Education projects in Africa: Many African elites don't give a damn about the education of the population

Gerd Hankel (65) is connected to Africa in two ways: As an international law expert, he investigated the genocide in Runda and in 2016 published a book about life and the rebuilding of the country after the cruel civil war that cost the lives of around 800,000 people in four months.

Education projects in Africa: Many African elites don't give a damn about the education of the population

Gerd Hankel (65) is connected to Africa in two ways: As an international law expert, he investigated the genocide in Runda and in 2016 published a book about life and the rebuilding of the country after the cruel civil war that cost the lives of around 800,000 people in four months. Hankel was primarily concerned with the role of the Gacaca courts in dealing with the massacre. These traditional Rwandan village courts do not aim to punish the perpetrators, but to restore social peace. Privately, he supports school projects in neighboring Rwanda with the Hamburg association "Initiative Kongo". In 2020 he summarized his experiences and experiences in the book "The Dilemma - Development Aid in Africa". In it, Hankel describes drastically and with a dose of polemics what is currently causing development aid to fail. But he also says how it could work better and why school projects, no matter how small, always make a positive contribution.

Africa is not a country, but many Germans subconsciously think so when they talk about a continent with 54 individual states on which the USA and China could fit. Why do you think that is?

It's because of an often underlying white arrogance, I think. It's easy to say Africa like that without even understanding the dimensions, and at the same time we claim to know what's good for Africa. But the problem is also that on the other hand we often have to deal with African elites. These elites studied in the west, speak fluent English or French, they are similar to us. In fact, however, these groups have become disconnected from the reality of life in their countries.

And is that why projects fail?

Well, there really is no such thing as failure. This is in the nature of the procurement process. Money is being invested by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation, for example, and investors naturally want to hear good news. The project managers on site want to report successes because they are of course thinking about follow-up orders. I have very rarely experienced projects being terminated prematurely.

How is "white" arrogance expressed?

The idea of ​​a German school is often transferred one-to-one to the school projects in Africa. For example in the project requirement for schools for gender-appropriate toilets. If they don't commit to that in their project plan, they won't get the job. Or the BMZ insists that the award of a project, for example a construction contract, should follow exactly the same rules in Congo as in Germany. But that's not how it works. There is also a lot of self-deception involved.

While other developing regions such as Asia or South America are prospering, sub-Saharan Africa seems to be barely making any headway. Colonialism and economic exploitation are often cited as obstacles in public debates. How do you see it?

Decades after the colonial era, blaming colonialism for the misery can no longer be taken seriously. The President of Rwanda Paul Kagame gets really angry when someone uses colonialism to justify grievances in the country. In many states, the misery is homemade. First up is corruption on a massive scale. Corruption is a consequence of poverty. And poverty, in turn, undermines a sense of the common good. You are so busy making ends meet that there is little room for others. And those who have it in their hands to change that act as elites like the old colonial rulers. The Congo's political elite, for example, doesn't give a damn about its own people. President Joseph Kabila diverted about one billion US dollars from state revenues for himself - a year. Against this background, it is shameful how little the country cares about the education of its children.

But in the constitutions of many African countries, including the poorest, compulsory schooling is stipulated and very often even primary school is free.

That's true, but paper and reality are very far apart here. In rural areas in particular there are no schools and if there are, then there is a lack of teachers. I have experienced it many times myself. You're sitting across from an official in the Ministry of Education with your school concerns who hasn't received a salary for three or four months. He only listens to you when you're pushing money across the table. He wants his share, that's the way it is.

Do the elites want an unstable system so they can keep unlocking and ruling?

No, this is not a calculated goal. It's more of a mix of different reasons. A Congolese politician will tell you verbosely how he works for the population, but in fact he thinks first of providing for his clan, then of securing his power and eliminating competitors. And even if something is politically decided in the capital, Kinshasa, it takes forever for it to reach the more distant corners of this flat country. If any. Provincial governors often have different ideas.

So, as we understand it, countries like Congo are not states?

This is exactly the case in Congo and numerous other countries. The understanding that the individual Congolese is an individual with rights and has legitimate claims on the state is very weak among the elite. And what loyalty should a Congolese citizen develop if his state cannot even provide for his security? Neither security against violence nor legal certainty. In this respect, the state is something that the Congolese would prefer not to have anything to do with.

And then there are neighboring countries that have been able to develop a stable political system, such as Botswana. Participation of all groups in political power, the two largest budget items are social and health.

Botswana is a shining light among African countries in many ways. They managed to invest the tax revenue from the commodity trade in social projects and fight corruption. Countries with similar wealth could do that too, but then nepotism, tribalism and the network of mutual dependencies stand in the way.

Which countries are still on the right track when it comes to education and stability?

Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Botswana and Rwanda have made significant progress.

In view of the brutal genocide, developments in Rwanda seem astonishing.

This is also due to the special factors there. Rwanda is a small country, just as big as Hesse. This makes management easier. The administration in Rwanda is highly effective anyway. Announcements from a ministry reach even the smallest units quite quickly and can be tracked. In addition, after the genocide, a great deal of international aid flowed into the country, which was invested in sustainable projects, above all in education.

Was that the key to success?

Yes and no. Unfortunately, school education was too much geared towards academic degrees. Actually a fine thing, but today there are more university graduates in Rwanda than suitable jobs. The official youth unemployment figure was significantly lower, but I would put it closer to 40 to 50 percent. This is slowly being adjusted, for example with the dual training system from Germany, in which school and vocational training are intertwined.

In addition to the UN organizations, a whole range of NGOs run schools in the sub-Saharan countries or they arrange sponsorships so that children can go to school. Aren't those drops on hot stones? What good are 300 children in a school project if a country like Congo is not able to send its 300,000 first graders to school every year?

But that brings something. School projects are always useful. Every change for the better in a country starts with education. Knowledge is only possible with it. Awareness here means recognizing the misery in which one lives. Once I have recognized this, the will to change often follows. I have often experienced this in my own projects. These kids ask questions, they want more. And that's the only way it works. If changes are to be sustainable, they must not be imposed from outside. It has to come from society itself. And that's why school projects are important, even the small ones.

In recent years, the aid organizations have focused primarily on the education of girls. Isn't that presumptuous in countries where there is not enough schooling for either boys or girls?

There are good points for making the girls the center of attention. Girls or women have a very strong influence on the social structure. They have the children, they raise the children, they organize the household. In the Congo, but also in other African countries, women are the strong personalities. For most girls, motherhood follows after school. But if you already know that having five or more children is programmed into poverty, then the chances are good that there won't be that many. That too is a win.

School is not just school. What about the quality of the teaching?

In very simplified terms, there are two orientations in the design of lessons, both of which go back to colonial times. In the francophone countries, a classic frontal teaching prevails. In the former British colonies, teaching is more geared towards creativity and independent problem solving. In Congolese schools, the teacher stands in front of the class and yells. Teachers are scarce and their training very often leaves a lot to be desired. Sound teacher training would also be an important lever for school projects.

In the face of corruption and a weak sense of responsibility among African leaders, what form should help take in the best case?

One should stop financing projects from just one side. If it doesn't cost anything, people are happy to take it with them, but it's also worth nothing. That would have to be broken. Whether it's schools or other projects, the state in question should contribute half. It is imperative that the authorities in the African countries are held accountable. In addition, employees from the base should be included in the planning from the outset. People who know the reality of life there first-hand and can judge what is and what is not possible. This is often not the case with today's project development.

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