Colonial, postcolonial, neocolonial?

Germany’s economic and educational strategy for Africa

by Armin Hofmann

At the end of the 19th century, Germany was late entering the scramble for Africa in competition with France, Great Britain, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Belgium. Within just two decades almost all areas of the African continent had been occupied by European powers. The governments sent missionaries, explorers and adventurers, the ones in order to christianise the African tribes and peoples – whereby their ethos often had a mitigating effect –, the others to explore the remaining “white spots” on the map. Ever new areas were captured, in order to exploit raw materials and “human resources”, to expand trade or to make use of strategically favourable geographic locations.
It was only in the 1960s, that around fifty of the former colonies had achieved their independence, after long and sometimes bloody uprisings. The postcolonial period had arrived. Nevertheless: Civil wars, some of which had been instigated by the Western powers in order to maintain their influence, AIDS and other epidemic plagues, as well as famine, kept Africa down. Till far in the 1980s, Africa was the ”forgotten continent”. This has changed. – The scramble for Africa has recommenced.

“States lead not only military wars […] they also lead cultural wars and educational wars to achieve their economic and power policy goals. The influence with the means of foreign cultural, linguistic and educational policy belongs to the so-called ‘soft power’.”

A “Marshall Plan for Africa”

The German Development Minister Gerd Müller warns that the German economy is missing out on a market. Business with the Africans has been initiated by others, with the Chinese leading the way. They are involved in gigantic projects such as the construction of a railway line between Kenya’s most important seaport Mombasa and its capital Nairobi, which is to lead as far afield as to the neighbouring country Uganda. The funding for this project amounts to 14 billion euros; the total investments are exceeded by a multiple. Africa is becoming more and more interesting as a trade partner for countries such as China and India. For Africa offers enormous opportunities. The continent’s common gross domestic product has quintupled since 1990, there are still huge mineral resources, and the population is growing.
The German Development Minister has now presented his new strategy for Africa. With his so-called “Marshall Plan for Africa”, which, at short notice, he renamed “Marshall Plan with Africa” he wants to eliminate trade barriers and promote investment. The approximately 30-page paper outlines a whole bundle of measures in areas such as economic development, trade, science and education. Trade barriers are to be abolished and African products are to have better access to European markets. The aim is to tie various African countries economically and politically to Europe by means of a free-trade zone. The private sector is required to become more active in Africa. “In order to achieve our goals, it is necessary to trigger and implement private financing in a new dimension,” says Müller. Public funds should act as a catalyst mobilising additional private investment.
Such plans are not appreciated everywhere, and especially not in Africa. Why do others always believe they have to think for Africans, asks Burundian Nimubona Christian. Are these great ideas really needed to promote the development of Africa? He does not believe that the like plans are missing on the continent. In her book “Dead Aid,” former Zambian World Bank economist Dambisa Moyo expresses her apprehension that such investments will only create new dependencies. The “Marshall Plan’s” one-sided focus on German interests is being criticised. However, according to the Afro-Barometer, the economic cooperation with China is well received by many Africans. Japheth Omojuwa says that these are partnerships on the same level. That China understands to deal with Africa in a different way from that which the Western countries used in the past. The Europeans should in the first place listen to what Africans wanted.
The measures taken by the German government to gain access to the African continent include state funding, private investment and measures of “foreign cultural and educational policy”. Almost simultaneously with the “Marshall Plan with Africa”, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) presented its strategy for the “Internationalisation of Education, Science and Research” in which Africa is a focal point.

“The main focus here is on gifted young people who are are to be involved in German structures and ‘networked with Germany at an early stage’.”

To form new elites

The reason for the large-scale scientific and educational policy offensive in Africa was the “increasing global competition for knowledge and markets”. Germany wants to intervene on a large scale. The strategic framework for this intervention is the “Marshall Plan with Africa” launched by the Federal Government as well as the “Strategy for the Internationalisation of Education, Science and Research”. In addition to German universities and technical colleges, this involves research institutes such as the German Research Foundation, the Fraunhofer Society, the Max Planck Society, the so-called intermediary organisations of the “Foreign Cultural and Educational Policy”, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Goethe Institutes, the Humboldt Foundation and many others. Even the dual vocational training system is to be exported so that German companies will be able to find the necessary infrastructure and skilled workers on site.
The main focus here is on gifted young people who are are to be involved in German structures and “networked with Germany at an early stage”.
Measures designed for the “foreign cultural and educational policy” – language courses for German, cultural events, education and study programmes – are said to be “a particularly suitable tool for the generation of new talent”. By these means, “gifted applicants for further studies in Germany or suitable specialists for German employers can be identified and recruited locally”. The aim is to train the most talented young people as specialists for German business enterprises in Africa or to invite them to Germany for further studies. This is intended on the one hand to gain the “best minds” for top research in Germany or for the German economy (“brain drain”) , and on the other hand, if they return to their homeland, in order to form the future elites according to German and/or European competence standards and to bind them permanently to Germany.
By means of learning the German language, attending cultural events in Goethe-Institutes, through studies in Germany and contacts with fellow students, which often lead to friendships, the ties to Germany will be built up. Lecturers at universities, often recognised as authorities by foreign students, will intensify their focus on the German mentality, on the way of thinking, of instruction, teaching and learning according to European competency standards. Finally, certain contents or topics are linked to Germany, such as the environment, cars, knowledge of engineering, so that foreign students from poorer countries begin to admire and align themselves with the standard of living in Germany and the lifestyle of the Western world. – This is also the reason why countries such as Brazil and South Africa are intensifying their criticism of Western-dominated educational globalisation.

Transnational Education

The focus is on the training of future elites through “Transnational Education (TNE)” (see box, p. 2). TNE covers universities, study courses and individual study modules offered abroad for students from another country. This also includes the recently agreed-upon establishment of a university in Kenya based on the model of German technical colleges, as well as the centres of expertise on elite promotion in Congo, Ghana, Tanzania, Namibia and South Africa.
Unlike the Anglo-Saxon TNE approach, says Ulrich Grothus, Deputy General Secretary of the DAAD, the German approach is based on “partnership”. But, however, keen the attempts at making the German approach appear “partnership-based” may be, and, however, strongly the importance of considering the needs of the local partners may be emphasised, it is clear that here the “partners” are sitting around the conference table on chairs of different height. Finally, curriculum development, further training of local teaching staff and, above all, the “standard setting” for quality assurance will remain largely in German hands.
In order to develop quality standards, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has commissioned a comparative study together with the British Council, which has accumulated decades of experience with the spread of English language and culture in the former colonies. The purpose of this is to make comparable TNE offers in different countries with different educational traditions. Based on this, cross-country competence standards, internationally comparable degrees and diplomas will be created for TNE colleges, study courses and training programmes.
From similar processes in Europe, it is well known how seriously international comparative studies and competency standards (PISA, Bologna, Curriculum 21, etc.) interfere with national education systems, traditions and cultures. Transnational education standards have an impact on teaching content, teaching methods, teaching-learning relationships, the way of thinking, as well as on value-orientation. In its jurisprudence, the German Federal Constitutional Court expressly protects the national regulatory competence in educational questions, so that culture will arise “from below”and are not directed or controlled “from the outside” in the democratic-legal-state tradition. That is also why the regulatory competence for education and culture rests with the federal states and the cantons in the democratic legal states – according to the rules of federalism.
Studies on the effect of TNE concepts and standards are rare; however, a study conducted by the “Jakobs-Universität” in Bremen shows that concepts generated in “transnational expert networks” and spread from there change the beliefs and values of those involved (“expert networks which generate and spread ideas and change actors’ beliefs and value systems”, Biber & Martens 2011). Transnational standards are by no means “neutral”, say the authors; they create a considerable adjustment and assimilation pressure. And they conclude that cross-country comparative studies and transnational competence standards are elements of “soft power” (see box), since they interfere with the cultural education and development of the countries.
Seen in this light, there might be some truth in the observations voiced by those commentators from Brazil and South Africa that see a new form of colonialism in TNE, a new form of colonialism that firstly seeks to create new dependencies through economic investment and to form Western-oriented elites alien to their culture of origin. And moreover, according to Peter Scott, former vice-chancellor of the Kingston University of London, the “human resources” should be sucked out of the countries, as the most hopeful young people would be withdrawn.     •

Biber, Tonia/Martens, Kerstin. The OECD PISA Study as a Soft Power in Education? Lessons from Switzerland and the US. European Journal of Education, Vol. 46, No. 1, 2011, Part I

BMBF Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung. Internationalisierung von Bildung, Wissenschaft und Forschung. Strategie der Bundesregierung. (Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Internationalisation of Education, Science and Research. Strategy of the German Federal government). Bonn 2016

BMZ Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung. Afrika und Europa – Neue Partnerschaft für Entwicklung, Frieden und Zukunft. Eckpunkte für einen “Marshallplan mit Afrika”. (Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. Africa and Europe – a new partnership for development, peace, and the future. Key parameters for a “Marshall Plan with Africa”). Bonn 2017

British Council & DAAD. Impacts of transnational education on host countries: academic, cultural, economic and skills impacts and implications of programme and provider mobility. Going Global. 2014

DAAD Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst. Transnationale Bildung in Deutschland. Positions­papier. (The German Academic Exchange Service. Transnational education in Germany. Position paper). Bonn 2012

Pelz, Daniel. Ein Marshallplan mit Afrika. (A Marshall Plan with Africa.) Deutsche Welle. 18 January 2017. Sandner, Philipp. Deutschlands Marshallplan – Afrikas Skepsis. (Germany’s Marshall Plan – Africa’s Scepticism) Deutsche Welle. 14 November 2016

Transnational Education

ah. The development of Transnational Education TNE (also called borderless or cross-border education) dates back to the beginning of the 1990s. In particular, the neo liberal doctrine of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School set the stage for privatisation of education to provide cross-border education services across national borders. By signing the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), member states of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), including Switzerland, agreed to promote cross-border trade in services and its progressive liberalisation. This also includes the liberalisation of education and the trade in education.
Anglo-Saxon countries such as the USA and the UK, but also Australia are considered to be the pioneers of TNE. As a result of the gradual or more competitive organisation of university funding by the state, higher education institutions gained greater autonomy. In Australia, higher study fees were introduced, which led to the obligation to impose study fees on foreign students at least as high as the average cost of the offered study programmes. Thus, international students were recognised as a potential source of income for universities. However, students from abroad were no longer able to afford the increased costs of studying, so that universities offered offshore programmes, i.e. outside their own borders, as the costs for the teaching staff were less expensive. This also includes cost-effective distance or e-learning courses provided the study materials are offered outside the country of origin.
Transnational Education offers (through university start-ups abroad, study offers at foreign universities or distance learning courses) serve as a starting point for the development of additional sources of funding; they also serve the purpose of attracting the most intelligent and talented young people through university marketing, on the one hand, to make the reputation of the university excellent and thus attractive (see so-called excellence initiatives), and on the other hand, to attract the “best minds” to the Western industrialised countries (“brain drain”) to recruit them for top research or the economy.
This related to a decisive change in education policy within Western industrial nations. It was no longer a matter of interest in a broad “national education”, as is customary in Western democracies, to which all sections of the population have access, as in the case of “Sputnik Shock” in the 1950s, and in the decades after, when “compensatory pre-school education” for children from uneducated backgrounds was promoted. With TNE in the nineties there was the transition to fish in the off-shore pond of the talents. This explains why within Western industrial nations active in TNE there is largely no political will to stop the declining level of education in the country and to save the European-humanist education tradition from its decline. One gets the “best minds” abroad.
Also linked to TNE is the orientation of curricula to transnational “competence” standards (see the Common European Framework for Language Learning CEFR, Bologna Reform, Curriculum 21 and others). International comparative surveys such as the PISA studies of the OECD have paved the way for this. Educational content is therefore largely extracted from the national (and regional) cultures, values and norms and aligned to transnational benchmarks. The inner bond of the (academic) youths to the history, origin and culture of a country is weakened. For fear of the permanent migration, caused by TNE, many countries outside the Western hemisphere prefer to educate their youth at their own universities.

“Soft power”

ah. States lead not only military wars against other states or economic wars, they also lead cultural wars and educational wars to achieve their economic and power policy goals. The influence with the means of foreign cultural, linguistic and educational policy belongs to the so-called “soft power“. By “soft power“ Joseph Nye is understood to mean the exercise of power by a state through the development of cultural activities in another state. This can be done through cultural events, the establishment of cultural institutes and/or language schools abroad. “Soft power” is based on attraction and admiration (positive images), evoked by beautiful people, outstanding artists or outstanding athletes; also exhibitions in museums, among others, belong to this. This is the way people are directed towards oneself, shaping their preferences for decisions, so that they – apparently voluntarily – want what you want. A key role is played by financial incentives or sponsorship for projects. The strategy is to work with others rather than to force them; they offer (project) partnerships and thereby bind people to themselves. – In addition to “hard power”, which is based on the two pillars of military or economic power, “soft power” is the third pillar of foreign policy power.

Nye, Joseph S. (2010). Soft Power. The Means to Success in World Politics. New York, Perseus, 33–72.

(Translation Current Concerns)