Go Africa, Go Germany

13.8.2009 | Von:
By Oliver Sefrin

A Realistic Picture of Others

Marvin still cannot quite believe what he has just experienced. He's in Germany for the first time, and then this happens. "'I´ve just met the Vice-President of the Bundestag," says the 21-year-old student in amazement as he strolls through Munich's English Garden wearing sunglasses and a T-shirt in the gorgeous late summer sunshine.

The participants of the 2008 exchange programm Go Africa... Go Germany... meet the Vice-President of the Bundestag, Gerda Hasselfeld.The participants of the 2008 exchange programm Go Africa... Go Germany... meet the Vice-President of the Bundestag, Gerda Hasselfeld. (© Rhaban Schulze-Horn)
This political encounter is a minor sensation for the law student from Kampala. Has he had ever had the chance to meet an important politician before? Marvin says that at home in Uganda it's unthinkable for a student like himself to meet such a high-ranking parliamentarian so easily.

Here in Germany he's managed to do it. And being a politically interested young man, he's very pleased. But this afternoon in Munich at the Hanns Seidel Foundation Marvin isn't the only one to encounter the German parliament's Vice-President, Gerda Hasselfeldt. Together with 23 other students he listens to Ms Hasselfeldt's talk about federalism in Germany. They are all in their early to mid-twenties and come from Germany, the East African countries of Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia and Rwanda and the island of Mauritius. They are also all scholarship-holders in the German-African "Go Africa ... Go Germany" programme. It's an innovative exchange programme inspired by Federal President Horst Köhler's initiative "Partnership with Africa".

This initiative marked the beginning of a project, in collaboration with the Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb) focussing on a remarkable and ambitious political seminar and visitors' programme for involved and qualified students and young graduates in politics, international relations, economics and law from Germany and Sub-Saharan Africa. The scholarship-holders spend a total of four weeks together. This year in September they are joining each other for two weeks in Germany and Brussels, followed by two weeks in Tanzania and Uganda next February and March. They are be taking part in an intense intercultural encounter and in-depth discussions on a great variety of political, economic and social topics. A brief look at the programme clearly illustrates what awaits them: for example, lectures on German history, the political system, social and domestic policy. In order to gain a better understanding of Germany the group travelled to where the country's important decisions are made – Berlin and Brussels. In the German capital the scholarship-holders spoke with various people including members of the Bundestag and attended the Ambassadors Conference at the Federal Foreign Office which spotlighted Africa. In Brussels, the centre of the European Union, they gained insights into Germany's role in Europe, and at NATO they learned more about cooperation with Africa on security policy.

It's an extensive programme packed with stimulating lectures, discussions and interesting visits. 22-year-old Antonia, who is studying politics in Berlin, knew from the very start that she wanted to take part in "Go Africa ... Go Germany". Like all of the prospective participants she wrote the necessary essay on a socio-political topic. The jury chose her from around 200 applicants from Germany and Africa. Sitting at the back of the bus as it takes the scholarship-holders through Munich's city centre, she airs her opinion. The media are full of reports about Asia as an economic power, says Antonia, whereas Africa is hardly mentioned, it's a neglected continent. As a student she is involved in a political association at Berlin's Free University, but so far she has hardly had any contact with Africa.Things changed when she gained the scholarship. Now she says: "The talks with the other scholarship-holders are giving me a completely new perspective on insights into Africa."

Acquiring an authentic, realistic picture of the two distant neighbours, Germany and Africa: this is the aim of scholarship-holders like Marvin from Uganda and Antonia from Germany. They want to engage in discussions, develop a better mutual understanding, gain a realistic idea of social and political structures in each other's countries and acquire the ability to accurately assess developments in Germany, Europe and Africa. "In the process we are also interested in breaking down prejudices," says seminar leader Katja Böhler, a law specialist who studied in Berlin and Cape Town and worked for some time in Zimbabwe. She is well-acquainted with German-African relations and works towards a more differentiated view of things. She says the continent is too often seen as the scenario of three keywords: crises, wars, disasters. At German schools and universities little is said about Africa, ideas are often outdated and surrounded by clichés. The picture is hardly any different from the African perspective, where many people have a distorted view of Germany.

In this respect the young people´s dialogue in "Go Africa ... Go Germany" is refreshing and holds a great deal of promise. And the debates at the Bavarian Seeon monastery, where the participants spend the first week, often get off to an equally refreshing early-morning start. The former Benedictine monastery, dating back to the 10th century and idyllically located on a lake peninsular in the Chiemgau area, is now a modern conference centre. On this particular morning at breakfast in the historical refectory, a conversation is under way between John from Rwanda, Mwenda from Kenya and Ophilia from Tanzania. They're talking about their own countries' possibilities of greater integration. In fact many African scholarship-holders are fascinated by the EU as an integration model. "The EU could act as a model for East Africa," says Bernard from Kenya who sees the exchange programme as a great experience. The 22-year-old ­economics student from Nairobi wants to find out how European cooperation functions and is looking forward to the trip to Brussels.

But that will come later. Today the programme is focussing on other questions. A judge gives a lecture about family policy, a research scientist talks about the issues surrounding an aging society, and a social scientist tells the participants about the development of young people in Germany. Sapna listens through her headset to the simultaneous English translation and takes down notes. She has studied at the University of Mauritius concentring mainly on legal topics. "It's really interesting. I'm gaining lots of new information. And it's very useful, especially now that we're talking about partnership between Germany and Africa." Partnership: the basic concept is already visibly sketched out on a large sheet of paper hanging in the seminar room. Up to the end of the programme in 2009 the scholarship-holders will be focussing on how partnership with Africa can be developed. As a concrete result of the exchange they will summarize their ideas and present them to Germany's Federal President. "I think we can produce some good results by working together here," says Lukas from Germany.

The students' results could form a good foundation for the future of "Go Africa ... Go Germany" which is jointly financed by the bpb and the Federal Ministry for Cooperation and Development. Following the first exchange in 2007 with Southern Africa and the current focus on East Africa in 2008/2009, the programme will conclude with West Africa in 2010. But even after the programme has finished cooperation should continue, impulses should be generated by the new network – possibly with the support of a German-African youth education agency. The scholarship-holders' journey toTanzania and Uganda next year could well be a further step in this direction. And Bernard from Kenya has already made a special resolution for the German participants' visit: "We are going to show them the real Africa."

Quelle: Magazin Deutschland, 5/2008, Afrika-Ausgabe


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