Interview with Frank Heinrich, Member of the Bundestag

Frank Heinrich

SenGermany: According to your curriculum vitae you come from Freiburg. How did you get from Freiburg to Chemnitz?

Heinrich: Because of my professional career. I studied social pedagogy in Freiburg. Then I decided together with my wife to work full-time as a pastor at the Salvation Army. We completed our training course in Basel and were thereafter sent for our first job to Chemnitz. That is the reason why we ended up in Saxony.

SenGermany: Freiburg is per se the solar city in Germany, and you deal with water. How do you get from solar energy to water?

Heinrich: There are two reasons for this: Freiburg is also the greenest German city. And this has indeed something to do with water. At the Salvation Army there are three key issues worldwide, which are HIV/AIDS, Human Trafficking and Water. Of course, when this topic came on the agenda at the Committee for Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, that was a win-win situation for me.

SenGermany: How was the interest in Africa aroused and when?

Heinrich: When I was preparing for the Bundestag in 2009, I mentally thought: This is it. Africa! And I can still remember how a sentence developed in my head, reading: "Big Brother Africa". When we thereafter established our team with staff members, I told them in the first week already that one of my five major priorities will be Africa. The first one is Chemnitz, the second and third are my two committees, followed by Africa and children.

SenGermany: Then you left Canada behind, although you had been studying there.

Heinrich: Yes. Over there, I was a member of the Parliamentary Group, but not more.

SenGermany: Let us now elaborate on the topic Africa. Have you ever been to Senegal?

Heinrich: No, unfortunately not yet. This is really a missing part.

SenGermany: Then we will now find out more about Senegal. Let me briefly introduce Senegal to you. In Senegal, elections have been held since 1848.

Heinrich: I am aware of this fact.

SenGermany: In our Parliament we have 43% women. So far, you have only 36% here in the Bundestag.

Heinrich: Exactly.

SenGermany: In the last 40 years we elected four State Presidents, just as four Federal Chancellors were elected in Germany. Our current State President Macky Sall visited Germany three times since being elected in 2012, and he also travelled to Saxony (Dresden) in 2015. This means for us that the time has now come for you, as member of the Bundestag, to visit Senegal.

Official Visit of Senegal’s President Macky Sall to Chancellor Angela Merkel on March 2014, Berlin

Heinrich: While I can hardly beat your President's frequency of travel. Up to now, I visited Africa once or twice a year during my membership in the Bundestag. That is already a deal too much for some people in my electoral district.

SenGermany: For what reason?

Heinrich: Since I am working in Germany, in particular. In Berlin and in my electoral district in Chemnitz.

SenGermany: Let us assume, the Federal Chancellor pays a visit to Africa and Senegal, would you be on this journey too?

Heinrich: If she takes me along, I would aspire to be involved. When the Federal President travels, or perhaps the Development Minister Gerd Müller, it may well be that I am asked to accompany them, since I can be a voice for Africa. For instance, I already travelled with the Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to South Africa.

SenGermany: Let us now talk about your event Business meets Africa, a topic already treated in the Bundestag by your colleague Andreas Lämmel. How did you hit on the idea to introduce such a topic in your electoral district in Chemnitz, where Africa is no familiar issue?

Heinrich: Exactly for that reason. The primary motivation is that Africa shall come to be known in Chemnitz. When Africa is perceived in Saxony, then especially by using one of these old words: crisis, disaster, hunger, all those things which are negative. I would rather prefer to act according to the motto "Big Brother Africa". In doing so, I would like to not only talk about my topic in Berlin, but also take this chance for Chemnitz. I realize that Africa has a lot of potential as a continent, and now I want to credibly demonstrate this chance in Chemnitz. For this reason I initiated round tables in Berlin on the topic Water, and in Chemnitz "Business meets Africa". These projects turned out to be very successful in the last two years.

“6th Africa meets business on 15 March 2016 at the Bundestag”

SenGermany: In 2016 you organize the Business meets Africa event for the third time now. Has the date already been fixed?

Heinrich: Yes, it will take place on 16 June 2016 (at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry).

SenGermany: What African people did you invite?

Heinrich: We invited all Ambassadors from Africa, or their Business Attachés. Many of them agreed to come. We will welcome as our guests both the Ambassadors from Africa, and also business representatives from Chemnitz and from our region. Because we want these people to meet.

SenGermany: Have you also scheduled a table for the engineers coming from Senegal?

Heinrich: Of course. We will make such arrangements for all embassies that register for the event.

SenGermany: I also inferred from the records that you deal with Europe. You speak about Africa as a neighboring continent. What would you do from the Bundestag or from Chemnitz for Africa at European level?

Heinrich: First of all I wish that we meet at eye level, when it comes to the different topics. For too long we did not talk to the "Big Brother", but to the "Little Sister Africa". "We must help", was the motto. Well intentioned, but often ill done. Vice versa, Africa addressed us alike. Sometimes until today, in a tone like "Make investments here" - and there was no project in which we were able to invest. What is needed for investment is a concept, mineral resources alone are not sufficient. We should meet at eye level. I wish that the German Foreign Office, just like the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) know exactly what they have and value about Africa. Firstly, I would like to take this goal into the public. Secondly I want that our Ministries collaborate across disciplines. The Ministry of Economics, the BMZ, the German Foreign Office and the other Ministries shall develop a joint concept for Africa policy, unlike a situation where each Ministry develops its own concept. I'm in the process of submitting an application to the Bundestag, in order to combine these efforts into a bundle.

SenGermany: At your event 2015 you said that Africa's population will double by 2050. One thing always surprising me is how people in Europe speak of Africa's population. Everybody says: The population will double and we must do something, but nobody analyzes the situation properly, at least this is my feeling. Even if Africa's population doubles in the next 20 years, we currently encounter a population density of 30 inhabitants per Km2 in Africa. In Germany, we have as many as 230 inhabitants per Km2, and in the Netherlands even more than 400 inhabitants per Km2, and nobody says that there is no longer any space in Holland. If the African population doubles in 20 years, we would encounter a population density of 60 inhabitants per Km2. The real problem, however, lies in the emergence of megacities.

Africa: 21% of the earth’s surface with 30 inhabitants per km2

Heinrich: Ganz genau. Heinrich: Exactly. I fully agree with you, and it is precisely in the megacities where the question of water and sewage is decisive.

SenGermany: Today, Lagos has a population of 13 million inhabitants and Dakar of 2.5 million already. It is most likely that 30 million will be living in Lagos and 5 million in Dakar in 20 years. It will thus no longer be possible to get to grips with environmental problems and also water supply. I wonder why there is no statement by Germany like: Population density is not the biggest problem in Africa, but rather decentralization. Germany is a country, which is decentralized. How can we help the Africans to decentralize their economy and population?

Heinrich: So far, I rarely perceived discussions about the population density as a priority concern of the Ambassadors involved. But I can see that, in the last few years, the Federal Government has understood that the decentralization topic represents one of the major factors. The BMZ has invested a major part of its budget in decentralization.

SenGermany: But two years ago, the BMZ removed decentralization from the Development Aid Program with Senegal, although no country is to such an extent structured in a centralized way. Can you support us in having the decentralization issue included in the program again?

Heinrich: But you know that the items on the program agenda are not defined by us - I mean the BMZ -, but by the country subscribing for the program package.  There are of course talks with each other, but a country may select the items and for Senegal the decentralization issue was no longer a priority and was removed from the package accordingly.

SenGermany: Senegal is no longer among the A-countries, but is one of the B-countries. Hence, the decentralization issue was taken out, and now Germany is only promoting renewable energies. We as connoisseurs of both countries see other priorities and ask for your support.

Heinrich: I will actually check this matter and, if then possible, render support. But please be so kind as to promote it in Senegal as well.

SenGermany: You are a member of the Africa Group in the Bundestag, by the way since when?

Heinrich: Since 2013. There is a logical reason for that. I was a member of five Parliamentary Groups, including two African Country Groups. Then I wanted to focus on priorities. Right now I am only a member of the African Parliamentary Groups.

SenGermany: Tell us about the work done in these groups.

Heinrich: In the Parliamentary Groups the priority is to exchange information with the colleagues working at parliamentary level in the countries concerned. There are often government consultations, followed by a meeting of the Ministers and the Heads of State, but those having to represent the country never even get into contact. A lot of questions are to be raised: How does an electoral system work? How does the parliamentary procedure work? How much power do the Parliaments have? How does the civil society work? And therefore we meet several times during a legislative period in the country concerned, and once or twice a group from this region comes to us. We meet with journalists, with NGOs, parliamentarians, occasionally also with government representatives, so as to learn about the countries in terms of their form of government and culture. And they come to us, in order to do the same. To understand and to build bridges.

SenGermany: Did you receive delegates from Senegal already?

Heinrich: We received delegates from Senegal here in Germany. There were two meetings, attended by a delegation from Senegal.

SenGermany: Let us get back to the problems incurred in Mali with the Islamists. What we fear in Senegal is that an attack will happen someday there, like unfortunately in Burkina Faso and Côte d'Ivoire.

Heinrich: Because Senegal is likewise a central and important place, is this what you mean?

SenGermany: What we do not want, however, is that aid is not provided until after the attack. I realized that Tunisia got massive help, since it has suffered so many attacks. But this is precisely what we do not want. We should now already make sure that the same happens in Senegal. The reason why I am saying this, is that all West Africans feel at home in Senegal. Attacks in Senegal mean it's over. How can we make the matters we are discussing here known in the Bundestag?

Heinrich: You must clearly transmit your message at all levels, both in the diplomatic arena and also in your area, the business sector. Especially the non-state voices are what we sometimes hear very loudly, since they are more impartial. When a politician comes from Senegal and is telling me such things, I always have to ask myself on what political motivation his statements are based. Nevertheless the parliamentarians and government bodies should likewise pipe up. A biased opinion can actually be held on their side as well. Therefore please invite people to contact us and the Federal Government.

SenGermany: Let us now talk about your favorite topic Water: ocean, groundwater, nutrition, cleanliness, hygiene, which one do you prefer?

Heinrich: I am really happy that the topic of Water comes up, also in view of my electoral district, since this is a very concrete topic. We live in a region of Germany, where the water is firstly of good quality and secondly richly available. When we look at the MDGs, which we formulated in 2000, we realize: all goals have something to do with water: health, hygiene, education. Girls do not go to school, since they must fetch some water during school time. That means, virtually every facet of society has something to do with water, which is why I am that much interested in that topic.

SenGermany: You mentioned the MDGs. Now we have the SDGs, and SDG Number 14 refers to life under water. Which for example means fishery. A big problem in Senegal, since we are among the largest fish exporters in the world. We invited for November 4, 2016 - and please feel invited now already - a trade delegation from Senegal including the Industry Minister and specialists from the fishing industry. If things go on like this, all experts say, there will no longer be any fish in the ocean in the year 2050. Have you already appealed for solving this problem in the Bundestag?

SDG Number 14: “Life below water” presents a big challenge for the Senegalese fishery.

Heinrich: This topic is indirectly related to water, since water is the site of events. Water as a human right is however not affected by that topic, and this is really not my area of expertise. I myself only know about this topic from the media, which is why I do not feel qualified to make comments on that issue. In one aspect I do not share your conviction, namely saying that there will no longer be any fish in the ocean in 50 years. Let me formulate the sentence a bit differently: If we continue behaving as we have until now, that will indeed be the resulting situation in 50 years. But I do not believe that we keep on going that way.

SenGermany: In Germany, that result has apparently occurred already. On the Baltic Sea there is almost no sign of fish and a lot of fish species have virtually disappeared. And there is the risk that this will sometime happen in West Africa.

Heinrich: We must create international laws and enter into treaties in that respect. Just now we are standing at the beginning of our possibilities. But for that purpose we need the economy and its know-how. If these business people still want to earn money in 30 or 50 years, they must change something. What counts in the end is the return on investment. In five or ten years, at the latest, we have them on board - I am very confident about that. So I see a good chance. But they must understand the importance of the way in which things develop in the light of their own income in 10 or 20 years, not as late as in 50 years.

Mr. Heinrich, thank you so much for this Interview.

Interview conducted by Ibrahim Guèye

Joomla templates by a4joomla