Asfa-Wossen Asserate: If Germany really wants to help Africa…

…it has many opportunities. Most importantly, it has to question traditional concepts, in both the areas of economic policy and development aid, writes the great-nephew of the last Ethiopian emperor.
Asfa-Wossen Asserate
Asfa-Wossen Asserate

On the one hand, Germany should keep its traditional culture of welcoming. On the other, it should face the reality of the root causes of migration and flight: the biggest exporters of migrants on this planet are the African tyrants who don't offer their own people opportunities to lead a decent life in their own countries. Thanks to Western appeasement policies over the last 50 years, those dictators are supported by subsidies coming out of European taxpayers' pockets.

Culture | 23.12.2013

If Africa is to have a future, Europe first of all has to bid farewell to its disastrous economic and trade policies. It must, once and for all, stop subsidizing its agricultural industry at the expense of developing countries. It must, finally, push for effective international measures against worldwide landgrabbing which deprives the world's poor countries of their most valuable asset – arable land. Africa needs a broadly based sponsorship of rural agriculture and a ban on imported "dumping" products which undercut local food producers.

Read more: How could the German elections affect Africa?


Back-breaking work

Deep down, a miner in a rural artisanal gold mine chisels gold ore out of the earth. The shaft team is composed mainly of excavators and bag porters. Miners spend six to eight hours down the shafts each day. The work is physically demanding. At this mine, around 200 kilograms of ore must be excavated to extract one gram of gold


Sacks of rocks for a gram of gold

A miner maneuvers through a narrow tunnel junction, as his colleague waits in line. The bags of ore he has been heaving through the mine, in the direction of the mineshaft entrance, are in front of him. After agriculture, artisanal mining is the most important livelihood in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).


30 kilos per load

A bag porter carries his load downhill from the mine for processing. The porters are paid 500 Congolese Francs - about $0.35 (0.29 Euros) at current Eastern Congo exchange rates - per bag by the shaft managers, and can make up to several dollars per day. They are among the lowest earners at the mine and, at this site, are often those who have migrated from other areas.


Encased in the rock

A man kneels in front of a rock slab while breaking down gold ore with a grinding stone. Next, the remaining ore is manually ground down between two rocks to release the gold. This is a slow and arduous process; one plastic basin can take several hours to work through. Water carriers and ore porters are visible moving up and down the mine hill, in the background.


Valuable mud

A man pours ore onto a sluice. The fine ore purchased by specialist sluice teams is mixed with water and poured onto sluices. Due again to its high density, the remaining gold sediment sticks to the sluice blanket while the excess flows downhill. The sediment is then gathered and sieved in a plastic basin using mercury.


First sales

A local on-site trader assesses how much to offer for the gold a client has brought him. The gold and mercury compound seen in the trader’s plastic dish is a dull metallic grey at this point in the treatment process. Many miners will look to sell these small gold quantities to on-site traders.


Refining gold

A 'big trader' heats the gold and nitric acid over a hot stove to rid it of any remaining impurities. Big traders deal in far larger quantities of gold than the local traders; they frequently trade more than several kilograms of gold in one week. Their profit margins are smaller than the local traders, but they trade in greater volume, which assures them a much higher income.


Precious powder

After heating, the gold is weighed on an electric scale. At this stage, the gold has reached between 92 and 98 percent purity, depending on its origin.


Red-hot riches

Once melted, the gold is cast in an ingot mould. After removing the red-hot crucible from the furnace, a worker at the gold smelter pours the molten gold into a graphite ingot mould for casting. Inside the furnace, the gold reaches temperatures of 1,500 degrees Celsius. It takes around 20 minutes to melt several kilograms of gold.


Cooling period

A freshly cast gold ingot is deposited by a worker on the work surface; the ingot mould remains smoking hot.


Ready to go

With a gold content of 4.163 kilograms, this ingot has a market price on the London Fixing of about $167,056 (about 145,000 euros) on the day it was produced. Annual gold production in the eastern DRC has been estimated at more than 11 tons, but most continues to be smuggled out of the country. In 2015, official artisanal gold exports for the DRC were recorded at just 254 kilograms.

Women: the key to Africa's future

Most importantly, it is necessary to encourage African women – they are the key to Africa's future. If Africa wants to successfully deal with the problem of demographic development, it must focus on women.

Urbanization, imported judicial and economic systems, new media and modified age structures have led to dramatic changes within the social and cultural value systems in Africa. These days, one often witnesses a blend of old and new values which, especially in urban environments, become redefined again and again. Sometimes, wealth and power appear to be the dominating values in today's Africa. As a consequence, social, familial, but also administrative relationships are monetarized to a high degree. This problem, however, does not only exist in Africa. The demons of greed and voracity are on the loose all across our globalized world. Capitalism in its current shape is neither fair nor sustainable. Therefore, our key challenge in the 21st century is to reconcile market demands with humanity.

Even the best intentions can have fatal consequences. Free food aid from western countries ruins the market for local African agriculture. Rather too often development monies don't reach the people who were supposed to get them – especially, when they are transferred as direct budget support. In the hands of the ruling kleptocrats, the money turns into a tool used for retention of power, providing a lubricant for the rampant corruption.

Read more: Hamburg G20 summit marks success for Africa, failure for climate

Development aid must facilitate self-initiative

Not only western economists, like William Easterly of New York University or Scottish Nobel Prize winner in economics Angus Deaton, are now criticizing common development aid concepts as totally misguided. What is required urgently is an international "audit office for development aid," modeled on the eponymous German institution (German National Audit Office, "Bundesrechnungshof"), which examines on an annual basis how the public sector has handled taxpayer money. After all, development aid only makes sense if it actually facilitates people's self-initiative.

Africa needs the kind of development aid that is sustainable and relies on self-initiative, for one thing is certain: No one from the outside – not America, not Europe, not China – will be able to "save" Africa. The continent can only achieve that by itself, if its people regain confidence and faith in their own strength. Only then will the exodus of Africa's talent come to an end.

Africans have to take their fate into their own hands. Europe can and should help them, so that the hemorrhaging African continent can turn into a continent of the future.

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Dr. Prince Asfa-Wossen Asserate is a member of the former Ethiopian imperial dynasty who has been living in Germany for more than 40 years. He is a business consultant for Africa and the Middle East, as well as a bestselling writer and political analyst. In addition to a number of literary awards, he received Germany's Federal Cross of Merit in 2016.


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