Speech by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel on the presentation of the German Africa Award to Juliana Rotich in Berlin on 23 October 2019
Fellow members of the German Bundestag,
Ladies and gentlemen,
And most importantly, Julia Rotich,
During Germany’s G20 Presidency in 2017, one of the events I attended was the Women20 Dialogue Forum, a panel discussion in Berlin. We talked about how more can be done to support women in social, political and economic leadership roles. Juliana Rotich, a successful young entrepreneur, was also at this event. I have very vivid memories of how much she inspired the audience with her beliefs and ideas.
Ms Rotich, you have demonstrated an outstanding sense of what matters in social policy, as well as entrepreneurial expertise, particularly as regards digital advances in Africa. As a result, you are receiving the German Africa Award today, and I can only congratulate the jury on choosing you as the winner. Allow me to take this opportunity to congratulate you in person now.
How does innovation start? It always begins with the courage to call things into question and the refusal to accept things as they are. And many people in Africa demonstrate the courage to take risks and to try something new.
In the Horn of Africa region, for example, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed showed great courage and strength in opening up his country’s economic and political system. He was awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for this and for his endeavours to achieve peace with Eritrea.
Following decades of dictatorship, the people in the Sudan can now also hope for peaceful and democratic coexistence, even if there is no doubt whatsoever that the challenges are still enormous.
The progress in the path to founding an African Continental Free Trade Area is also a welcome development. The launch of the operational phase of the free trade area in late May was a major milestone on this path. The fact that the Niger was able to host an African Union conference for the first time was also a great milestone for the country. I hope that the goal of a free trade area will be achieved and that intra-African trade can gain significant momentum.
Not only do these and many other new developments demonstrate courage, they also encourage people. Ms Rotich, you are one of the people who have taken on this responsibility and role-model function. You fight for greater political ownership and transparency. And you do so with the help of new technologies. With the open-source platform Ushahidi and the tech firm BRCK, which you co-founded and co‑developed, you have shown how innovative IT products can improve the day‑to‑day lives of many, many people.
Ushahidi has been translated into more than 30 languages and is used in many countries to shed more light on current events and to create transparency, be this for the purpose of crisis response or election observation. Civil-society engagement has thus been strengthened in a very concrete way. BRCK’s multi-connector device is sold all over the world. Even in crisis situations, it ensures that people can communicate without any problems. In a nutshell, Ms Rotich, it is thanks not least to you that “IT Made in Africa” is in demand worldwide.
Africa is a rapidly developing market for information and communications technology. Whether we are talking about the healthcare system, the education system, the financial sector or other services, digital progress can be seen almost everywhere. This often takes the form of huge technological leaps forward, whereby obsolete technologies are simply bypassed in favour of the latest tech developments.
I also want us here in Germany to be aware of this so we don’t wake up one day and discover that our passion for paper files has blinded us to how quickly the world is turning in other places. For example, in Kenya, where Ms Rotich hails from, mobile payment is already far more widespread than it is here in Germany. You can receive and send money on your phone in Kenya, even if you don’t have a bank account. That enables you to pay bills and do other business transactions. Without this, many micro-enterprises in Africa would go out of business or wouldn’t exist in the first place.
Start-ups are breathing new life into Africa’s economy with innovative ideas and the use of key technologies such as blockchain and 3D printing. Nairobi has been regarded as Silicon Savannah for years. And co-working spaces have simply mushroomed. Naturally, such developments are not found all over Africa. But the potential for them exists in many places. And this potential should be used.
The Strategic Partnership Digital Africa launched by the Federal Government also makes use of this potential. It helps to forge ties between local partners and the European business and development cooperation sectors. The aim is to develop business ideas and put them into practice. I would also like to mention the initiative, Make-IT in Africa, through which the Federal Government has already helped over 190 tech start-ups in 23 African countries since 2017 to set up their business and make contacts. We also strengthen local ecosystems for tech start-ups through this initiative. As a co-founder of the iHub in Nairobi, Ms Rotich, you know how important strong networks and supportive institutions are.
When I was in Ghana last year, I spoke with several young entrepreneurs who have successfully launched their products and services on the market thanks to their truly astounding ideas. They work in a very wide range of sectors, including renewable energies, food, agricultural technologies, health, education, and of course software. However, these young entrepreneurs also told me about how hard it is to find investors.
That is precisely where our Compact with Africa comes in. Twelve African countries are already part of it. Our aim is to improve the parameters for long-term private-sector investment and employment. I am pleased that I will have the opportunity to host the Heads of State and Government of the Compact with Africa countries again at a conference in Berlin in November.
In order to support the initiative, we have set up a new fund through which additional venture capital will be provided to existing African funds. The target groups are African start-ups and micro-enterprises. A lack of capital should not prevent good ideas from being turned into success stories.
Women in particular have good ideas that they can use to foster development and transformation. That is why we also provide support from Germany to a large number of companies in Africa that were founded by women. However, not only do we support female entrepreneurs at the national level, we also help them via multilateral initiatives, particularly through the G7 and the G20. For example, we launched the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative at the G20 Summit in Hamburg in 2017. By the way, the idea for this came from the Women20 Dialogue Forum I mentioned earlier on. Another initiative is the #eSkills4Girls that we launched in Hamburg. The idea here is to enable girls and women in developing and emerging countries to be able to make use of digital opportunities in the same way as boys and men. And at this year’s G7 Summit in Biarritz, France, we expressly stated that one of our priorities is to promote female entrepreneurship. On the German side, we underlined this statement with a pledge to provide 30 million euros to the African Development Bank’s funding programme for women.
We realise that we can provide incentives on the political side and improve the parameters for entrepreneurship. In this way, we are also trying to – let me put it this way – persuade more and more German firms to do business with Africa. You sometimes need to use the art of persuasion here because certain stereotypical images still prevail. At the start of today’s event, you saw a map that showed the world from the Germans’ perspective. Unfortunately, it is still the case that many people associate Africa with problems rather than opportunities. I can only urge us not to miss the boat here, but rather to recognise the opportunities in Africa. We have a lot to do.
But role models like you, Ms Rotich, inspire and motivate us. Your achievements also empower many other women. You show what and how much one can change in the economy, society and other countries with good ideas and determination. We need people like you who have the courage to try new things and thus inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
That is why I would like to say that the jury made an excellent decision in choosing to present the German Africa Award to Juliana Rotich. I am certain that you will not only see this prize as a tribute to your hard work, but also as a motivation. I am very interested to see what ideas you will come up with next. I wish you every success. Once again, allow me to offer you my warmest congratulations. All the best!
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