Interview with The Namibian, the largest daily newspaper in Namibia.
„We are convinced that the key to real development is founders and entrepreneurs who create decently paid jobs and expand value chains. The most effective form of development aid is therefore to pave the way for them.“
Daniel, please tell us a little bit about yourself first
I am an economist, business journalist and publicist. I am driven by the question of how we can establish the standards of the social market economy in areas where they have played a subordinate role so far – for example, in the digital economy, but also in developing countries and especially in Africa.
How did you and Mr Schoeller come up with the idea of writing “Africa First”?
Martin Schoeller is one of the best-known German family entrepreneurs. Since working in Brazil in the early eighties, he has been concerned with the causes of poverty in the southern hemisphere. Over the years, his conviction has matured that the traditional development aid approach is misguided. Then, four years ago, he sought a sparring partner to discuss and write down a new concept of development cooperation. The result was „Africa First! Roadmap for a joint future“, published one and a half year ago.
What are the key messages lined out in the book?
We are convinced that the key to real development is founders and entrepreneurs who create decently paid jobs and expand value chains. The most effective form of development aid is therefore to pave the way for them. A central lever for this is the expansion of infrastructure. And we Europeans can make an important contribution to the financing, because private capital is available here in abundance. The Africa First concept envisages mobilising parts of this capital for infrastructure in Africa – among other things through state guarantees.
Have you, since often speaking publicly about the book, felt that there is a shift in the mindset of Europeans is taking place?
Yes. In Europe, many are realising that we can only solve the major challenges together with Africa, the continent of the future – be it the global energy transition, the refugee crisis or the systemic competition with China and Russia. More and more Europeans are therefore convinced that we must cooperate more closely with Africa and that a sustainable development push is also in our very own interest. One expression of this realisation is the Global Gateway, an EU initiative for infrastructure financing that has considerable parallels to the Africa First concept.
What, in your opinion, should African countries, such as Namibia do or not do to be seen as a partner at eye level?
In my view, it is particularly important that governments continue to fight corruption resolutely, push ahead with infrastructure projects and establish standards in the sense of a social market economy. In addition, it would certainly help to commit to the model of liberal democracy and to resist advances from China and Russia. For then it would be clear that there is serious interest in cooperation with the EU – and that support would benefit broad sections of the population and not just elites. I am convinced that in the long run, the EU is a far more attractive partner than the digital dictatorship of China – because of its single market, but also because of its values.
Der Spiegel, one of Germany’s biggest and most important magazines, has recently called out that the time of globalization is over. Do you agree with this thesis and what does it mean for Africa?
Globalisation is not over, but it has entered a new phase. After the Corona crisis and the Russian attack on Ukraine the priority is no longer to exploit cost advantages and maximise trade volumes. Instead, companies are trying to stabilise supply chains and reduce dependencies. This makes neighbouring Africa more attractive from a European perspective. Moreover, policymakers increasingly see trade as a vehicle to establish social, human rights and environmental standards beyond the EU single market. This is a great opportunity for some countries in Africa because they are striving for similar goals and offer attractive conditions for investments in renewable energies.
Your book has resulted in the creation of a network carrying the same name. What are you trying to achieve and what concrete projects are you carrying out?
With the Africa First Network, we want to turn ideas into action. In concrete terms, this means that we support founders and entrepreneurs in Africa who create jobs and expand value chains. To do this, we bring them together with long-term investors from Europe who are not only seeking financial returns, but also a social and ecological impact. We are convinced that such partnerships offer great opportunities for both sides.
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