Matthias Rompel is the head of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in Ethiopia, the implementing agency for German development cooperation in the country. He has held this position for the last one year. Recently, he sat down with The Reporter’s Samuel Getachew to reflect on the historic partnership the institution has enjoyed with Ethiopia, on some of the highlights of its work in education and construction of universities in the past and others: Excerpts
The Reporter: Share with me the highlights of the work GIZ conducts in Ethiopia?
Matthias Rompel: One of the highlights of the work GIZ conducts on behalf of the German government is providing assistance in key sectors that drive development in Ethiopia. For example, we work in education sector with our program for sustainable training and education. The key focus of this program is on vocational training, TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training). The reasons we focus on this is because creating jobs is the key driver for economic development and creates prospect for the growing population.
In the past two decades, massive structural measures have resulted in the construction of universities and vocational schools across the country. Today, Ethiopia has more than 40 universities, compared to just below 5 at the beginning of the 90’s. Between 2011 and 2015, the number of vocational schools almost doubled to more than 900.
Many challenges remain, however, including teaching staff that is not suitably qualified, quality standards that are inadequate or non-existent and courses that lack practical relevance. In Ethiopia’s TVET sector, Germany has helped introduce a cooperative vocational training system, a model we are most proud of. We assist in putting the requisite legal framework in place for this arrangement.
In addition, vocational schools are given support to involve businesses to a greater degree in their training operations. Improvements in vocational and higher education systems benefit more than 350,000 students enrolled in vocational colleges and more than 750,000 studying at universities in 2015. By the end of 2016, more than 6,100 vocational school teachers had completed training at more than 900 vocational colleges.
By early 2017, more than 2,500 specialists from the vocational and higher education sector, as well as small entrepreneurs, had received training in business management, technology transfer, teaching and other topics. By imparting their knowledge, they act as multipliers for better quality instruction and market-oriented product developments.
Furthermore, we continue to work in natural resource management programs, agriculture and food security and sustainable use of resources. For example, in land management, biodiversity, forestry and supporting the sustainability of Ethiopia’s textiles sector which works with industrial parks are among some of our engagements.
You have experience working mostly on the development sectors in Malawi and now in Ethiopia. Is development, poverty all the same across the continent?
Indeed, I have worked in a couple of African countries: Namibia, Botswana, recently Malawi – and have now been in Ethiopia for a year. The approaches in developing pathways for sustainable development are quite different. This is because they are tailored to the specific conditions and environments in their respective countries.
Here in Ethiopia, I am excited about the commitment of our partners in government about the clear vision, the technical abilities and the strong development orientation of government actions.
Germany has a strong partnership with Ethiopia from the construction of universities to the building of condominiums in the early 2000’s. How do you describe German aid in Ethiopia and what is its ultimate purpose?
GIZ and its predecessors have been working in Ethiopia on behalf of the German government since 1964. In line with the Ethiopian Government’s objectives, German development cooperation with Ethiopia currently focuses on the priority areas such as a labor market-oriented education and training, sustainable land management, urban development and housing, Agriculture and food supply and biodiversity. Our biggest GIZ country portfolio in Sub-Saharan Africa is here in Ethiopia. These programs did not just grow recently. We have a long and strong tradition here in Ethiopia.
And you mentioned some examples. We worked on behalf of German government, and jointly with the Ethiopian government, in the past, on urban development and housing, building universities and many others. The ultimate purpose of our work as GIZ is to improve living conditions of people in Ethiopia. We want to shape a future worth living– in Ethiopia and around the world.
What is the one area where German aid has worked as envisioned and GIZ has explored in other societies?
We work on many topics and sectors around the world – in some 130 countries.
But, of course, many countries ask us for support in areas where Germany is regarded to be leading such as in TVET, creating conducive business environments and on introduction and development of social protection systems.
What is GIZ’s current and future work towards digitalization? (e.g. the GEBI entrepreneurship app you worked with ICEaddis)?
Indeed, we see ourselves as an innovative partner for digital solutions that promote development. That is because digital solutions have the potential to leapfrog development. We have witnessed great examples of this in other African countries like Kenya, where mobile money transfers are in the meantime being used by most rural farmers.
Here in Ethiopia, we develop digital solutions in nearly all sectors. Some of the drivers of innovation, as ICEaddis are indeed itself a spin-off of a GIZ project. We were instrumental in our ECBP (Engineering Capacity Development Program) to kick-off ICEaddis in 2008, while it became fully independent as an enterprise in 2015.
A few examples of digital solutions are in entrepreneurial education in universities, where we supported the development of GEBI, an entrepreneurship training app for smartphones.
GEBI is a comprehensive entrepreneurship course delivered on an Android app. Users learns to start their own businesses. GEBI offers students the opportunity to learn and apply tested startup approaches.
In our programs for rural development and agriculture, we are supporting the introduction of remote sensing and satellite imaging as intelligence for improved yields and productivity for smallholder farmers. Moreover, we work on helping establish market information systems to make sure the value of agricultural products ends with the farmer and not with the middle-man buying produce at the farm-gate.
Furthermore, in textile parks, we are working with partners to introduce resource planning tools for textile companies to enable them run the enterprise more efficiently and match the supply and demand.
GIZ works in universities and TVET centers on technology transfer and university-Industry linkage. What has worked well so far and what is the future plan?
We work with selected universities such as Mekelle and Hawassa on improved university-industry linkage and technology transfer. This is to make sure the university trains towards the demand of the market and the needs of the industry. On the other hand, we invite selected enterprises to come to campus with their realities and make this part of the teaching.
My last question I want to ask you about your formative years in Germany. Where were you when the Wall (Between east and west) came down and what was your impression?
I was still in high school. For all Germans, that was unexpected moment of history. To see that change where the two Germany sides became one was a sudden surprise and it was very emotional to be reunited again after a long separation. I was like most Germans; I was really happy. It took us a long time to digest it and become one in reality, including the mindset and economic levels.
I think I draw on some of these experiences also in my work in Africa. The economic success of Germany is built on its people. We do not have many natural resources in our country, so we rely on the education of the people and their innovation capacity.
These holds true for Africa and for Ethiopia. Ensuring that people are educated enough might be a key driver for the economic growth of the country. Another success factor for Germany is our involvement in the European Union and its common market. Likewise, Ethiopia is a member state of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and more regional integration might be a pathway for more economic growth and improved peace and security.