Training tomorrow′s leaders | Africa | DW | 28.06.2012
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Training tomorrow's leaders

"Afrika kommt" meaning "Africa is coming" is a scheme in which young African managers are given the chance to work for a year in a German blue-chip concern such as Daimler, SAP or Siemens, to acquire new skills.

It's very exclusive. There were just 17 participants in 2011. Do such programs really help Africa's development? Kurt Gerhardt is a journalist with West German Radio (WDR) who specializes in development aid. He has his doubts, as he explained in a recent DW interview.

DW: Why is Africa still lagging so far behind?

Kurt Gerhardt: It's a question of Africa's economic development. The continent needs to achieve more in economic terms. The question is who should set this in motion. Incompetent governments, of which there are many in Africa, certainly can't do it. Most governments wouldn't meet the grade. This leaves the private sector. In East Asia and the tiger economies, some governments can promote economic development. However I don't think that is possible in Africa. That's why private enterprise will have to step in. But unfortunately that doesn't exist in Africa, or rather there is no such thing as the medium-sized private company in Africa, as we understand the term here in Germany.

Could a program like "Afrika kommt" help in the formation of a management elite and perhaps also the creation of new companies?

It is possible that the program could contribute something in this area. One can't say at the moment, the future will tell. It is important, though, that this program is taking place in the business sector, because it is economic issues that are at stake here. Passing on training and experience is always a good idea, though it is far from easy. One cannot expect that people from Africa, who have been sent to work in a firm in Germany for a year, will be able to return home and continue doing in Africa what they have just been doing in Germany. Things don't work like that, unfortunately!

Kurt Gerhardt (Journalist, Development Expert) © Deutsche Welle/K. Danetzki

Kurt Gerhardt believes there are better alternatives to "Afrika kommt"

Why not ?

Because the learning process takes place against a German cultural background, not an African one. One could, of course, say let's find something or somewhere in Africa that is similar to what we have in Germany. Perhaps in South Africa, or northwest Africa. That would have the advantage that Africans would be learning and studying in an African setting. That would make a huge difference and would be a great advantage.

Why is the cultural background, the setting for the learning process so important ?

The idea is that Africans who were in Germany, who spent a year here seeing and doing lots of different things, return home and make use of the skills they have learnt, as accountants or managers, for instance. There is, however, a big problem. It is one that has to be discussed with the utmost caution so as to avoid creating the wrong impression. This is not the first time that young Africans have come to us, after all, we've been running such schemes for half a century. So one is entitled to ask what has happened to those Africans who acquired those skills in the North? They didn't all opt to stay in Germany, Europe, the US, Russia or China. Most of them returned home. Yet where is the "good influence" they were supposed to have brought to bear on African societies? It is hardly noticeable. The reason is that many of those who were able to integrate into our way of doing things while they were here, picked up old habits that were detrimental to development once they returned home. I have experienced this many times. It is a huge problem. Young Africans can be industrious and competent where they are living industrialized countries, yet they sometimes cease to be so when they return home.

What would be a better solution?

A better solution would be for those well-meaning German companies that take part in the program to set up subsidiaries in African countries and start production there. The work patterns, health and safety rules would be the same as in Germany and Africans would be employed at all levels in companies including management. Having learnt how to run a business in an African setting, they could go on to start their own companies.

Interviewer: Insa Wrede/mc

Editor: Asumpta Lattus

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