„Afrika kommt!“

Learning German at SAP

Young managers from Africa to learn from DAX-listed companies – with the German Government’s help.

The current approach being taken by Germany in its Africa policy can be summed up as ‘less development aid and more investments’. In June, the German Government adopted its new Concept for Africa; this week, Angela Merkel tried to breathe life into the paper during her three-day visit to the continent. Merkel was accompanied by an 11-strong business delegation, and the message was that Germany wants to promote African economies through business and thus help them help themselves.

Africa currently accounts for only just over two per cent of Germany’s foreign trade, but three years ago, the German private sector decided to train young African managers. Nineteen DAX-listed companies have joined the initiative ‘Afrika kommt!’ (‘Africa is coming’), which is supported by foundations, the German Federal Foreign Office and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). The second training course started this week. After a three-month German course, 17 young managers from sub-Saharan Africa will be spending nine months working in German companies. ‘We want to help them get to know our country, German politics, business and culture,’ said Tilman Todenhöfer, co-founder of the project and managing partner at Robert Bosch Industrietreuhand KG.

‘I’d heard that lots of Germans weren’t particularly friendly, but that’s not true at all.’

Todenhöfer emphasised that the initiative is ‘not a recruitment campaign’ for German companies that invest in Africa and often depend on local staff. He explained that although some graduates of the first course in 2008/2009 had subsequently been kept on, the actual goal was to offer young people prospects in Africa. ‘Many go on to find work with local firms and pass on their knowledge to their fellow Africans. Ultimately, it obviously has benefits for the German companies to train people who support Germany’s interests in their own countries.’

The initiative was instigated in 2008 by the then German President Horst Köhler. Todenhöfer recalls that President Köhler spoke to him at a reception at Bellevue Palace after a trip to Africa, saying that something had to be done. Shortly afterwards, DAX-listed companies such as Daimler, SAP and Commerzbank undertook to each train one young specialist from Africa in Germany. German embassies in Africa were responsible for organising the selection process.

Akinyi Juddy Otieno from Kenya ended up at Bosch in Stuttgart. ‘I’d heard that lots of Germans weren’t particularly friendly and that they were perfectionists,’ said Otieno, a 31-year-old IT quality analyst. ‘But that’s not true at all.’ After returning to Kenya in 2009 in the middle of the economic crisis, Otieno found work at a financial institution that primarily operates in Kenya and Zimbabwe. ‘The competition was tough, but my boss was very impressed that I had gathered experience in Germany.’

The hurdles confronting candidates for ‘Afrika kommt!’ are high. Candidates must be university graduates with initial professional experience. This year, there were 1,697 applications from 38 countries – for 17 places. The most promising candidates were invited to individual selection tests. ‘In addition to their expertise and professional experience, we also look at their willingness to engage with Germany and the language,’ Project Manager Todenhöfer explained, adding that there were no plans at the moment to increase the number of training places: ‘Quality is more important than quantity.’ One of the candidates selected this year is Sandra Ayingono Moussavou from Gabon. She is 32 and has been working as an energy analyst in Cape Town for eight years. She will now be gaining experience in the sales department at Siemens. ‘Germans are well known for their efficiency and precision,’ she said. ‘My initial impressions of Germany show that it’s true.’ When asked whether she would subsequently earn more money in her firm in South Africa, she said, ‘Perhaps, but I’m not doing it for the money. I want to get to know Germany.’

Author: Tim Neshitov.
The article was first published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on 16th July 2011.