Michael Bauer (Former Executive Director, Joint Africa Institute; Chief of Protocol, German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development)

19.08.2009 - Interview conducted by Gráinne Toomey & Jordan Kynes

As part of the Cultural Diplomacy in Africa forum, the participants visited the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation where Michael Bauer gave a talk entitled: “Culture and Development”. Mr. Bauer spoke about his own experiences in Africa, development issues and about the complicated historical relationship between the African continent and Europe. This was followed by a discussion with the participants over lunch, where Mr. Bauer addressed the CDA participants as “agents of cultural change”. Afterwards, Mr. Bauer granted the CD- News team the following interview, where he spoke about the current work of the Ministry and his past involvement with the African Development Bank through the Joint Africa Institute.

Could you tell us a bit about how the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation promotes sustainable development projects in African countries?

Sustainability is a key issue in the development process. With scarce resources, with challenges like climate change, drought and so on, we really need to look at the impact of all of our measures—not only short-term, but long-term. This is a real challenge, for the whole world, and for any development corporation especially. So we try to assist partner countries to develop strategies which are in line with environmental constraints. In the past we had a more short-term approach; we thought by having a good project here and a good project there we would have an impact. Now we think in global terms, in strategies, and the countries are advised to develop these strategies. I'll give you an example: Liberia developed a long-term strategic plan to get out of their crisis and to reduce poverty. This plan was presented here in Berlin, discussed with the entire aid community and support was given, with very clear stipulations, to help the country make not short-term progress, but progress that helps people in the long run.

You spoke earlier about trauma or disaster as being a precondition for change, giving the example of post-Holocaust Germany. How can this be applied to African countries, which have only recently resolved conflict?

When you look at the example of the genocide in Rwanda you can see some similarities with the Holocaust, I think. Rwanda is trying, in a very remarkable way, to solve the terrible wounds of the past and because of this absolute disaster, there seems to be a readiness of people on both sides to change. That's what I meant when I spoke earlier of trauma being necessary for change. Something terrible happened in Germany and made a very peaceful society out of the German people, who in the past were regarded as being much more militaristic than people in other parts of the world—which was probably also true. So sometimes you have to go through a horrible experience in order to make a change for the better.

What achievements are you particularly proud of that were accomplished during your time of involvement with the African Development Bank?

During that time the African Development Bank first started to play a role in the policy dialogue, as it did under the former president Omar Kabbaj and continues to do so now under his successor Donald Kaberuka, who is the former finance minister of Rwanda. In the past, the bank was simply a bank that lent money for a few projects. But later, the bank developed capacity and tried to identify its distinctive role and function as a regional development bank and to speak up on African issues. In previous years, the policy issues were only addressed by the World Bank. The African Development Bank was too modest and sometimes it was also not capable, but over the last eight years it has made significant progress; it speaks up on issues, develops concrete strategies with the partner countries and has a voice and an impact.

You spoke earlier about cultural typology and the idea that some nations are more prone to development. With recent success stories like Botswana and Malawi, what was it specifically about these areas that allowed them to make developmental progress?

First of all, I think you need to find responsible leaders and leadership in Africa—and it has to be a top-down and bottom-up approach. First of all you need responsible leadership:  leaders who care, who are not corrupt and who are interested in the development of the country. This was very rare in the past. In Botswana, such responsible leadership existed. And when you have a leader like that, who is also interested in a bottom-up approach, and allows people to express themselves and explain their needs, it strengthens civil society. Sometimes civil society cannot change leadership because the power structures are too solid. But it's ideal to have a combination of both.

Mr. Bauer, thank you very much for your time.