Interview with Albert Engel, Director of the Africa Department

‘Africa should be a clear priority'

Why the continent plays a key role and the nature of GIZ’s involvement there


Mr Engel, both Africa and refugees are topics that currently rank high on the political agenda. And both are areas in which GIZ has been involved for a very long time. Could you tell us about the nature of that involvement?

Migration and flight are certainly not new phenomena in Africa, although they are now attracting greater attention in Europe as a result of the refugee crisis. For several decades we have been working to ensure sustainable development in Africa. Many of the projects with which we have been involved are relevant to this field – they create a future for individuals within their own country. Between 2010 and 2015, for example, we ensured that eight million African children were able to attend school. More than two million people have been able to boost their incomes. And since 2015, we have been focusing much more specifically on flight and migration as part of special programmes.

Why is Africa so important in relation to flight and migration? What numbers of people are we talking about?

Africa is a clear priority for action in the areas of flight and migration. Some 4.5 million of the 21 million refugees around the world live in Africa, particularly in East Africa. To put that in context, Europe is home to around 2.1 million refugees. Then there are the internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have fled within their own country. In sub-Saharan Africa some 12 million people belong to this category, particularly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan. And an estimated 15 million international migrants – that is, individuals who have voluntarily left their home country, for example to find employment – live in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

Where does GIZ’s work start and where are the limits to what it can do?

We are improving people’s life situations, for example through sustainable crop production or by providing training and creating prospects for employment. In Nigeria, for example, we focus strongly on young people, targeting continuing training for young men and women to help them find jobs in agriculture or the construction industry. In Niger, we support rural communities by making more land fit for cultivation. These measures help boost individuals’ incomes. In Senegal, meanwhile, we are developing new occupational profiles for the service sector and the renewable energy industry. We are also raising awareness of people’s prospects for economic success in their home country, using the slogan ‘Réussir au Sénégal’ (‘Succeeding in Senegal’). The objective is to create prospects and incentives to remain in the country for around 50,000 young Senegalese, including returning migrants. We are implementing these and other approaches on behalf of the German Government and the EU. However, we come up against limits where war and rising levels of conflict prevail. More than half the countries in which GIZ works are fragile states, and that proportion is increasing. Bringing about change requires effort on the part of all – the countries themselves, the private sector, and us. Ultimately, development cooperation is not about preventing people from doing things, but about supporting them to achieve things. What we aim to support is individuals’ capacity and their local living conditions.

And what has been achieved so far?

Let us look at the example of Niger, where around 3,500 young people – including returning refugees and migrants – have found employment in agriculture, fisheries, the craft sector or the service sector. In total, around 1.5 million refugees in Africa benefitted from GIZ support from 2010 to 2015.

Africa has a particularly large number of fragile states with structures that barely function. How is GIZ managing this situation?

Fragile structures locally, combined with excessive bureaucracy and logistical difficulties, do indeed represent challenges for us. However, we have the advantage of having been active in many of these countries for years, so we know a lot about the difficult situation there. Nowadays, our involvement has to be planned and implemented under time pressure because people need rapid support.

Sometimes we have to find ways of reconciling conflicting interests of commissioning parties and stakeholders. We have a number of priorities – creating local opportunities and security, for example, or reintegrating refugees. Partner countries often have little capacity to support projects, and in many cases they are also interested in the remittances from migrants abroad.

Who are your cooperation partners?

Cooperation with partners is extremely important, particularly our cooperation with civil society institutions and non-governmental organisations like Plan International, CARE and local organizations, because they often have the best direct access to individuals. Sometimes, cooperating with these bodies is the only way we can carry out our work at all.

June 2017