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The German African Youth Initiative seeks to encourage Germany’s younger generation to take a closer interest in Africa / © www.colourbox.com

Germany launches African youth exchange

A new youth exchange scheme known as the German African Youth Initiative (Deutsch-Afrikanische Jugendinitiative – DAJ) was launched in Bonn on 1 July by German Development Minister Gerd Müller and the Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology at the African Union (AU) Martial De-Paul Ikounga. Dirke Köpp, head of DW’s French for Africa service, spoke to the minister about his hopes for the new scheme.

There are already a number of exchange schemes between Germany and Africa in existence. What can be expected to change in concrete terms with this German-African youth initiative?
Gerd Müller: We don’t know enough about one another. We must bring the youth of Germany, Europe and Africa together. Africa is a continent which is a hundred times bigger than Germany. It has 3,000 languages, an unbelievable diversity in culture, ethnic groups and scenery. I would like to encourage Germany’s younger generation to take a closer interest in the continent.

Minister Gerd Müller hopes the German-African Youth Initiative in Bonn will 'build bridges' │© Gerd Müller
Minister Gerd Müller hopes the German-African Youth Initiative in Bonn will ‘build bridges’ │© Gerd Müller

Let us suppose I’m a 16-year-old school student from Benin and I would like to come to Germany on this youth initiative. What would I have to do?
We are launching this scheme together with three African states, one of which is Benin. There is a selection procedure to go through and then the young people come to Germany. German teenagers and young adults will also visit the African partner countries. I would like, of course, to expand the program to include more African countries, but for that I would need the backing of individual German municipalities. Their umbrella organization – the convention of municipalities [Deutscher Städtetag] – has already assured me of its support. I expect the number of partnerships to climb from 300 to 1,000. We also want to get the German federal states involved. North Rhine Westphalia has had a partnership agreement with Ghana for some time, the same applies to the Rhineland Palatinate and Rwanda. We expect this latest project to have a growing impact.

With this initiative, you say you would like to – let me quote you here – “build bridges in order to master challenges ranging from climate protection to creating a world without hunger.” Aren’t those challenges a bit on the steep side – we are, after all, talking about a youth exchange scheme?
There are two crucial issues for Africa – and incidentally for the rest of the world. The first is food security. We should realize that the global population is growing by 250,000 every day and that the population of Africa will double in the next 30 years. That means people, in particular young people, will need food. Then there is the question of jobs. Africa needs 20 million jobs for its younger generation. This is a challenge, but also an opportunity – for Europe and Germany as well. Policy makers need to react on quite a different scale than in the past. That would also be in our own interests. If we don’t react appropriately, we will pay a high price. The recent wave of migration – the search for a brighter future by millions of young people from the African continent – is just a signal [of what could lie ahead].

Should we not be concerned that some of these young people from Africa could go into hiding and remain here in Germany at the end of their stay rather than returning to their home countries?
No, we must set up structures, engage in development work [in Africa] but it has to be a bridge that can be traversed in both directions. In previous years, too many of our exchange schemes have been one-directional. 5,000 students from Cameroon study here in Germany but only a very few take the knowledge and expertise they have acquired back to their home countrry. That has got to change. German young people, German firms, must also go to Africa, and the reverse should happen as well.

The three countries taking part in this scheme are Benin, Tanzania and South Africa. Why these three?
These are the three countries in which we already have arrangements in place for youth exchange. We are now expanding these arrangements to take in tertiary education, vocational training, economic cooperation, sport and culture.

Don’t such programs make more sense than the migration partnerships on which the European Union is focusing?
I believe we must invest in Africa on quite a different scale than in the past and use the opportunities that are presented to us. There is a huge potential here – Germany is regarded by Africa’s youth in many spheres of endeavor as a role model. So much potential isn’t being utilized and the key to unlocking it is to be found in two core areas. Firstly, we must promote good governance and it is up to the African countries to deliver on this point if development is to proceed. We can supply innovation, investment in human resources, in schooling and training and the creation of jobs and value chains. Together we will master the problems and challenges.

How do you intend to stop the children of African elites from monopolizing your youth initiative?
By approaching our partners directly and not going through governments. This is the advantage of Germany’s development ministry. We already have roots, traditions, many direct contacts and partners in all these countries. These organizations won’t choose the elites, but young people with the best potential and prospects. Development needs to begin at the bottom and should be pursued more often than not outside state apparatus.

Gerd Müller, 60, has been Germany’s Minister for Development and Economic Cooperation since December 2013.

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