By Anke Henrich
It was a reception with all honors. The new President of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi, may only have been able to speak in a hoarse tone, but the music group more than made up for his lack of volume by dancing and singing the rain dance even louder. At the end of November, the capital city of Gaborone welcomed the President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and his wife, Elke Büdenbender. The head of state had arrived to support the collaboration between Germany and Africa. Steinmeier officially opened the VDMA training program "Skilled Workers for Africa," in which VDMA plans to provide further training for over 1,000 local workers by the year 2021 in Botswana, Kenya and Nigeria. The program receives financial support from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in line with local demand.
And Germany's interest in Botswana is not without reason. From what was once one of the poorest countries in the world, a democracy has risen without political or ethnic disputes threatening the livelihood of its citizens - and with enormous economic growth. In January 2019, Statistics Botswana published figures which showed that the economy grew by 4.2 percent in the third quarter of 2018, exceeding the 3.5 percent recorded in the same period in 2017. The UN’s Prosperity Index shows that Botswana (rank 101) far outstrips South Africa (113) and Nigeria (157). Despite this, the country and its 2.2 million inhabitants are facing a serious problem. The economic upswing is based on only three resources - diamonds, livestock breeding and tourists with deep pockets. Therefore, the government in Botswana has long aimed to diversify its sources of revenue, but has struggled in its endeavors.
Transfer of knowledge
VDMA's support is therefore all the more welcome. Based in Frankfurt, a three-person team organizes the deployment of the German trainers, trainees and employees from VDMA member companies. They then pass on their knowledge on tasks in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering to the local experts. In turn, these experts then share this knowledge with other local workers.
The trio from Frankfurt is certainly busy: Over the course of the year, seven training programs are to commence in Nigeria, for which they are developing a specially tailored curriculum for industrial mechanics. At the end of february 2019, the training program to become a mechatronics engineer will begin in Botswana; this will also start in Kenya alongside the current training programs. VDMA delegates are also currently visiting trade fairs and discovering markets in other African countries. They have already begun focusing on other countries like Ghana and Ethiopia, as the population there is also young and open to new innovations. This factor is supplemented by the ability to build many things from scratch and free from old regulations, a typical factor across the African continent. As such, South Africa was able to boast a robust mobile network in the mid-90s, at which time it already counted many more cellphones than in Germany. There were simply hardly any long-distance telephone lines in the country.
However, there are also other reasons as to why Germany's involvement in Botswana will be worth the effort. Dr. Reinhold Festge says: "In order to master the challenges surrounding the topic of migration, we have to offer the people in Africa perspectives for the future. And this can be done best for german mechanical engineering, when extending the value chain in african countries as it goes along with the interest of the countries themselves." This is another reason why he was happy to see Chancellor Angela Merkel visit Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria in 2018.
Focus on Africa
"Local people, companies and the economic structures in the country will all benefit from our vocational training offers," says a happy Dr. Reinhold Festge, former President of VDMA, as professional training is viewed as a key factor in the ongoing development of a country. "This also makes it more attractive for foreign companies to take advantage of the opportunities in Africa and build up their business activities there."
There is also room for improvement for the German mechanical engineering industry, with only two percent of all exports going to the entire African continent.
Many countries are seen as having precarious markets due to political unrest and legal uncertainties, while financing is often an obstacle for German companies seeking to establish themselves there. At this juncture, VDMA desires additional support for commercial export funding from development aid. Other countries are ahead, in particular the Chinese with their geopolitical approach. They, as well as Japanese and South Korean providers, have had a foot in the door for a long time now. The good domestic financing options bolster them in this - and not only for projects in Botswana.
However, it is the Chinese strategists who are taking the lead in this area, with President Xi Jinping announcing in September 2018 that China is planning to invest around USD 60 billion in Africa.