU and Africa as the main subject. But this cooperation is not only necessary because „we should not let Africa to the Chinese“ as expressed by the Austrian Chancellor but because we have an economic interest in addition to a moral obligation. Let us hope that many new contacts have been installed and that a new awareness of economic opportunities was established.

Some people argue, that an improved education and income of Africans will even raise the tendency to emigrate. Higher income allows to finance emigration and higher qualification makes it easier to find a job in Europe. Research confirms and underlines this argumentation. But it would not only be cynical to fight against higher incomes and qualification for Africans. Firstly we have to think in longer terms and secondly we have to accompany the better qualification with new investments and opportunities in Africa itself. And a concept of circular migration could give African – and other youngsters – a chance to gain experience in Europe in order to use it in their home country after returning back.

Anyway in our visit we met many young people who were ready to engage themselves in Africa. Some of them came back after have been in Europe or the US. Having had a chance to stay for some time outside Africa, in the so-called developed world, does not mean that people will never come back. It rather depends on the chances and opportunities people get in the home countries. We meet fashion designers, engineers, business people and political activists, who are laying the ground not only for their own personal success but also for a better future of Africans in general. And European companies and institutions could help them. Not so much as benevolent donors, but as partners on a basis of mutual interests.

Back in Vienna I met an Italian entrepreneur who developed the idea, that European companies who could get a contract in an African country could employ and train migrants who stayed – illegally – in Europe and then bring them back to their home country were they would be employed in implementing/fulfilling the contract. I do not say, I would agree with all the details of this proposal, but it shows that there are many people who are ready to develop ideas about how migration could be managed reasonable and contribute to better economic relations between Europe and Africa. Also African authorities should think about proposal migration could be dealt with in a more human and economic way.

The African Union has decided that the year 2019 will be the Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons. Hopefully they will work on some forward looking and realistic concepts to mange migration in a better way. 


Elections are not enough: the case of Congo (DRC)

Africa at the beginning of the New Year presents itself with a lot of good news but also some backlashes. And some of the good news have flaws in itself as the recent elections in Congo (RDC). For a long time the autocratic President Kabila prevented the elections which were due two years ago. „Outgoing“ President Joseph Kabila postponed them several times. So it was a big surprise when it was announced that an opposition candidate was winning against the proxy of Kabila but the elections as such were characterized by chaos.

The New York Times International wrote a report with the title: „Congo’s imperfect victory“ and its comment had the title: „Congo’s almost free election“ where one could read: „The widespread suspicion is that when Mr. Kabila sensed that his man would be crushed, he cut a deal with Mr. Tshisekedi to ensure that the outgoing president, his family and his cronies would not be compelled to relinquish the fortunes and properties they reaped in the 18 years Mr. Kabila inhabited the presidential palace. Mr. Fayulu the candidate of a broad coalition of opposition parties and figures, would not be likely to give the outgoing cabal a pass.“ (INYT 14.1.2019)

After some days it became more and more evident, that the proxy of Joseph Kabila lost but that the announced winner, Kabila’s second choice, Felix Tshisekedi – the son of the former Leader of the Opposition -, did not win. Many signs showed, that another opposition candidate, Martin Fayulu was the clear winner. And the African Union expressed serious doubts about the process leading to the victory of Felix Tshiskedi. And it asked to suspend the final publication of the result. But few days later the Congolese Constitutional Court declared Felix Tshiskedi as winner. After that announcement Martin Fayulu underlined that he will contest that decision, asked for international support and asked his followers in Congo to demonstrate peacefully against the Court’s decision.

But in the meantime Tshiskedi became officially president and many governments started to accept this reality. It is very sad, that the power transition in Congo which could be the first peaceful and democratic one since independence has such grave flaws. Again Congo with all those years of turmoil and killings during the horrible Belgian colonialism and after the at least formal independence will go on. The FT (31.1.2019) wrote in a „Big Read“ article: „Some observers, however, believe that the change in leadership will do little to unleash Congo’s potential. Far from a break with the past, they see more of the same, with Mr. Kabila continuing his rule in all but name… Lacking legitimacy and a parliamentary majority, Mr Tshiskedi has an uncomfortable burden to bear.“

This year will see many important elections in Africa, for example presidential elections in Algeria, Nigeria and Senegal. Furthermore the parliamentary elections in South Africa will show how much support President Ramaphosa has amidst the electorate. Hopefully these and other election will be characterized by less chaos and cheating. Not that elections are a guarantee for a sound economic and social development. But they are one important element of bringing hope for improvement of living conditions especially for the younger generations.

Retreat into authoritarian rule: the case of Zimbabwe

That free elections are not a safeguard against democratic retreats can be seen in Tanzania where an authoritarian trend is noticeable. In addition to democratic setbacks we can also notice many problems in countries where decisive steps against dictatorial or autocratic rule have been done. People do not live from democracy alone. Very often democratization creates a high level of hopes. But the economic and social changes aspired cannot or will not be fulfilled as quickly as expected. A dramatic case is Tunisia, the model country of success for the Arab spring. Again young people are burning themselves as was the case which inflamed the starting of the Arab spring.

Unrest we find also in South Africa and in Zimbabwe. The changes from President Zuma with his corruptive relationship to the Gupta brothers to President Ramaphosa was certainly a progress. But that does not solve the issue of economic wellbeing of South African citizens. And in Zimbabwe one can see that the longterm disastrous policy of former President Mugabe cannot be undone easily. And the question is of course in both cases, if the changes at the top are really a change in the system as such.

And too often the West due to colonialism with its terrible effects and also because of sanctions is still the scapegoat for covering political mismanagement of today. Such is also the case in Zimbabwe, where the ’new‘ President, Emmerson Mnangagwa while visiting President Putin blamed the West and particular the sanctions against his predecessor Mugabe for the economic problems of the country. But Mnangagwa, who promised a new democratic and economic policy and especially his Vice-President and the security forces reacted in an authoritarian way against those who demonstrated against the new policy which was called euphemistically „Austerity for Prosperity“ by the new minister of finance.

The famous Zimbabwen writer Panashe Chigumadzi, whose book „These Bones Will Rise Again“ I read last summer while crossing the country on rail, characterized the reaction of the government as follows: „In a broad crackdown, the government blocked the internet – and with it social media. It deployed the military and the police in urban centers and residential areas of Harare and Bulawayo, the two major cities, where they opened fire on protesters. At least eight people were killed, 68 were shot, and 100 cases of „assaults with sharp objects, booted feet, baton sticks were reported.“ With such actions „the military regime has not only closed Zimbabwe for business but also violently shut down any chance for meaningful civic engagement.“

Continues dictatorship: the case of Sudan:

Unrest of course cannot be found only after democratic changes. So we find these days many demonstrations in Sudan against rising living costs especially the rising bread prices. Sudan is still in a very fragile situation and many Sudanese are invited by Saudi-Arabia and the Emirates to fight against the Houthis in Jemen. And many accept to be mercenaries in order to have at least some job and income. Some hope that the new development in Ethiopia including the forthcoming finalization of the big dam project with its increased supply of electricity would give a boost to Sudan’s economy, especially its agriculture. But that is still a matter of future and uncertain developments.

As long as Sudan is governed by President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court there is not much hope for peace, democracy and sound economic development. Nicholas Kristof found in his analysis in the New York Times (INYT 19/20.1. 2019) that he committed three genocides: in South Sudan, in the Nuba Mountains and in Dafur. As long as such „leaders“ can survive, conflicts and killings will sustain. In the meantime such democratic (!) countries like United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Qatar and Russia have pledged support to the Sudanese President. Certainly he needs money to help his people. But what the country needs most is an economic and social policy which stops corruption and addresses the grievances of the people. And here the usual suspects who are supporting autocratic rulers will not help. Instead of supporting the young protesters they are supporting a cruel dictator.

In a recent article in the NYT International (31.1.2019) with the headline „The beautiful message of Sudan’s young protesters“ Nastadeen Abdulbari criticized the lack of budget money allocated to education and healthy and that the country is crippled by corruption, the country ranking 175 out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. But there is some hope due to the protests: „Despite historical ethnic and regional divisions in Sudan, the drivers and the leaders of the protests are millennials, who seem to have decided to rise above the regional and ethnic dichotomies of their society. ….. Young Sudanese seem to have understood that when citizens do not publicly oppose the use of ethnicity, religion or regionalism by politicians, the entire country pays the price.“ 

And in a contribution in „The East African“, the representative of the „Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa“, Hala Al Karib, expressed the same hope: „The years of egotistic tactics, corruption, injustice and systematic violence against civilians are ending…..The Sudanese youth are chanting. We denounce the religious brokers. Let them fall. The regime is already falling apart, and the Sudanese are well prepared to reclaim their country.“

Special case South Sudan

But also South Sudan which split away after a long war from Sudan is in delicate and fragile situation. Two fighters for the independence from Sudan are taking South Sudan after its independence in hostage. Salva Kir, the President and his former deputy Rick Machar were fighting each other before concluding a peace-agreement in Addis Abeba last September. But many doubt that the agreement will be implemented. There are still 30 militia active and weapons come into the country from many parts of the world – from the US, Europe, Israel and primarily from China. Again the existence of 64 different tribes is used by power hungry politicians and profit hungry weapon traders to the detriment of citizens and their wellbeing.


Ethiopia’s new start

Ethiopian has a very sad and cruel past in the 20th Century. 1936 to 1941 it was occupied by Mussolini’s Italy and that was a very cruel based on racial laws and terrible retaliation acts after resistance activities. The Italian writer Francesca Melandri has written an excellent novel about that time based on historical facts: „Sangue Giusto“ (in German: „Alle, außer mir“).  And during the seventies an atrocious period of Red Terror killed thousands of people including women and children. A special museum keeps the memory awake. Slowly this period was overcome, but authoritarian rule prevailed.

It was one of the good news of 2018, that the autocracy in Ethiopia was put to an end. Ethiopian people suffered for decades under dictatorship and autocratic rule. In addition to the domestic issues the conflict and war with neighboring Eritrea increased the turmoil. Nevertheless Ethiopia realized relative strong economic growth and was a hub for Chinese investment. Still many young people tried to emigrate as we find also a strong emigration from Eritrea with its equally dictatorial system. So there is a big hope that democratic change will bring additional economic benefits.

But democratic changes as in Ethiopia are no guarantee for stability and continual progress. True, after many years of bloody dictatorship and then authoritarian rule a new and bright development was to be expected with a new Prime minister coming from the opposition. Ably Ahmed released political prisoners, invited dissidents to return into Ethiopia and declared media freedom. And he promoted many women into high positions in the government (50 %) and into the position of the President of the country. One of the promoted women, the 26 years Leslise Neme became chief executive of Ethiopia’s Industrial Parks and was mentioned in the list of African „People to watch“ by the Magazine „African Business“. The Ethiopian Prime minister said:“ Our women ministers will disprove the adage that women can’t lead.

New regional accords

Also the long fight with the neighbor Eritrea came to an end and both sides agreed to a new and peaceful neighborly relationship. In September 2018 the border was officially reopened and in November the UN Security Council agreed to lift sanctions. The new development in Ethiopia had as such also a big effect in Eritrea. After Eritrea’s independence in 1993 Eritrea became more and more a closed dictatorship and Europe received many refugees from that country. In addition many foreign investors avoided to do business in Eritrea and added to the isolation of that country. By opening the border new opportunities will arise especially for the villages on both sides of the border. It is to be hoped, that neither the military leadership which was used to the conflict between the two countries nor terrorist groups – who could easily cross the border – will not destroy these opportunities.

In the meantime Ethiopia has also taken over external military tasks: it had accepted to take over the leadership of the forces which are combating Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

The new Ethiopian Prime minister has also sought an agreement with the Egyptian President concerning the Nile dam. Ethiopia has years ago started to build the „Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam“ (GERD). Now different corruption cases delayed the construction of the dam and this gives additional time to find an agreement with the Egyptians – who quite rightly fear a dangerous reduction of water for their agricultural needs. It would need a longer time than originally foreseen for filling the reservoir in front of the dam, in order to minimize the damage for the agriculture in Egypt. On the other hand the GERD could promote the economic development not only in Ethiopia but also in Sudan. Here people dream about being the new corn supplier for the region.

It is interesting to see, that concerning both rapprochements the Gulf countries especially Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have been helpful: „While credit for the Ethiopia – Eritrea deal lies primarily with leaders of the two countries, clearly Gulf powers, especially the UAE, played an important role in helping push forward the initial steps of a rapprochement that could be significant across the Horn. The deal demonstrated that the UAE and Saudi Arabia can play important peace-making roles. Abu Dhabi and its peers can encourage regional economic integration and help leaders in the Horn the extra boost, including both political and financial support.“ (Crisis Group report, 20.1.2019)

Generally Ethiopia as a land locked country has to promote contacts and cooperation with its neighbors. For the moment 95% of the inbound trade is coming via Djibouti. But also ports in Somalia, Sudan, Kenya and Eritrea can be helpful in getting goods in and out of the country. For Ethiopia as a country which has had already a strong industrial development this is vital. China is a strong investor but also „Tommy Hilfiger“ and „Calvin Klein“ are increasingly being „made in Ethiopia“ as one could read in a publication on Africa’s regional integration. The opening of borders with Eritrea and the diversification of links to harbors could enhance economic integration especially in the framework of COMESA, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. And this economic integration could also strengthen the region in view of the different interventions from the outside especially from the Gulf countries, China and the US.

Tribal issues remain

But there are still internal – basically tribal – conflicts in Ethiopia to overcome. Mr. Ably has a Muslim Oromo father and an Orthodox Amhara mother. This seems to be the best condition to bring people from different tribes together. But it does not prevent a fight between different tribes about who is now winning and who is losing due to the political change. Ethiopia signed also an accord with the Ogaden National Liberation Front, which is representing the Somalis leaving in a region of Ethiopia, but terrorist attacks and the robbery of banks to finance these activities have not stopped. Abiy is right when he stated: „There are organized groups who are „conflict entrepreneurs“ – we have no doubts about it“. 

One must not forget, that Ethiopia has been founded on the basis of different political entities and tribes who very often were forced into the new Ethiopian empire. Therefore a delicate form of governance has to be found. Neither a totally centralized system of government nor a tribal decentralization will be a successful solution. Mahmoud Mamdani from the Makarere Institut in Uganda and professor at Columbia University is pleading for a territorial federation, „where rights in a federal unit are dispensed not on the basis of ethnicity but on residence. Such a federal arrangement will give Ethiopians an even chance of keeping an authoritarian dictatorship at bay.“ (INYT 7.2.2019)

Even with all the internal tribal issues Ethiopia revised its refugee law to allow more Inclusion. Ethiopia as the second most populous country behind Nigeria and close to crisis countries has one of Africa’s biggest number of refugees especially from Eritrea and South Sudan. Hopefully with Eritrea the opening of the borders and better relations with Ethiopia will contribute to democratic developments and less refugees. But in other countries like Sudan many domestic conflicts may lead to more refugees.

Overall one can only hope that the analysis of the first edition of African Business of 2019 comes true when they write:“ Ethiopia is changing the security and political dynamic in the region of longstanding hostilities with Eritrea and a growing closeness with Sudan, a pivotal link between North and East Africa“. This comes in addition to improved relations with Egypt another economic power house in Africa. Maybe the new Ethiopia can give regional organizations like the economic and trade oriented COMESA and the Intergovernmental Authority of Development (IGAD) some boost. Too often facts on the ground – especially domestic and bilateral conflicts – prevent that these organizations enhance regional cooperation. Countries must be ready to strengthen the common institutions. Ethiopia which is the strongest of the countries especially inside IGAD could promote such a strengthening of regional institutions.

For Ethiopia itself a new mixed economy must be established. In an analysis by the magazine „Africa Report“ some months after the political change of the chances of the new Prime minister one can read under the headline „The Abiy Effect“: „If he can marry the state-backed development that has delivered high growth to an open and vibrant private sector, he might just create a blue print for other African countries: one that goes beyond the dead-end of authoritarianism and which offers genuine opportunities for shared growth.“

One could say, that the Chinese model of combining economic growth – with much Chinese investment – and authoritarian rule – severely limiting freedom of expression – did finally fail. The new government must find ways of introducing flexibel rules and regulations which invite private investors to come and to create jobs. Certainly, the country has a difficult path before it: granting freedoms while avoiding tribal turmoil and chaos and transforming the state economy into a mixed system with incentives for private investment.

There are many positive signals like the announcement of VW to establish an assembly plant in Ethiopia. But there’s a variety of challenges including climate change. According to a report on the „East African“, climate change may bring a bleak future to Ethiopia’s wild Arabica coffee. Up to 60% of the land used to grow coffee could become unusable by the end of the century! 

Addis Abeba – an African Capital

Addis Abeba is one of those cities in the developing world where you find extreme poverty and strong economic growth at the same time. Ethiopia is the third poorest country world wide and one notices this also in the capital. But at the same time investment into the country was growing and that is also reflected by a building boom in Addis. Especially the Chinese are active. One visible sign is a Light Railway running through the city with many stops.

Addis Abeba is also the (!) African capital as it is the home of the African Union (AU). Wenn the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was transformed into the AU it was hoped and planned that this Organisation will really bring African countries closer to each other and it promote democracy and sound economic and social development. But interference into the development in countries is very limited. At a visit at the AU headquarters we were presented a Continental Crisis Early Warning System where 24hours and seven days a week, possible crises are detected and analyst. But this information is going to the AU burocracy. It has no effect on the willingness or unwillingness of national governments to prevent crises or act in order to company the causes of crises. 

Still the AU is doing some good work, for instance in trying to involve civil society and especially the youth. But national sovereignty and priorities do prevent strong progress towards a democratic African Union. Without overestimating the success of the EU in this respect we have gone forwards much more courageously. But we must be careful, that right wing forces are not pushing the AU back into a politically helpless Free Trade Zone.

Africa’s youth 

It was interesting to see that the AU is now working on bringing the young ones into the political field. When you think that Africa is the young continent and has to offer the increasing number of young people opportunities to mange their life including jobs they can live from, it is a must to give young people a bigger voice. In Addis Abeba we meet also a group of young people who is organizing a conference how to promote the involvement of young people into politics. But one must be aware of the fact, that that can be very dangerous for them.

One who was successful in overthrowing a dangerous dictator but with risking his life was Teslima Jallow from Gambia in West Africa. This case some of the neighbors also interned militarily after the former President was not ready to accept the result of the elections. Now Teslima is back in Gambia’s capital Banjul after he left to save his life outside the country. He is very much engaged in the Gambian civil society.

One impressive work he has started is to help refugees/migrants who came back after they have been stucked and mistreated in Libya. I am very glad that we could met him and could see his strong engagement in a work which is also important for Europe. His work is reducing people’s readiness to leave the country and gives people who left but came back another chance. Democracy is one ingredient for sound development. Economic Growth and job opportunities are the other factors.

By chance I found some interesting information about that small West African country after coming back to Europe. A professor for economics from Portugal, Catia Batista, made a study about – potential – refugees from the rural areas from Gambia, specifically from the Upper River Region. The route goes/went from Gambia via Agadez and Libya towards Italy. 

She came to the result, that the young men of that region even overestimated the probability of dying on route to Europe. They thought that one out of two would not survive. Nevertheless they were ready to take the risk. In reality the chance of survival in spite of all the hardship of migration is higher. On the other hand they also overestimated the chance to get a work permit – in Italy. In reality the chance to get a work permit is lower than the expected 50% and became even lower recently. 

Information about the real chances to survive and of getting a legal job will not bring much change in the readiness to migrate. Job creation at home and chances to find jobs in the neighborhood would detract young men from taking the risk to go to Europe. And here Europe should deliver together with African investors. 


The economic future of Africa with Eastern Africa in a driving seat

Political and economic developments are very often interlinked. But there is no automatism in this relationship. Anyway East Africa continues to drive much of the growth on the African continent. The IMF expects that the GDP of Ethiopia will grow in 2019 by 8,5 % followed by Rwanda by 7,8 %, Tanzania and Kenya and Uganda by over 6%. But that will still not be enough to offer all the future generations jobs and more or less full employment.

One of the basic deficiencies is that the opportunities of the continent as such are not fully used. Principally the countries of the African Union have decided to establish an African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) but there are not yet enough signatories to start the implementation. A joint report by the African Union and the OECD estimates, that this – the world’s largest – Free Trade Area could reduce Africa’s total trade deficit by half.

In general Africa is still too much export-oriented due to the colonial past but also due to the dominating interest of China with its investments in export-oriented investment into roads and rail infrastructure leading to the main ports. Therefore the mentioned report advises African countries to strengthen domestic investment, to diversify exports and to deepen the domestic rural-urban links. In addition the governments should promote social development and education aligned to labour market needs and to deepen regional integration.

Certainly governments should not implement an either – or economic policy. But very often the extractive industries offer quick – legal and illegal – incomes and are promoted by governments in alliance with big investors in the mining business like Glencore but more and more also Chinese companies. Very often African leaders „forget“ to ask for investment into the processing and refinement of raw materials. This is also the reason why some economic scientists speak of a „premature de-investment‘. Only slowly some leaders demand more such investments in order to raise the profits of those valuables. Of course also African countries need services and should not forget to raise the productivity of agriculture. But they should insist on using their mineral resources also for promoting processing and refining in Africa itself.

Digitalization of African economies

All sectors of modern economies can profit from digitalization. Especially in Africa there is a chance to use digitalization to jump directly into modern patterns of development without repeating all stages of development implemented by Europe or the US in their development path. It is not so much about catching up but rather about finding the adequate solutions to the specific African conditions. Impact investment which gives special attention to the demands of the lower and middle income classes becomes very important. And that does not mean to refrain from the use of modern technologies, in the contrary.

Two special examples of African leap frogging can be found in Silicon Cape in South Africa and Silicon Savannah in Kenya. But also in other countries we find interesting developments. The Senegalese Fatoumata Ba founded the „Amazon“ of Africa, Jumia. She studied in France, but returned to Africa because she liked the challenges to create a digital company in her home continent.

For her the digitalization is not something only for bigger companies. Especially the small businesses, you find predominantly in Africa, can enlarge and broaden their success by digitalization. But also agriculture can profit from digitalization. Too much food is wasted in Africa because farmers do not have enough information about optimal conditions for crops and about the most profitable markets and transport conditions. And also the way to credits and risk-capital are very often unknown or closed. In an interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ 19.1.2019) Fatoumata Ba explained: „Not Silicon Valley or China’s Digital Centre Shenzen promoted the mobile payment system but Kenya. Nearly 50% of Kenyan Gross National Product (GDP) is settled by M-Pesa, 93% of Kenyans used it.“ In the mean time M-Pesa has also – in connection with banks – organized a very successful loan and credit system.

Nairobi the African Silicon Savannah

Already last year I participated at a „Learning Journey“(organized by Hans Stoisser and Karin Krobath) to Nairobi, which became a capital for African digital economy. Some of the most exciting examples of digitalization is when it is connected with the developments of tailor suited technology to the demands and conditions of Africa. We could see examples of innovations for health services and e-learning specifically for developing countries. We were presented special computers for kids which have a lot apps also for off-line use. We saw medical appliances which have not the highest technical standards but are affordable for poorer citizens especially in the country side.

The basis of Silicon Savannah was created by an unconventional politician Dr. Bitange Ndemo, who as member of government formed by former President Mwai Kibaki, pushed through innovative solutions which brought the country into a new era. It shows what farsighted politicians can do if they have economic understanding and political will to serve the country. Due to such an innovative policy the percentage of ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) of GDP was raised in few years from 0% to 12%.

What the country now has to solve is to find a sound economic use of all the collected data with respect to privacy. There is a chance to reap the economic benefits of „Big Data“ as so many datas are collected due to the digitalization. A new framework must be created which allows additional investment opportunities which makes it possible to create jobs but also to bring tailor made health and education solutions to all strata of society. Of course data collection raises serious privacy issues. But it gives companies and public authorities the chance to serve the citizens, especially those on the fringe of society much better.

Leap frogging 

A very important step forward was the introduction of the mobile paying system M-Pesa by Safaricom. It gives a chance for money transfers via a mobil phone – and it must not be a Smartphone. Especially for the poorer and rural population new chances have been created. It was a leap frog into new technologies without doing all the steps of transformation from land lines into smart phone technology. And without developing an extensive bank infrastructure before giving lower income people and peripheral region a chance for money transactions.

Very impressive was also the offer given to poorer citizens of solar energy by M-KOPPA. People can get a solar energy device with a solar panel and a strong battery. As a standard they feed three light bulbs, a torch light and a radio for a about five hours a day. It can be improved with additional appliances like television and in future also refrigerators. The costumers pay a relative small amount of 30 Dollars to get the device and they pay few cents per day via the M-PESA system where you pay via your handy. After a year having paid the daily amount – or having paid its equivalent – the customers own the device and they can use it without further payment.

This flexible offer is in reality an addition to extending the electric grid and will therefore not be substituted by the grid in foreseeable future. Some people cannot afford to pay the monthly fees for being connected to the grid permanently. The mobile solution like that for M-KOPPA are much more flexible and useful for poorer parts of society.

African countries need an innovative industrial policy

One of the macro-economic handicaps of the M-KOPPA service is that all goods with the exception of the solar panel have to be imported from China. And the import of technologies but especially industrial material for devices like that of M-KOPPA or for a very innovative and engaged fashion designer we met all come from foreign countries. And very often it is China because of the lower prices. The International trade regime and especially the US put a lot of pressure on African countries to open their markets. So very often they have not the chance to develop their own industries. If they have to accept second hand clothes from around the world and cheap clothes from China how can they build up a viable textile industry at home. „Made in Africa“ or „Made in Kenya“ must be trade marks which are incentives for Africans to buy the relevant goods and services.

In addition African countries very often accepted that international companies are exploiting mineral resources but were not ready to process and refine the products in Africa. Especially for agriculture a strategy for processing of agricultural products will be necessary. Of course also some agribusinesses itself should be promoted. As Dr. Ndengo answered to one of my question, there is a lot of land – partly in public ownership which could be used to develop an „industrial“ agricultural production. Of course one would have to find a synthesis between the small scale farm production, which cannot be scraped, and the large scale agribusinesses. But certainly investors for such large scale farms could be found and self sufficiency in food production could be achieved. Anyway it is a bug shame that 50% of food in Africa is wasted due to lack of information about optimal trade and storage facilities.

But also corruption is often preventing such companies to invest more in Africa. Kenya is not in the top of East African countries, but the level of corruption is still very high. In the regional Business Daily (30.1.2019) a comparison between East African countries by Transparency International has been published. Rwanda is number one, then comes Tanzania and Ethiopia. Kenya and Uganda are on the same level and Burundi and Somalia are on the bottom with the fewest corruption. But this ranking shows also the fragility of these comparisons. Maybe the corruption is to a certain extent increasing with increasing investment and economic activity. Concerning the forms of corruption, bribes are in the top followed by embezzlement of public funds. Recently the President started a campaign against corruption and one can only hope he will be successful in a non-discriminatory way.

Anyway Nairobi has attracted some international companies in the digital sector and became also a hub for start-ups. And it is fascinating to meet these young energetic women and men who are trying to solve issues of very unequal opportunities and access to services and build a business model around it. And this is the way out of the poverty trap: economic activities which give jobs and reduce inequality.

Chinese influence: opportunities and dangers

Every visitor to Nairobi can also see the strong Chinese investment. Several high rise buildings in construction being built by Chinese companies are proof of that engagement. One characteristic construction is the rail link between Nairobi and Mombasa. Interestingly it is also crossing the National Park adjacent to Nairobi and gives also shadow to Mpalas and Antelopes. In the meantime these Chinese investments are seen more critically as they contribute strongly to the rising debt – also of Kenya.

Even my driver to the airport was nervous about the debt of Kenya. And he asked me about the argument put forward by President Kenyatta, that Japan has a much higher debt. I could honestly answer that the Japanese public debt is predominately one with its own citizens and an expression of trust by them to the state. But in the case of Kenya – like with many other countries – the debt is one to foreign creditors. And these are not as patient as the Japanese citizens. In addition it seems that the port of Mombasa has been given as security if the debt – for the rail link from Nairobi to Mombasa could not be paid back. Anyway the government seems not to be ready to publish its contract with China.

Kibera: a slum or an informal settlement

The biggest slum in Eastern Africa is located quite close to the Central Business District. It has its origin in the settlement of Nubian people having fled war torn Sudan during British occupation. After colonial rule and travel restrictions for Kenyans ended additional people from the rural area came into the town. The people from Kibera who guided us through the area used themselves the two expressions: slum and informal settlement. And both are certainly correct. In many respects people are leaving in extreme poverty. But they do a lot of trading and try to earn a minimum of income to survive and you see many children with school uniforms coming home or boning to school.

The community feeling is also supported by a radio which is sending news and discussions mainly from Kibera itself for 24 hours a day. And as the founder of that radio station – himself a former journalist – said to us: it is our job as journalists to bring people together and not to bring them against each other. We saw also in a tiny slack or hut how talented young people were producing excellent music videos. So the informal sector is contributing to the economic well being of the people, but also creating and raising self esteem for these engaged youngsters. 

In this connection it is interesting to mention an important and already successful start up which is linking people of the informal or black sector to private customers who want products or services from them. This platform, called Lynk, is – without employing these workers – helping them to find jobs and the customers have a „guarantee“ to get serious and efficient workers. Of course this is not a permanent solution, because the state needs a growing official sector which is also contributing to public income by paying taxes. Otherwise the state is forced to raise the public debt – for example by borrowing from China – to finance the necessary extension and improvement of the infrastructure.

At the end of the day in Kenya in general and specifically in Kibera poverty and economic activities do not exclude each other. The informal sector is not highly efficient and productive. And permanently the country cannot succeed if the informal sector stays as strong as now. It would be important that more and more of the younger people get better education. But one has also to care for a better matching of education and skills demanded by the entrepreneurs. Because also in Kenya you can hear complaints about the lack of skilled people on the one side and on the other side you have an enormous unemployment.

Has Kenya found political stability?

Last year during the Silicon Savannah tour the clash between the two most prominent leaders of the two main tribes President Uhuru Kenyatta and Rail Odinga righted against each other. Both are the sons of the leaders at the time after the independence. Odinga because he claimed he was cheated at the presidential election nominated himself in a public ceremony as „President of the People“. Fortunately both found to each other and a famous handshake took place. Since then people seem very happy about the general political situation in the country due to that handshake. 

But tribal issues still play a role and everybody underlines, that a politician of a small tribe could never become President. And of course many issues in the country remain unsolved because tribal fights, corruption and political infighting do detract from more important issues. As one of our interlocutors said: in this country everything is political. And I could only confirm this judgement when I see the headlines in newspapers. Maybe the nomination of the Minster of Interior, as Super Minister for the development of the country can push some solutions forward. Let’s hope. Kenya and especially the younger generation of the country would deserve it.

There is already a lively civil society and arts scene in the country. One famous artist – a cartoonist – was presenting us his cartoons and pleaded very much for the support of an enlightened middle class. This class would support personal freedom and reject political misbehavior. Culture with its freedom of artistic expression could help to give the country an environment of creativity which is hugely needed also for economic success. 


New perspectives for cultural relations between Africa and Europe

Beyond the political, economic and social developments an important cultural change is taking place. In a famous speech in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, in 2017 the French President Macron promised to bring back to Africa the stolen/looted art which can be found in French museums and collections. It is a fact, that many valuable pieces of African art have been stolen by invaders and colonial masters or sold under pressure to them – way below the real value. With this speech the French President strengthened a debate which already began some time before, for example with the planning of the new Humboldt Forum in Berlin.

As chairman of the „Expert Group for the Centre of Berlin“ I was one of the promoters of creating a centre for global dialogue in the newly and partly rebuilt castle in the centre of the German capital. And I supported very much the idea of bringing the Museum Collection in Dahlem – at the outskirts of Berlin – into the new Humboldt Forum at the centre of Berlin close to the „Museum Insel“. Only later started the debate about the origin of the artifacts of the museum collection and the doubtful ways they were brought to Berlin. One who criticized the lack of engagement of the later management of the planning of the Forum was a French/German adviser to the Humboldt Forum, Bénédicte Savoy. After his speech and the widely positive response, Macron asked her and the Senegalese writer and scientist Felwine Sarr to present a concept for bringing African art back to Africa.

Their report was quite radical and pleaded for a clear return strategy of all stolen artifacts. Of course this report raised a lot of counter arguments and fears from museums to loose their valuable works. And also the argument about the lack of museum space and of public interest was brought forward. But an exhibition of art in Cotonou, Benin, in 2006 drew 275.000 visitors. And only recently a big museum of African art has been opened in the Senegalese capital Dakar. And in December a new museum was opened in Pointe Noire in Congo (Brazzaville), the African Circle Museum.

However the problem is „solved‘ in detail, bringing art back to the countries of origin is a vital step towards undoing injustice during the colonial times. It is not enough to lend art that has been stolen to the countries of origin. But not all art found in Europe’s museums has been stolen. This is also true for many pieces in Vienna’s Weltmuseum. We have to find a fair and well negotiated solutions which are strengthening cultural exchanges between the continents. Then it may contribute to a new phase of a more equal and just relationship. Common exhibitions of showing African art in Africa and Europe, even jointly run and managed museums, could open a new area of cultural exchanges and dialogues. 


A new „Scramble for Africa‘?

Berlin in a conference starting in November 1984 and ending in February 1985 the big European powers agreed on a division of Africa amidst themselves. Colonialism got a structure and „legitimacy“ due to an agreements negotiated by European powers. There was no interest to hear or even follow the voices of the colonial subjects. They were not treated as subjects but as objects.

In his balanced book „The Curse of Berlin“ Adekeye Adebajo described the effect of the so-called Scramble for Africa: „The deleterious impact of the European presence distorted African politics, economics, and society; damaged indigenous cultures; and retarded socioeconomic development. Though Africa also benefited from Western technology and education, this was done in a destructive and authoritarian manner that damaged rather than complemented indigenous systems.“ But Adebajo criticizes also the post-colonial African leaders who „have largely lacked the vision and resources, and sometimes the ingenuity and the discipline to reverse the legacy ….in the post independence years.“

Anyway, African countries became independent only after many struggles and bloody fights. But that does not mean that outside influence and interventions are over. All big powers struggle to gain political and military influence and economic profit. A recent report on the US influence demonstrated that the US has more military operations in Africa than the Middle East. And this was already the case before President Trump decided to withdraw US troops from Syria.

The killings of three journalists in the Central African Republic made the Russian presence more visible. A recent analysis done by the Financial Times (FT 23.1.2019) argued under the headline „Putin’s pivot to Africa“: „From Algeria to Uganda, Russia is building influence in Africa, lending support to embattled strongmen, taking on natural resource projects in conflict-racked stars and positioning itself as a new powerbroker without the baggage of former colonial powers.“ 36% of arms sale in Africa is done by Russia – but most of it goes to Algeria.

One can understand that especially the US don’t like the Russian engagement. But if the national security adviser to President Trump, John Bolton, criticizes Russia to „threaten the financial independence of African nations“ one asks immediately how the US has supported the financial independence of African nations. Anyway it is true that Russia supported the struggle for independence of many African countries against their colonial masters. And that advantage Russia is now using for its own interest – like China. And like China Russia is not demanding – not even verbally – to respect human rights and democratic principles.

Russia‘ s overall engagement is still very moderate. China’s influence on the other hand was growing enormously: by investing into the African infrastructure, setting up companies and by sending students to Chinese universities inter alia. But some problems should not be overlooked. China’s investments – besides often helping to develop the African countries infrastructure – are contributing to high public debts. In the mean time also the IMF is nervous about possible bailout necessities. In a report of the Financial Times (FT 19.1.2019) one can read:“ Holding governments to higher standards of transparency has become a priority for the IMF, as Chinese lending for infrastructure projects is notoriously hard to track, with project details withheld and loans often issued on commercial terms by state-owned banks or other a actors.“ And there already cases of heavy burdens on African shoulders and investments with much less benefits than promised and expected.

But especially in the Eastern part of African also other players are enhancing their engagement. The countries of the Arab peninsula and Turkey are strengthening their political, economic and even military engagement. It is interesting that some of these relationships go back to centuries when even Ottoman sultans brought slaves mainly from Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan and also Kenya to Turkey. It is not long ago, that a Turkish citizen, Mustafa Ölpak with roots in the Kikuyu tribe from Kenya, founded an Afro-Turk society to preserve the culture of Afro Turks living in Turkey. 

But today Turkey and Quartar are confronted with a competition by Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates. One of the reasons of the Gulf countries activities is to counter the activities of the friends of the Muslim Brothers like Turkey and Qatar. And of course they want to push back the influence of Iran, which already has been weakened strongly. The winner could be the countries of the Horn, because countries like Ethiopia and Sudan suffer from severe shortage of hard currency. And they could gain from investment from the Gulf. But it always there remains the question, at what political price these countries are helping their neighbors.

And Europe?

Still Europe leads concerning aid to Africa and is especially active in fighting terrorism in the Sahel zone. But it lacks a strong and cohesive policy which would bring its own interests with those of African countries in a common line. It is futile and idealistic to expert Europe to define and implement a thoroughly caritative Africa policy. That would be neither sustainable for Europe not helpful for a sustainable development of Africa. One cannot expect from Europe an increase in development aid and a total and one-sided opening of its markets. Important steps have been done in this respect and more should be done but the room made „free“ by Europe should not be filled by China or other global players.

Africa needs a commonly agreed global attitude to enlarge its possibilities. All the players should give Africans more chances by supporting the formation of a big African free trade zone or/and of regional economic unions. All global actors should support the establishment of processing and refining industries.  All African countries should stop or at least reduce the import of cheap second hand clothes in order to enable building up a viable textile industry and global players should respect and enhance such a strategy. And all players should give the African countries a chance to establish a sustainable fishing industry – just to give some examples. But Europe should take the initiatives in that direction. Africa and the individual countries have to do their job, but Europe can help and should help in supporting the following aims: