Africa 2019 - Transforming despair and poverty into hope and jobs

By Hannes Swoboda

Two briefs but nevertheless impressive visits to Addis Abeba and Nairobi are reasons for this new reflection on Africa. In Ethiopia, I met with Stephanie Fenkart, director of the International Institute for Peace (IIP), where she participated in a conference on Art and Peace. Together we flew to Nairobi to take 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. In both cities, we found the effects of urbanization: higher education and fewer children per family. While Addis is much poorer and dusty, Nairobi showed clear economic progress and  wealth in many green quarters around the city. For both capitals and their countries, hope can be seen at the horizon.

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In Ethiopia, we encountered political changes which could overcome a partly horrible and nightmarish past. While in Kenya, many new activities, especially in the digital field, give hope for job creation and increasing wealth. But I want to be fair and don’t paint a too raise picture. For this reason, I will also present some doubtful developments, in which much more has to be done to initiate political changes or to transform such changes in economic success.  Let me start with the issues that are currently 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. This is the logic dominating the public debate. Migration, in this sense, is an important issue that should not be denied but should not be seen primarily as a threat to Europe. It is also a sign of political and economic mismanagement and imbalances in Africa that make migration a mass phenomenon. This is not a general fact in Africa, but still a reality in some countries. The lack of political - democratic - development, conflicts between countries and tribes, terrorism, such as the one committed by Boko Haram or Al-Shabaab - recently again also in Nairobi, lack of economic development and climate change can lead to strong migration. There is a plurality of factors that push people to migrate and, at the same time, it is important to consider that there is a world of grey zones between migration and accepting refugees.

Because of the multitude of causes for migration, it is not easy to influence 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. It is necessary a mix of measures and instruments that provide people a chance to earn their living in Africa. In this scenario, Europe certainly has an obligation and an interest (!) to support a sound political and economic development. For sure, this is much more difficult than just to announce the closure of the "Mediterranean route", which resulted mostly in a displacement of emigration via Libya into Italy to a new route via Morocco into Spain.

Fact is, that fewer people tried to cross the Mediterranean in 2018 in comparison to the years before. Although, still many died in the sea. 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. In this sense, improved economic cooperation between countries of the EU and of Africa is one step towards a reasonable strategy against forced migration.

In this respect, the initiative taken by the Austrian Presidency of the EU to organize a conference in Vienna on economic cooperation between the EU and Africa can be welcomed positively. Cooperation is not only necessary because "we should not let Africa go to the Chinese" as stated by the Austrian Chancellor, but mainly because we have an economic interest and a moral obligation in this. Let us hope that many new contacts have been installed and that a new awareness of economic opportunities was established.

Some people argue that improved education and income of Africans will even raise the tendency to migrate. Higher income, in fact, allows financing migration, while higher qualification makes it easier to find a job in Europe. Research confirms and underlines this argumentation, but fight against higher income and qualifications for African would be cynical and moreover a strategic mistake. Firstly, we have to think in longer terms and secondly, we have to accompany a better education with new investments and opportunities in Africa. The 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 in Africa. Some of them came back after having 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 necessarily mean that people will never come back. It rather depends on the chances and opportunities people can get in their home countries. We met 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. European companies and institutions could help them, not as benevolent donors, but as partners on the basis of mutual interests.

 Back in Vienna, I met an Italian entrepreneur who developed an interesting idea. He explained that some European companies, which manage to get a contract in an African country, could employ and train migrants who were staying – illegally – in Europe and bring them back to their home countries where they would be directly involved in implementing/fulfilling the contract. I would not agree with all the details of this proposal, but it showed that there are many people ready to develop new ideas about a reasonable management of migration, which could contribute to boost and improve economic relations between Europe and Africa. On the other hand, African authorities should participate in the formulation of proposals on how to manage migration in a more sustainable (human and economic) way. On this regard, 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 idea to manage 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, such as the recent elections in Congo (RDC). For a long time, the autocratic President Kabila prevented the elections which were due two years ago, postponing them several times. It came as a big surprise when the news announced that an opposition candidate was winning against the proxy of Kabila, but nevertheless, the elections as such were characterized by chaos. 

The New York Times International wrote a report entitled: "Congo's imperfect victory" commenting the "Congo's almost free election" where it is possible to 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 from the elections, 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. The African Union expressed serious doubts about the process leading to the victory of Felix Tshiskedi and asked to suspend the final publication of the results. But a few days later, the Congolese Constitutional Court declared Felix Tshiskedi as the winner. Following the announcement, Martin Fayulu underlined his intention to contest the election. He asked for international support and his followers in Congo to demonstrate peacefully against the Court's decision.

In the meantime, Tshiskedi became officially president and many foreign governments started to accept this reality. It is very sad, that the power transition in Congo, which could have been the first peaceful and democratic one since independence, has such grave flaws. Congo, with all those years of turmoil and killings under 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 bearThis year will see many important elections in Africa, such as presidential election 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 elections will be characterized by less chaos and cheating. Elections are not a guarantee for a sound economic and social development but they are one important element to bring hope for improvement of living conditions, especially for the younger generations.

Retreat into authoritarianism: the case of Zimbabwe 

Free elections are not a safeguard against democratic retreats. This is clear in Tanzania, where it is possible to notice a clear authoritarian trend. In addition to democratic setbacks, we can also notice many troubles in countries where decisive steps against dictatorial or autocratic rule have been already taken. People do not live of democracy alone. Very often democratization creates a high level of hopes. The economic and social changes aspiration cannot or will not be fulfilled as quickly as expected. A dramatic case in this sense is represented by Tunisia, the model country of success for the Arab spring, where young people are burning themselves again, as at the start of the Arab spring.

We also see unrest in South Africa and in Zimbabwe. To change from President Zuma, with his corruptive relationship to the Gupta brothers, to President Ramaphosa was certainly a progress, but this alone does not solve the issue of the economic wellbeing of South African citizens. In Zimbabwe instead, one can see that the longterm disastrous policy of former President Mugabe cannot be undone easily. The question is for both cases if the changes at the top represent a change in the system as such. 

The west, due to the colonial past and its terrible effects and to economic sanctions, is still often seen as the scapegoat for covering the political mismanagement of today. This is the case of Zimbabwe, where the 'new' President Emmerson Mnangagwa, in an official visit to President Putin, blamed the West, particularly for the sanctions against his predecessor Mugabe for all the economic problems suffered by its country. Mnangagwa promised a new democratic and economic policy for his mandate, nevertheless, his Vice-President and the security forces reacted in an authoritarian way against those who demonstrated against a new financial policy, called euphemistically "Austerity for Prosperity", announced by the minister of finance.

The famous Zimbabwean writer Panashe Chigumadzi, whose book "These Bones Will Rise Again" I read last summer while crossing the country on a rail, characterized the reaction of the government as follows: "In a broad crackdown, the government blocked the internet with its 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.“

Dictatorship: the case of Sudan

Unrest is, of course, present not only in those countries that experienced „democratic transitions“. We assist in these days to many demonstrations in Sudan against the 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. Many accept to be mercenaries in order to have at least a job and income. Some hopes 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 argued in his analysis in the New York Times (INYT 19/20.1. 2019) that the President committed three genocides: in South Sudan, in the Nuba Mountains and in Darfur. As long as such "leaders" can survive, conflicts and killings will also remain. In the meantime, such democratic (!) countries like the 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. In this sense, the support given to an autocratic and cruel dictator instead that the young protesters, will not help in improving the situation.

In a recent article published in the NYT International (31.1.2019) entitled "The beautiful message of Sudan's young protesters", Nastadeen Abdulbari criticized the lack of budget allocated to education and health. He also argued that the country is crippled by corruption, ranking 175 out of 180 countries taken into account on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index. Nevertheless, the protests give some hope for the future: "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

In a contribution to "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

South Sudan, which split away after a long war from Sudan, represents a  delicate and fragile situation. Two fighters for independence from Sudan are now taking South Sudan 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. The existence of 64 different tribes is used by „power-hungry“ politicians and „profit-hungry“ weapon traders to undermine citizens security and wellbeing.


Ethiopia's new start

Ethiopia had a very sad and cruel past during the 20th century. From 1936 to 1941 the country was occupied by Mussolini's Italy. It was a cruel occupation based on racial laws and terrible retaliation acts to suppress any resistance activities. The Italian writer Francesca Melandri wrote an excellent novel about that time based on historical facts: "Sangue Giusto" (in German: "Alle, außer mir"). Subsequently, during the seventies, Ethiopia experienced an atrocious period of Red Terror that killed thousands of people, including women and children. A special museum keeps the memory awake. When the Red terror was overcome, an authoritarian regime prevailed.

It was only in 2018, that the autocracy in Ethiopia came to an end. This means that 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 a relatively strong economic growth and was a hub for Chinese investments. Still, many young people tried to emigrate from the region. In this sense, there is a big hope that democratic change will bring additional economic benefits.

Democratic changes are not per se a guarantee for stability and continual progress. It is true that after many years of bloody dictatorship and 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 to Ethiopia and declared media freedom. He appointed many women in high positions in the government (50 %). One of them was appointed as President of the country while another one, the 26 years-old 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 declared:" Our women ministers will disprove the adage that women can't lead."

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New regional agreements

2018 welcomed also the resolution of the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In September 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, the country evolved into a closed dictatorship. As a result, many people fled. Most of them moved to Europe looking for a new future and asking for the status of refugee. In addition, many foreign investors avoided doing business in Eritrea increasing the country’s isolation. By opening the border, new opportunities will arise, mostly for the villages located on both sides of the border. It is to be hoped, that neither the military leadership nor terrorist groups - who could easily cross the border - will not destroy these opportuniti

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 finalized an agreement with the Egyptian President concerning the Nile dam. An issue started years ago when Ethiopia started to build the "Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam" (GERD). A series of corruption cases delayed the construction of the dam, providing additional time to find an agreement with the Egyptians - who quite rightly fear a dangerous reduction of water for their agricultural needs. In fact, it would need much more 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 economic development not only in Ethiopia but also in Sudan, where people dream about being the new corn suppliers for the region.

It is interesting to see, that concerning both rapprochements, with Eritrea and Egypt, the Gulf countries, mostly Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have played an helpful role: "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)

Ethiopia, as a landlocked country, has to promote contacts and cooperation with its neighbors. At the moment, in fact, 95% of the inbound trade is coming via Djibouti. But likewise, ports in Somalia, Sudan, Kenya and Eritrea can be helpful in getting goods in and out of the country. For Ethiopia, a country which has had already a strong industrial development, this is of vital importance. When coming to foreign investments, China plays a big role but also other international firms such as "Tommy Hilfiger“ and „Calvin Klein“ are increasingly being "made in Ethiopia". In this sense, 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. Consequently, 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 

Despite the remarkable improvements discussed, 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 fights between different tribes about who is now winning and who is losing in the new political arena. In the last year, Ethiopia signed also an agreement with the Ogaden National Liberation Front, which is representing the Somalis leaving in an Ethiopian region. Nevertheless, terrorist attacks and the robbery of banks to finance illegal activities have not stopped. Abiy was right when he stated: "There are organized groups who are "conflict entrepreneurs" - we have no doubts about it". 

It is important not to forget that Ethiopia was founded on the basis of different political entities and tribes who 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)

Despite the internal tribal issues, Ethiopia revised its refugee law to allow more Inclusion. Ethiopia is the second most populous country after Nigeria and a neighbor to crisis countries. It has one of Africa's biggest number of refugees, mostly from Eritrea and South Sudan. Hopefully, the opening of borders with Eritrea and the improvement of the relationship between the two countries will contribute to democratic developments and the decrease of migration flows. Nevertheless, it is important to consider that domestic conflicts in other countries, such as Sudan, may lead instead to an increase of refugees.

On the overall, one can hope that what stated by the first edition of the African Business 2019 comes true:" Ethiopia is changing the security and political dynamic in the region of longstanding hostilities with Eritrea and growing closeness with Sudan, a pivotal link between North and East Africa". This should be seen together with the improved relations with Egypt, another economic powerhouse in Africa. Possibly, the new Ethiopia will boost regional organizations like the economic and trade-oriented COMESA and the Intergovernmental Authority of Development (IGAD). So far, in fact, domestic and bilateral conflicts, have prevented these organizations to enhance regional cooperation. The countries in the region should be ready to strengthen the common institutions. Ethiopia is the strongest among the countries belonging to the IGAD and could be a promotor for stronger integration.

When looking to Ethiopia, it is clear that a new mixed economy must be established. A few months after the political changes the magazine Africa report titled „The Abiy effect“ stating that: "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 blueprint 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 to introduce more flexible rules and regulations which invite private investors to come and to create jobs. Certainly, the country has a difficult path ahead: granting freedoms while avoiding tribal turmoil and chaos, and transforming the state economy into a mixed system that incentives private investment.

On this regard, there are many positive signals such as the announcement of VW to establish an assembly plant in Ethiopia. It is, by the way important, to keep in mind that there are also challenges and threats affecting the economy such as climate change.According to a report published 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 worldwide and one notices this also in the capital. But at the same time, investment in the country has been growing. This is reflected by a building boom in Addis and other infrastructures such as a Light Railway running through the city. The Chinese are increasingly active in investment activities.

Addis Abeba is also the (!) African capital. It is, in fact, home to the African Union (AU). When the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was transformed into the AU many hoped and planned that this Organisation would have really brought African countries closer one to each other. Among other goals for the continental organization, there was the promotion of democracy and sound economic and social development. But so far the AU’s influence into countries development has been very limited. We had a chance to visit the AU’s headquarters, where we were presented a Continental Crisis Early Warning System which works 24hours and seven days a week, to detect and analyze possible crisis. The information collected is sent to the AU bureaucracy not having an effect on the willingness or unwillingness of national governments to prevent crises or act in order to tackle the crises‘ causes.

Still, the AU is doing some good work, especially trying to involve civil society and the youth in decision making. Despite several attempts, national sovereignty and other priorities related to the economy and crisis management, have prevented the strengthening of democratization and integration via the AU. On this regard, we should not overestimate the success of the EU in promoting continental integration. The EU should act more courageously, preventing the right-wing forces from pushing the AU into a politically helpless Free Trade Zone.

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Africa's youth 

It was interesting to see how the AU is now working to involve young people in the political field. This is a must for Africa, to give young people a bigger voice. In fact, Africa is the youngest continent and should provide an increasing number of young people with opportunities, including jobs, to manage their lives. In Addis Abeba, we met also a group of young people who are organizing a conference on how to promote the involvement of young people into politics. But one must be aware of the fact, that this can be very dangerous for them. 

Teslima Jallow from Gambia in West Africa is one of the successful ones who managed to overthrow a dangerous dictator by risking his life. In this case, when the former president refused to accept the electoral result, some of the neighboring countries interned militarily. 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.

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

After coming back to Europe, I found some interesting piece of information about the small West African country. An economics professor from Portugal, Catia Batista, made a study about - potential - refugees from the rural areas of Gambia, specifically from the Upper River Region. The route goes from Gambia via Agadez and Libya towards Italy

She came to the result, that young men of that region overestimate the probability of dying on the 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. The chance to get a work permit is, in fact, 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. It is on this that Europe should deliver together with African investors. 

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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. 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, Kenya and Uganda by over 6%. But that will still not be enough to offer future generations jobs and more or less full employment. 

One of the basic deficiencies of the system is that the opportunities provided by the continent as such are not fully used. For example, 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 and to the dominating interest of China with export-oriented investment into roads and rail infrastructure that lead 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 labor market needs and 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 or Chinese companies. Very often African leaders "forget" to ask for investments 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 of 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 definitely insist on using their mineral resources for promoting processing and refining in Africa.

Digitalization of African economies

All sectors of modern economies can profit from digitalization. In Africa, there is a chance to use digitalization to jump directly into modern patterns of development without repeating all stages of development taken by Europe or the US in their development path. It is not so much about catching up but rather about finding 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, on the contrary.

Two special examples of African leapfrogging can be found in the Silicon Cape in South Africa and Silicon Savannah in Kenya. But also in other countries, we see interesting developments. The Senegalese Fatoumata Ba founded the "Amazon" of Africa, Jumia. She studied in France but returned to Africa inspired by the challenges to creating a digital company in her home continent.

For her, digitalization is not something only for big companies. It is the small businesses, which is predominant in Africa, that can enlarge and broaden its success with digitalization. Agriculture as well can profit from it. In fact, too much food is wasted in Africa because farmers do not have enough information about optimal conditions for crops or about the most profitable markets and transport conditions. 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 meantime M-Pesa has also - in connection with banks - organized a very successful loan and credit system.

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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. It is very interesting to see an example of digitalization which is strictly connected with the needs, demands and conditions of Africa. We could see examples of innovations for health services and e-learning tailored for developing countries. We were presented special computers for kids which have many apps also for off-line use. We saw medical appliances that have not the highest technical standards but are affordable for poorer citizens, especially in the countrysi

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

The country now faces the challenge to find a sound economic use of all the collected data in accordance with respect to privacy. There is a chance to reap the economic benefits of "Big Data" as so many data are collected thank to digitalization. A new framework, which allows additional investment opportunities, should be created. This would make possible to create jobs but also to bring tailor-made health and education solutions to all the levels of society. For sure data collection raises serious privacy issues but it also gives companies and public authorities the chance to serve the citizens, especially those on the fringe of society, much better.

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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 mobile phone – not necessarily a Smartphone. Especially for the poorer and rural population, new chances have been created. It was a leapfrog into new technologies without doing all the steps of transformation from landlines into smartphone technology. This was done without developing an extensive bank infrastructure before giving lower-income people and peripheral regions a chance for money transactions.

Very impressive was also the offer provided to poorer citizens for solar energy by M-KOPPA. People can get a solar energy device with a solar panel and a strong battery. Normally, they feed three light bulbs, a torchlight and a radio for about five hours a day. It can be improved with additional appliances such as television and, in future, also refrigerators. The costumers pay a relatively small amount of 30 Dollars to get the device and they pay a few cents per day via the M-PESA system thruough cellphones. 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, a way to extending the electric grid and will therefore not be substituted in the 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 the poorer parts of society.

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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 panels, have to be imported from China. The import of technologies and industrial material for devices like that of M-KOPPA from China, it is often due to the lower prices provided by the Asian country. On this regard, the International trade regime and mostly the US put a lot of pressure on African countries to open their markets. 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 trademarks and incentives for Africans to buy the relevant goods and services

In addition, African countries often accept international companies to exploit their mineral resources without processing and refining the products in Africa. Especially for agriculture, a strategy for the processing of agricultural products will be necessary. Some agribusinesses should be promoted. As Dr. Ndengo answered one of my questions, there is a lot of lands, partly in public ownership, which could be used to develop an "industrial" agricultural production. One would have to find a synthesis between the small scale farm production, which cannot be scraped, and the large scale agribusinesses. But it is certain that investors for such large scale farms could be found and self-sufficiency in food production could be achieved. It is, at the moment, a big shame that 50% of food in Africa is wasted due to lack of information about optimal trade and storage facilities.

Corruption is another factor preventing companies from investing more in Africa. Kenya is not in the top of East African countries, but the level of corruption is still very high. The regional Business Daily published (30.1.2019) a comparison between East African countries by Transparency International. Rwanda is on the top, then comes Tanzania and Ethiopia. Kenya and Uganda are on the same level and Burundi and Somalia are at the bottom, with the fewest corruption. This ranking shows also the fragility of these comparisons. Possibly, corruption is to a certain extent increasing with increasing investment and economic activity. Concerning the forms of corruption, bribes are the top followed by embezzlement of public funds. Recently, Kenya’s 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 company in the digital sector and became also a hub for start-ups. 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. This is the way out of the poverty trap: economic activities which provide jobs and reduce inequality.

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Chinese influence: opportunities and dangers

Every visitor to Nairobi can also see a strong presence of Chinese investments. Several high rise buildings under construction being built by Chinese companies are proof of that engagement. Another tangible sign is the rail link between Nairobi and Mombasa, which is crossing Interestingly the National Park adjacent to Nairobi, home to Mpalas and Antelopes. Nowadays Chinese investments are seen more critically as they contribute strongly to the rising debt - also of Kenya.

Normal people are worried about the increasing debt of Kenya, even my driver from the airport was nervous about this issue. He asked me about the argument used by President Kenyatta, who claimed that Japan has a much higher debt. I could honestly answer that the Japanese public debt is predominate 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 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 a guarantee if the debt for the already mentioned rail link could not be paid back. Despite the situation, 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 who fled from war-torn Sudan during the British occupation. After the end of colonialism and travel restrictions for Kenyans, more people from the rural area came into town. The people from Kibera, who guided us through the area, used both the two expressions: slum and informal settlement when describing the place. And both are certainly correct. In many aspects, people are leaving in extreme poverty. But they also do a lot of trading and try to earn a minimum of income to survive. Being there you can see many children dressed in school uniform coming and going to school.

The community feeling is also supported by a radio which is broadcasting news and discussions, mainly from Kibera, 24 hours a day. The founder of that radio station, a former journalist, told 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. In this sense, the informal sector is contributing to the economic well being of the people and creating and raising self-esteem for these engaged youngsters. 

In this regard, it is interesting to mention an important and already successful startup 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. On the other hand, customers have a "guarantee" to get serious and efficient workers. 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. On the long run, 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 a better education. But most important, the authorities should care for a better matching of education and skills demanded by the entrepreneurs. Even in Kenya, you can hear complaints about the lack of skilled people combined at the same time with enormous unemployment.

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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, rose dramatically. Odinga complained about cheating during the presidential election and nominated himself "President of the People". Fortunately, the conflict didn’t escalate and the leaders were able to find an agreement signed by a public handshake. Since then, people seem very happy about the general political situation in the country that followe

Tribal issues still play a role and everybody underlines that a politician from a small tribe could never become President. Moreover, many issues in the country remain unsolved because of tribal fights, corruption and political unwillingness to tackle such issues. As one of our interlocutors said: „in this country everything is political.“ I can confirm this judgment when reading the headlines in newspapers. Maybe the nomination of the Minister of Interior as Super Minister for the development of the country can push some solutions forward. 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. 

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New perspectives for cultural relations between Africa and Europe

Beyond the political, economic and social developments, an important cultural change is also 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 sometime 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 center for global dialogue in the new and partly rebuilt castle in the centre of the German capital. I supported very much the idea of bringing the Museum Collection in Dahlem - at the outskirts of Berlin - into the new Humboldt Forum in the city centre, close to the "Museum Insel". Only subsequently the debate started about the origin of the artifacts of the museum collection and the doubtful ways they were brought to Berlin. Bénédicte Savoy, French/German adviser to the Humboldt Forum, criticized the lack of engagement of the later management of the planning of the Forum. Following his speech and the widely positive response, Macron asked her and the Senegalese writer and scientist Felwine Sarr to present a concept plan for bringing African art back to Africa. 

Their report was quite radical and pleaded for a clear return strategy of all stolen artifacts. It raised many counter-arguments and fears from museums to lose their valuable works. Among them, the argument about a lack of museum spaces and of public interest in Africa was pointed out. Nevertheless, an art exhibition in Cotonou, Benin, in 2006 drew 275.000 visitors. 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).

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

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A new "Scramble for Africa'? 

In Berlin, in a conference starting in November 1884 and ending in February 1885, the big European powers agreed on a division of Africa amidst. Colonialism got a structure and "legitimacy" due to an agreement 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 the post independence years." 

African countries became independent only after so 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 an 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 Russian engagement. But if the national security adviser to President Trump, John Bolton, criticizes Russia to "threaten the financial independence of African nations" one would ask immediately how the US has supported the financial independence of African nations. It is true that Russia supported the struggle for the independence of many African countries against their colonial masters and now, like China, is using the acquired position to fulfill its own interests. Both are 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, has been growing enormously: by investing in 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. Among others, the IMF is nervous about possible bailout necessities. In a report of the Financial Times (FT 19.1.2019) they declared:" 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 actors." There are already cases of heavy burdens on African shoulders and investments with much fewer benefits than promised and expected.

Mostly in the Eastern part of Africa, 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 how some of these relationships go back to centuries when the Ottoman sultans brought slaves 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. 

Today Turkey and Qatar are confronted in the competition by Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates. One of the reasons for the Gulf countries activities is to counter the activities of the friends of the Muslim Brothers like Turkey and Qatar. They want to push back the influence of Iran, which already has been weakened strongly. The winner in this situation could be the countries of the Horn because countries like Ethiopia and Sudan suffer from severe shortage of hard currency. They could gain from investment from the Gulf but a question remains unsolved: at what political price these countries are helping their neighbors?

And Europe?

Europe leads aid to Africa and is most active in fighting terrorism in the Sahel region. It lacks a strong and cohesive policy which would bring its own interests in line with those of African countries. It is futile and idealistic to expert Europe to define and implement a thoroughly caritative Africa policy. That would be neither sustainable for Europe nor helpful for the sustainable development of Africa. It is unlucky to expect from Europe an increase in development aid and a 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. Moreover, all players should give the African countries a chance to establish, for example, a sustainable fishing industry. Europe should take initiatives in that direction while Africa and the individual countries have to do their job. Europe can help and should help in supporting the following aims:















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