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“The dismissive attitude towards Africa is the problem”

Hanna Tetteh, former foreign minister of Ghana, explains how Europe could effectively reduce migration from Africa

Körber-Stiftung: Ms Tetteh, if you had two minutes with Angela Merkel on cooperation with African countries, what would you urge her to do?

Tetteh: Invest in improving African countries’ trade performance. Trade is the driver of development, and this will ultimately solve your problem with migration. Second, now that Germany and the EU have come up with so many plans and policies, implement them! Focus on the private sector, create financial instruments that support investment in Africa especially in infrastructure. The economic benefits of these actions are in our mutual interest.

Körber-Stiftung: Are the recent initiatives on migration cooperation, such as the Rabat Process, the Valetta process or the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, a step in the right direct ion?

Tetteh: Most of these processes have a one-dimensional focus on returning illegal migrants, but the patterns of migration are more complex. For example, instead of trying to reach Europe, many Central and Western African migrants stopped in Libya before the overthrow of President Ghaddafi because it was stable and there were jobs. This is not the case today.

Körber-Stiftung: What could improve European policies on migration?

Tetteh: You should look beyond limiting the number of migrants. Why is migration a problem? Because Africans are considered to be poor, and therefore to be a burden for your societies. The current approach to migration has a very one-sided focus on getting migrants out as soon as possible and making countries take people back. The dismissive attitude towards Africa is the problem. Africans could be your consumers, but Europe does not apply the same seriousness to trade and economic cooperation as to migration. If you want to deal with the root causes, you should support African countries with developing infrastructure, growing their private sector and integrating it into global value chains.

Körber-Stiftung: During the proclaimed “Africa Year” in 2017, the German government launched initiatives such as the Marshall Plan with Africa or the G20-Compact with Africa. Do you welcome the enthusiasm?

Tetteh: I welcome this attention. I appreciate the German initiatives like the Marshall Plan with Africa or the Compact with Africa because they focus on economic co-operation and the private sector. The private sector leads economic development, and we should create the environment for it to flourish. In any case, we should focus on getting work done on the ground. Initiatives are nice to launch, it is the outcome that matters.

Körber-Stiftung: Are there too many initiatives, and too little impact?

Tetteh: I think the problem is rather a lack of coordination. However well-intentioned these initiatives may be, we need clarity. You do not just need to show that you are busy. The busy-ness should achieve something. Sometimes when I look back from the perspective of someone who has been in office and discussed so many of these different programmes with so many different people, I wish that there had been better coordination. It would make the process more effective.

Körber-Stiftung: You emphasised that development comes through enabling the private sector. How could the German initiatives provide meaningful support for this?

Tetteh: They should facilitate trade in general, and this has several dimensions. Take an African producer who wants to export agricultural products, like baobab or shea butter, for the European food or cosmetics industry. Making the necessary investments in order to meet European health and sanitary requirements is often beyond African suppliers’ means. Therefore, the German initiatives should help African producers to invest in improving quality control systems. Second, this also means providing finance. When there is no capital available for investments, how can African businesses possibly participate in the global market? Third, they should support investment in infrastructure. If we lack the key supporting logistics in Africa, we are not going be competitive. I think Germany, a world leader in logistics, understands this very well.

Körber-Stiftung: Do you see a special role for Germany in improving cooperation with African states?

Tetteh: Germany without doubt is one of the leaders in the EU. A German-led initiative is therefore more likely to shape the EU’s approaches to certain issues. This is a positive thing, because there are EU members that have not achieved the same level of development as Germany, France or the Netherlands, and want to catch up. I can understand that development in Africa is not their first priority. It is therefore helpful to have an influential country like Germany advocating for the inclusion of initiatives with Africa within the EU’s development agenda.

Körber-Stiftung: European countries often feel they are losing out strategically in Africa due to a strong competitor: China. What does China do better than the Europeans?

Tetteh: Not too long ago, China was in the position that many African countries are in now. Therefore, they do not consider our constraints to be obstacles. They understand what our priorities are, for example in terms of infrastructure. China is acting in a much more focused way than the Europeans. Of course, it is right to address issues like human rights, good governance and the values that constitute strong democracies also in Africa. But when we are talking about purely business transactions, like developing infrastructure to improve people’s economic opportunities and living conditions, those issues are not the focus of discussions.

Körber-Stiftung: Finally, you have lived in Berlin for a few months, what is your reaction to the public discourse on migration?

Tetteh: Germany still seems to be in the process of leveling the living standards between the East and West. In this context, I understand that foreigners looking for economic opportunity in the same space cause resentments. However, what Germans and Europeans do not realise is that most Africans migrate within our continent, only a fraction comes to Europe. This shows the one-sided portrayal of Africa in the rest of the world, although our continent is so huge and diverse.

The interview was conducted in May 2018.

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