WHEN I was leaving the Berlin-based International Institute for Journalism (IIJ) last year, I told my friends, during our farewell party, that I would be back to Berlin, though I did not know when.
Of course, I had every reason to go back to Germany because I enjoyed the best of the country. I had the honour of being one of the journalists who were privileged to be there before and during the 2006 world cup tournament which the nation hosted under the slogan: “A Time To Make Friends”. They lived up to expectation.
Although I had openly told friends that I would be back, I did not think it would be just 16 months later.
I was therefore pleasantly surprised when my former school invited me recently as one of 10 African alumni to embark on a two-week fact-finding mission to Germany and Belgium.
The aim of the programme was to enhance the knowledge of Africans about German and European development co-operation and partnership projects with Africa. It formed part of the “Partnership With Africa” initiative launched by German President, Horst Koehler two years ago.
With this in mind, the IIJ of InWENT, for the first time, invited us from “reform-oriented countries in sub-Saharan Africa”.
As part of the package, we were informed that we would have the opportunity to talk to high ranking individuals in the areas of politics, industry, the media and civil society organisations.
Unlike my previous visit to Germany when I was the only Ghanaian journalist in the midst of 14 others from seven countries, I was not lonely this time.
My colleagues, Isabella and Marian, were with me and so we could speak our most cherished Ghanaian languages when the need arose. We were the highest number – three – followed by Nigeria which had two journalists. Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Cote D'Ivoire and Zambia, had one journalist each.
In fact, we spoke Twi so much that a Nigerian journalist, Sola, would laugh and say, “this Ghanaian solidarity must break”, anytime he saw us.
On arrival at Tegel Airport, Berlin, on Sunday, October 21, a lovely young lady, Nora, who would be with us throughout our stay, met us.
Her affection, humility, alertness and genuineness were evident. She took us to an elegant hotel, Suite Hotel (don't be deceived by the name. we were not in individual suites as the name might suggest) where we lodged for a week before leaving for Brussels, Belgium.
I would just not be able to recount all the places, organizations and individuals we visited in Germany. But, I would always cherish our meeting with the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Dr Horst Koehler, on Monday, October 22, in his office at Schloss Bellvue in Berlin.
The simplicity associated with him and his security personnel within that huge edifice was amazing.
Perhaps, a lesson for African leaders that their security does not lie in the ostentatious display of firearms and arrogant security personnel who think muscular brawn means maximum security.
We had frank and open discussions with President Koehler, who until his presidency, was the Managing Director of the Washington-based International Monetary Fund.
In fact, his former position put him in a better stead to talk about issues such as globalization, the need for fair world trade policies and the double standards of developed economies in their dealings with smaller economies like those in sub-Saharan Africa.
It was really thrilling to sit at the same table with him to discuss such topical issues.
The President told us that President J.A. Kufuor and Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, the Asantehene, were among the reform-minded African leaders he had invited to the 3rd African–German forum at Eberbach, a few kilometres away from the busy city of Frankfurt.
After the discussion with the President, I understood why the German media and public refer to the man as “Africa's Best Friend”.
Trust me; I scribbled something to represent the good image of my dear country abroad as well as to register my presence at Schloss Bellvue, in the visitors' book. We took both individual and group photographs with the President.
I hope to keep mine so well and show it to the officials at the German Embassy in Accra anytime I want a visa. Who knows, it may facilitate or enhance my chance of acquiring another German visa.
Among the numerous activities in Berlin were meetings at the Bundestag (German parliament) with the Christian Democratic Union, the Social Democratic Party and the Alliance 90/The Greens.
At these separate meetings, we looked at the development policies of the various political parties and the attention Africa received in those policies.
At ZDF, the second German Television, we held a lengthy discussion with management and criticised the Western media for the usually stereotype image painted of Africa.
Our Kenyan colleague, Mildred Ngesa, a worthy ambassador of Africa, called that image “the fly in the eye picture of Africa”.
On the evening of Tuesday, October 3, we had special invitation through our teacher, Carola Kaps, a seasoned journalist of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), to attend the 43rd Independence anniversary of Zambia.
Please take note, we did that in Berlin and not Lusaka. Hence, we interviewed General Godwin Kingsley Chinkuli, the ambassador, and not President Levy Mwanawasa.
Our Zambian colleague, Grace Kasungami, was happy as she had the opportunity to enjoy her native dishes in far away Germany.
Transparency International, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, the German Chambers of Industry and Commerce and Lo'Nam, a Geman-African media house fell within our itinerary.
We took a day off, on Saturday, for some shopping in Berlin before leaving for Belgium. Eka, her husband, Mandu, and their new baby, hosted us to some wonderful dishes on Saturday night.
We crowned the dining and wining with some syncopating African music and great dance. For the first time since our arrival in the wintry weather, most of us saw beads of sweat trickling down our forehead and we remembered our tropical and homely Africa.
The least said about the Saturday shopping the better as some of us had the misfortune of carrying our heavy luggage with us from city to city (Berlin, Brussels and Frankfurt).
THE FOOD EPISODE
Our welcome dinner in the European Union and Belgian, capital, Brussels, was not as welcoming as we had anticipated. The food was too little that we thought it was the starter, and that the main course would arrive later. Guess our feelings when we learnt the reality.
In any case, the loss in our food was compensated for in the beauty and class of our hotel, the elegant Renaissance Brussels Hotels.
We had thought that the greater part of the work had been done in Berlin: we were completely mistaken when Ms. Andrea Thalemann, our trainer, took us to the various European Union and European Commission institutions for interviews and discussions.
The frenetic nature of the schedule, coupled with the single digit temperature and incessant rains in Brussels, was a really rare challenge.
On Thursday, November 1, we returned to Germany and lodged in the Frankfurt-based Hotel Concorde. The next day saw us on our way to Wiesbaden by train (50 minutes away) to pitch camps at the Achat City hotel, from where we attended the 3rd African-German Forum, at the 11th century Eberbach Monastery Conference Centre.
The undulating topography and the picturesque greenery which house the modernised version of the magnificently Gothic architecture were better seen than described. Beauty, par excellence, I say.
At Eberbach, the gentle President Koehler, threw a party for all his invited guests to the forum, including five African presidents, the Asantehene, great academics, and several diplomats and a host of others including us (the African journalists).
The President and his wife Eva really played hosts in the true sense of the word.
Our names were mentioned individually and ushered in while the two shook hands with each guest and exchanged pleasantries with them. On each guest's table was his name in gild letters on a standing hard paper.
To say it was an exciting moment would only amount to an understatement. Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, who delivered the dinner speech, really lived up to expectation as a primus inter pares.
The overwhelmingly spontaneous ovation given him spoke volumes about the audience's appreciation of what the Asante monarch said about modernity and tradition in the fast changing world of globalization.
Our press conference with the German President and his guest African leaders was frank and forthright: that the West should stop teaching Africa what to do because Africa knows what is right for her.
The leaders were Umar Musa Yar'Adua of Nigeria, Festus Mogae of Botswana, Boni Yayi of Benin, Marc Ravalomanana of Madagascar and the Mozambican president, Amando Guebuza.
Though I have been on similar programmes in other countries, the Germany/Belgium trip was an eye opener. It provided me both opportunities and challenges.
I was glad to have met all those I met especially, Ms Diana Isabella Apio, a 25 year-old sub-editor of “The Monitor”, in Uganda, and Mildred of “The Nation, a young Pan Africanist, who makes her feelings known trenchantly.
Any regrets? Yes, that Wole Soyinka and John Kufuor did not or could not come. In any case, I am most grateful to my alma mater, IIJ of Inwent.
By Sylvanus Nana Kumi
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