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What to do with Africa?

Interview: Christina Bergman (mrm)September 24, 2008

In an interview with DW, German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul talked about the problems plaguing the UN’s Millenium Development Goals and how best to lift Africa out of poverty.

Children in a Ugandan school
Africa needs more help to be rid of disease and poverty, the minister saidImage: picture-alliance/dpa

DW: In September 2008, the outlook for the UN's millennium goals is looking a little mixed. What worries you the most?

German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul standing in front of a UN logo
German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-ZeulImage: AP

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul: The thing that bothers me the most is the fact we haven't successfully reduced the mortality rate of mothers and that each year there are still 600,000 women, most of them in developing countries, who die from complications during pregnancy or birth. Infant mortality remains high too. Every year, 10 million children won’t reach their fifth birthday. So we will once again form a working group with the British government and the World Bank aimed at channeling funds for the health system and for treatment and access to medical services.

Do you already have concrete ideas about how the federal government can contribute to that?

Well we’re actively working on two aspects in this particular area. In our advisory work with developing nations, we are continually asked about things like developing a basic social security network. There are fewer traditional familes in developing nations too. So it’s important, for example, that health insurance systems are set up that keep people from falling into poverty when they become ill.

The second thing is that we have an innovative finance instrument that we can use along with global funds to fight HIV, malaria and tuberculosis. In effect we forgive a part of the debt of the developing nations, if they want, and they pay an amount equal to half of this forgiven debt into the global funds, so that really all three parties profit. And an array of these “debt swaps,” as they are called, could be mobilized. So from debt we get productive engagement and productive development for health.

The big problem in acheiving the millennium development goals is Africa. Why is that?

Well I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that economic development and battling poverty has not made any headway, even though there is a large growth rate, because the markets are very small and partly because financial possibilities of the people aren’t used to their full advantage. Therefore, during our G8 presidency we always talked about how Africa needs, certainly official development assistance, but it also needs direct investment, either from foreign entities or by mobilizing the nations own power. And therefore the access to, for example micro financing, or the access to financing period is one of the things that really needs to be promoted. So making finance work for Africa and using the African Development Bank to do it. That’s one important aspect. The other is the lack of sufficient health systems and the lack of doctors and nurses that people can actually reach.

There are eight millennium goals. They’re supposed to be fulfilled by 2015. Do you think that’s possible?

They have to. They are eight commandments for the just formation of globalization. And I’d like to make the numbers clear one more time. If it’s possible to mobilize a $700 billion (477 billion euro) rescue fund for the banking system in America, then it has to be possible to mobilize the billions required to save the world from hunger and poverty. And that is one of the appeals that this conference is all about.