Young Afro-Germans look for role models | Africa | DW | 25.01.2016
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Young Afro-Germans look for role models

Young people of African descent in Germany say they lack role models for professional careers. They place the blame on the absence of specialist, cross-cultural networking platforms in Europe's biggest economy.

Networking platforms for African professionals came late to Germany. Odema was only established in 2015.

It offers encouragement to young Afro-Germans who want to study and work in highly qualified and demanding positions in Germany.

They are given expert advice by a rotating panel of African professionals who work in Germany.

The Odema platform is an offshoot of an Afro-German fashion label set up by 18-year-old David Ebele Chukukwelu and his 23-year-old sister Vanessa.

With a German mother and a Nigerian father, they grew up in Germany. They call Nigeria their ‘home abroad'.

Networking platforms

Inspiration for the creation of a networking platform for aspiring African professionals in Germany came to David while he was on a visit to London.

"I saw the missing part when I went to the UK, the UK has many Africans and they have many communities and platforms already created for the youth to empower them and create a networking platform," Chukukwelu said.

"This was actually missing when I came back to Germany. Africans were connected by sport and music but not in different sectors," he added.

David Ebele Chukwukelu Odema

David Chukwukelu believes young Afro-Germans can find role moldels through networking

David believes that there is a big gap in leadership role models for Africans in Germany.

"Most of the role models young Afro-Germans look up to are not likely to be in business or economics. The deficit will be filled by creating a network and a place where we can exchange experiences," Chukwukelu said.

Compared to other minorities, such as the two million Turks who live in Germany, Africans are a small community among Germany's population of 82 million.

The number of people of African descent living in Germany is estimated to be between 300,000 to 500,000.

Some have found it hard to integrate into Germany's complex society, others have been successful in their chosen fields.

Success stories

34-year-old Gambian-born Pa Sinyani is the country manager for the global research consultancy company Gallup. He migrated with his family to Germany when he was 14.

Sinyani admitted that he had perhaps been more fortunate than others, but he had also been determined to get ahead.

"There is an element of luck, surely an element of ambition that one has to build [upon]. I came to Germany and I was exposed to people who were intelligent and successful," Sinyani said. "When I looked at them, I realized if they could do it, why I can't I do it as well."

Successful professionals often refer to "inspiration" and "ambition" when seeking to motivate young Afro-Germans, but German society has its own unique obstacles which can stand in the way of non-Germans. One of them is the German language.

ODEMA Talk in Köln

Networks could fuel aspirations but German society is complex and its labor market may appear unwelcoming to outsiders

Kenyan-born medical doctor David Thuku Kamau, who is a speaker at the Odema discussions, says young Afro-Germans do indeed have opportunities in Germany but it is essential that they learn the language.

“The language is always the key for one to understand how the systems work and understanding the people one works with. I had to take time to learn the language. Coming from Kenya, I understood the importance,”Kamau said.

Kamau, now aged 31, came to Germany after high school when he was 20. He spent a year adapting to the country and learning German.

Only then did he enroll for medical school for a further six years and is now undergoing specialist training in abdominal surgery.

“German society needs a lot of young people to come here and work. It is not easy working in a system where you don't have the perfect name or perfect look for the job but if one is really focused, you can make it,” Kamau added.

Lack of equal opportunities

Even though opportunities exist for foreigners in Germany, some feel that a culture of equal opportunities for Germans and non-Germans is still a long way off.

Sinyani, who went to high school in Bonn, says surveys still show some levels of discrimination.

“If you do not have a name that sounds German, the likelihood of you being accepted for a job is lower." he said.

Amadou Diallo

DHL Freight CEO Amadou Diallo

But he said the situation could change in future if the Afro-German community expands.

Although Germany has officially opened its doors to foreign skilled labor and qualified professionals, the successful applicants are mostly limited to doctors, engineers, scientists and IT specialists.

Statistics from Germany's Federal Labor Office (Bundesagentur für Arbeit) showed that the number of unemployed graduates of African descent increased from about 2,000 to nearly 12,000 from June 2013 to June 2014.

Senegalese national and CEO of DHL Freight, Amadou Diallo, said Afro-Germans ought to use the underdog tag to their advantage.

He cited the case of German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs, the son of a Syrian refugee, as individuals who flourished in a foreign land.

"The city people will always downgrade you, whether you are coming from Daka, Nairobi, Kigali, or in Berlin. The city people will always consider you as coming from a village," Diallo said. "I think coming from an underprivileged environment is always an opportunity for you to impress."

Diallo has had an illustrious career in finance and logistics business. He is viewed as a role model of an African who has flourished in Germany.

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