Interview with the Ambassador Stephan Röken on March 31, 2021 in Dakar 

Ambassador Stephan Röken

Ambassador Stephan Röken will leave Senegal at the end of July 2021 after four years.During this time, he has experienced and helped shape a unique turning point in German-Senegalese political and economic relations.

SenGermany: Mr. Ambassador, until two years ago, the Federal Republic of Germany had limited its development cooperation with Senegal to renewable energies. What has changed in the meantime?

Ambassador Röken: Until 2019, the promotion of energy efficiency and renewable energies was the focus of German development cooperation with Senegal. Since 2019, we have entered a new era, when an agreement on a reform partnership was concluded between Development Minister Gerd Müller and Senegalese Minister of Economy, Planning and Cooperation Amadou Hott. This instrument of the German government is characterized by the fact that it supports local partners in implementing their own reform programs. Germany and Senegal have agreed on four topics here. The aim is to promote private-sector development in the country, create jobs and boost value creation. This should also make the country more attractive as an investment location.

SenGermany: How are these reform processes articulated?

Ambassador Röken: The four reform areas are labor law, land law, vocational training and financing for small and medium-sized enterprises. Last year, Germany supported Senegal with commitments of 178 million Euros. That is an enormous amount, even by African standards. Of this amount, 100 million Euros were budget support for aid measures directly related to the Covid-19 crisis. The other 78 million Euros have been divided between the individual fields of the reform partnership, renewable energies and projects to combat the causes of flight ("Réussir au Sénégal"). Our main concern this year is to make progress in vocational training.

SenGermany: If progress is now to be made in vocational training, do you already have your sights set on specific sectors?

Ambassador Röken: Our implementing organizations (GIZ and KfW) are working with Senegalese partners to identify the sectors that are most promising for job creation. One example is refrigeration technology - everyone knows that fish in Senegal is almost only sold on the coast because there is no possibility to transport it food-safe all the way inland. Regardless of the sector, however, the most important question remains how we can best link vocational training to the labor market. A very good education is of little use, if the people who have been trained cannot find a job later on.

The Senegalese vocational school for fishery and aquaculture

SenGermany: In this area, we visited a vocational school for the fishing industry last year. It was founded in 1963. There are only three of these schools on the entire African continent: in Morocco, South Africa and Thiaroye in Senegal. Students from the Comoros even come to Thiaroye because it is the only francophone training center in Africa. We want to bring this vocational school together with Nordenham, Lower Saxony. And the company Ziegra, which manufactures ice cream machines, also comes from Isernhagen near Hanover in Lower Saxony. We want to support a partnership between this German federal state and the vocational school in Senegal.

Ambassador Röken: I think that's a good initiative. In Senegal, we offer the German development cooperation's global program "Special Initiative on Training and Employment." This supports companies that either already have partners in Senegal, or want to join forces with companies here. The German Investment and Development Company, AfricaGrow and AfricaConnect, are also involved in this project.

SenGermany: Hardly any country in this world is as centrally administered as Senegal, and Germany had promoted decentralization for a while. Then decentralization was taken over by a centrally governed country like France. More than 50% of the economic output is generated in the greater Dakar area, and the hinterland remains barren. Seen from federalist Germany, this sounds strange. Are there plans intended to resume decentralization in German-Senegalese economic cooperation? 

Discussion about a SenGermany e.V. project as part of a program of the CIM (Centre for international Migration and Development)

Ambassador Röken: Decentralization of state structures is always a political process. In Germany, we rely on a federal tradition with a great deal of autonomy for the municipalities. Meanwhile, the Senegalese government has launched important rural development programs. Germany is involved with a program for the electrification of 300 villages.

SenGermany: As part of the remaining 78 million Euros in development aid programs approved by the German government, is there funding for the private sector to develop inland?

Ambassador Röken: The "Special Initiative on Training and Employment" that I mentioned is a program that works not only with government structures, but also cooperates directly with companies. One example is Hansen Basketry, which aims to develop the basketry industry in Podor in northern Senegal on the border with Mauritania. Support here is primarily given to companies that have the potential to create jobs.

SenGermany: You have seen how fruits and vegetables rot under the trees after the harvest seasons because they cannot be processed in the rural areas. People remain poor even though they are sitting on wealth.

Ambassador Röken: Without being an expert in this sector myself, I think there is a lack of business management knowledge. It's about skills that can be learned. Opportunities for financing already exist. That's one of the four topics of our reform partnership. In fact, it is difficult for start-up companies not having a business history to get credits in Senegal. Banks prefer to work with established companies. But there are many programs from different donors and soon also from KfW, so that such financing problems can be solved.

SenGermany: It is bad enough when fresh fruit and vegetables come from Morocco, but it is even worse when the produce rots under the trees because it cannot be processed into jam, juice or dried fruit. Knowledge is also lacking in this area. What could an exchange of know-how with German companies look like so that added value can be generated in Senegal and new jobs can be created?

Ambassador Röken: A company that produces fruit juice or jam must be able to manufacture these products in such a way that they are competitive on the markets. That is often easier said than done. You know the peanut market, for example. Here, attempts have been made for years to process the peanuts in Senegal into peanut oil. This is actually a very sensible thing to do. We really want value creation to take place in Senegal. However, we have to realize time and again that the peanut harvests are largely bought up by traders who offer better prices. Why should a peanut farmer sell to the peanut oil industry for less money when he gets more money from the Indian or Chinese exporters? Again, I think that the underlying causes are business management problems.

SenGermany: Now let us turn to the issue of reintegration of Senegalese citizens from Germany. We are now at least in the second generation. At SenGermany, for example, the children of engineers have become engineers and the children of economists have become economists and business economists. This also applies to teachers, craftsmen, etc. Many of our compatriots would like to use their knowledge from Germany in Senegal or found companies here. Are there programs for such people willing to return?

Ambassador Röken: Senegalese working in Germany form a bridge between our countries, which is also important for economic relations. The "Special Initiative on Training and Employment" also opens up many opportunities for Senegalese citizens living in Germany, just as the DEG support programs and the planned KfW programs for financing small and medium-sized enterprises.

The 4th German-Senegalese Economic Forum organized by SenGermany e.V.

SenGermany: Our association has already organized three business days in Düsseldorf, Duisburg and Frankfurt am Main with German and Senegalese companies to promote economic relations between the two countries. Should you want to hold the next event in Senegal, what contribution could the German Embassy make?

Ambassador Röken: Numerous business delegations from various associations come here from Germany. You can ask about funding opportunities for such trips at the Chamber of Commerce Abroad in Ghana, which is responsible for the whole of West Africa.

SenGermany: What is the potential of Germany in Senegal?

Ambassador Röken: The potential has increased a lot in the last years, due to the above mentioned reform partnership. Germany and Senegal are now working closely together in many sectors. Bilateral relations have also been broad-based for a long time now: German political foundations and cultural institutions have been working here for years: the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation, the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, the Heinrich-Böll Foundation, the Rosa-Luxemburg Foundation and the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation. In the cultural sphere, there is also the Goethe-Institut, the German Academic Exchange Service and the German Historical Institute. Moreover, we have many political ties: Senegal and Germany are partners in Mali in the UN organization MINUSMA. We both share an interest in stability and security in the Sahel. There are clear common interests between the two countries, and these will continue to develop in the coming years.

SenGermany: ...But hardly any private sector relations between the two countries!

Ambassador Röken: This is exactly where the Compact with Africa initiative takes effect, which has brought Senegal much more into the focus of economic relations. From a business perspective, Senegal is one of the most interesting countries in West Africa. I therefore expect that German companies looking at the markets in West Africa in the future will look first to Senegal.

Mr. Ambassador, thank you so much for the interview.

Interview conducted by Ibrahim Guèye


Ambassador Röken, an inhabitant of Dortmund in Senegal


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