40 years of German development cooperation - where do we stand?

An interview with Prof. Dr. Michael Bohnet, former Head of Department at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (“BMZ”)

Ulrich Nitschke: Where do you see the greatest challenges for development cooperation policy and practice today?

Prof. Dr. Michael Bohnet: The food crisis and climate change are closely related. The tipping points of the Earth system have already been passed. The international development cooperation sector must develop adaptation strategies for this. In addition, early warning systems, disaster prevention and climate insurance must be given greater focus and need to be established. Renewable energies must be promoted and energy efficiency increased. Tropical forest and water protection and the protection of biodiversity should be absolute priorities. And then – mostly forgotten – family planning. In its bilateral cooperation, Germany currently spends one percent on family planning, despite the fact that the world population is growing so rapidly, a real threat to achieve the SDGs. Another major task is the promotion of water-efficient and organic agriculture and the support of small farmers. Strategically, development cooperation should focus on fragile states. We currently spend only 20 percent of our development cooperation on the poorest and most fragile countries, even though 1.5 billion people live in these countries. Forecasts predict that by 2030, around 80 percent of the extremely poor people will live in fragile states. A large part of German cooperation continues to be with emerging countries – the BMZ’s new list of countries includes China, India, Vietnam and Brazil. In the same list, a third of our previous cooperation with the poorest countries has been cancelled. This is of course a contrary development to what would actually be necessary.

Ulrich Nitschke: You criticize the new BMZ 2030 strategy and mention challenges that are all interlinked. Why do social, ecological and economic issues need to be considered more closely together? And why does this thinking fall apart again and again, even though it has been initiated by the Agenda 21 since 1992?

Prof. Dr. Michael Bohnet: It falls apart again because we have separated the instruments of humanitarian aid and of development cooperation in Germany. In some cases, the above-mentioned topics are considered together, but they are not operationalized together. We not only have one development ministry, but we have 13 development ministries, albeit very small ones. The Federal Foreign Office, the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Defense – they all implement development projects in partner countries. This means that the BMZ accounts for only about 40 percent of Germany’s official development assistance (ODA). We also need a step towards the Europeanization of development cooperation, and it is regrettable that no political party in Germany is really making this a serious issue.

Ulrich Nitschke: Would the Europeanization of development cooperation and humanitarian aid be a turning point for more holistic development policy with a better impact?

Prof. Dr. Michael Bohnet: My vision is to shift operational and conceptual development cooperation from the 28 capitals to Brussels. The European Union already has a wide range of instruments for development cooperation, humanitarian aid and democracy promotion. My experience has shown that at least 10 EU countries would be open to Europeanization. Resistance comes from the major donors within the EU. A certain political leadership is required, which is not so difficult to implement.

Ulrich Nitschke: Where do you see the opportunities and also the difficulties in cooperating with religiously motivated actors in development cooperation?

Prof. Dr. Michael Bohnet: First of all, I think it is necessary and feasible to examine our development programs in cooperation countries for factors that promote and hinder development, which are rooted in religion. As head of the Inspection Department, I have evaluated many projects in which both factors became visible. The added value of a development policy that takes religion into account is that many religious organizations reflect the voice of the oppressed. With regard to German colonial history, Christian-oriented missionary societies were often the only ones who spoke out against the German colonial power in Cameroon or Namibia. A further added value is that development cooperation in the areas of health and education from predominantly faith-based organizations is much more precise and grassroots oriented. Here they often represent the voice of the poor. It is also the task of faith-based organizations and foundations to promote interreligious dialogue, as this is a key issue for development cooperation.

Ulrich Nitschke: Finally, please complete this sentence: If I were to become German Development Minister tomorrow, the first thing I would do would be to…

Prof. Dr. Michael Bohnet: … merge the German KfW, Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau and the Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to form a powerful independent development organization. It is an anomaly that we keep financial and technical cooperation separate. It would take a certain amount of political courage to bring them together. Secondly, I would separate humanitarian aid from the Federal Foreign Office and link it with technical development cooperation in the BMZ in order to establish a powerful humanitarian development cooperation. But such decisions, as my experience also teaches me, are only possible if they are noted down and signed off by someone in Chancellors office and implemented in the first two days of office.

Ulrich Nitschke: Thank you very much for the visionary interview Professor.

Prof. Dr. Michael Bohnet: You’re welcome.

Faith in Development Monitor (FiDM)

five categories - 500 seconds to read

Faith and existing belief systems do not receive enough attention in global development cooperation despite the fact that human development is inseparably interwoven with worldviews. Development is taking place in all societies and cultures which are deeply influenced by religions. At the same time, faith-based organizations are among the oldest and most influential actors in global and local development cooperation. The Faith in Development Monitor (1) illustrates the relevance of religion for international development cooperation, (2) increases religious literacy among practitioners and policymakers, and (3) comprehensively explains current developments in the field of "religion and development". We encourage readers and recipients to engage in dialogue with faith-based organizations.

Next Edition:

9 March 2021


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prop.: Matthias K. Boehning (Dipl.-Oec.), Consultant Economist


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