A success story: fifty years of DAAD commitment in Kenya

The group photo shows employees from the DAAD Nairobi external office with the Secretary General from Bonn
© DAAD/Flacke

‘A significant contribution to social and economic development in the region’: how the DAAD Regional Office in Nairobi is contributing to strong academic relations between Germany and East Africa.  

Just over 50 years ago, the DAAD launched its representation at a tiny office in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. Close and diverse academic relations have since been forged between Germany and East Africa: The DAAD has funded some 45,000 students, lecturers and researchers from seven East African states since 1973. German higher education institutions have currently formed almost 60 partnerships with Kenya alone. And a ten-strong team at the DAAD Regional Office in Nairobi now advises on study and research opportunities in Germany, scholarship programmes, German-East African partnerships in teaching and research, and professional development options for academic teaching staff at East African higher education institutions. 

The DAAD’s funding of globally-oriented higher education systems in East Africa has made a significant contribution to social and economic development in the region, said Dr Asha-Rose Migiro, former Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations and DAAD alumna, on 19 September 2023 as she kicked off the two-day anniversary event in Nairobi. DAAD alumni had travelled from Ethiopia, Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda to be there. DAAD Secretary General Dr Kai Sicks used his speech to remind us that the Federal Republic of Germany had been the first country to recognise Kenya’s independence in 1963. The alumni were said to be ‘the anchor of excellent bilateral relations’. 

Special programmes as a rapid reaction to crises

The first DAAD programme for East Africa included in-country (sur place) and/or third state scholarships that are still to this day assisting academics to complete a master’s degree or doctoral qualification in their country of origin or other countries in the region. ‘This programme continues to be highly attractive’, says Beate Schindler-Kovats, head of the DAAD Regional Office in Nairobi. Numerous other scholarship programmes were added over the years, including special programmes as a rapid reaction to crises. ‘A programme was launched in 2015 after an attack by the Islamist al-Shabaab militia on Garissa University College in eastern Kenya, so that bachelor students could continue their studies at other higher education institutions’, adds Schindler-Kovats. Scholarships relating to a stay in Germany are especially popular – from a summer school programme to a complete master’s degree course such as via the or relating to a PhD.  

Dr Ezekiel Mecha, a lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Nairobi, completed his doctorate at Giessen University from 2010 to 2014. ‘The DAAD scholarship enabled me to conduct research there at a very high level and to exchange ideas with researchers from a wide range of disciplines’, says Mecha. He was moreover able to participate at international conferences and workshops: ‘This meant that I could build up a large network.’ After returning to Kenya, this network helped him to establish new partnerships between the University of Nairobi and higher education institutions around the world.  

The first endometriosis conferences in East Africa

Ezekiel Mecha is a specialist in endometriosis, a disease of the lining of the uterus that can cause severe health damage if left untreated. Mecha was assisted by the DAAD in 2021 and 2022 in organising the first two endometriosis conferences in East Africa to increase public awareness of this little-known disease. ‘ We’ve already achieved initial breakthroughs in raising such awareness’, Mecha says. This researcher, who was appointed to the Board of the World Endometriosis Society in 2023, is also active in the alumni association . ‘DAAD alumni can learn a lot from one another’, states Mecha, ‘and it's great that you can be supported with things like events, even after the end of your scholarship.’ 

In addition to individual funding, project funding has also become much more significant since the noughties, according to Beate Schindler-Kovats: ‘The DAAD Regional Office in Nairobi has developed into a networking centre, which promotes academic cooperation between East Africa and Germany at various levels – ranging from individual scholarships to higher education partnerships to the funding of higher education systems.’ Professional development in HEI management as part of the DAAD programme has been contributing to quality assurance for many years.  

A role model for girls in South Sudan

From 2008 to 2018, the DAAD funded 13 , including the . This project enabled Dr Charity Wibabara to complete her master’s degree and PhD between 2009 and 2013 at the University of Western Cape in partnership with the Humboldt University of Berlin. She is now a coordinator in the International Crimes Unit at the National Prosecutor's Office in Rwanda, and in particular she prosecutes cases transferred to Rwanda by the International Criminal Tribunal ICTR. ‘One of my most important tasks involves ensuring that a prosecution proceeds in compliance with international standards’, she explains. This lawyer is also a member of the advisory board at the , in which the alumni of their study programme can exchange ideas and continue to conduct joint research in working groups. ‘It’s crucial that we stay in touch, so that we can also deliver relevant work for our communities into the future’, says Charity Wibabara. 

Betty Bashir Mamoun Adong developed an equal opportunities programme for an NGO in South Sudan. Its objective was to enable women to participate more equitably in land use and to combat violence against women and girls. ‘Only 28 per cent of South Sudanese females can read and write; lots of girls are married before they reach puberty’, says Adong. Between 2019 and 2021, she completed her master’s degree course specialising in Intercultural Conflict Management at the Alice Salomon Hochschule Berlin (ASH Berlin), with a scholarship from the Open Society Foundation. The DAAD provided her with additional assistance in the form of travel allowances and German language courses. ‘It was my sincere desire to contribute to a more peaceful and just society in South Sudan – my studies in Berlin have enabled that. It was a unique experience’, says Betty Adong. She not only acquired knowledge, but also changed her whole way of thinking: ‘Berlin taught me to be more open, self-confident and optimistic. Which has enabled me to become a role model for young girls in South Sudan.’ 

Better funding for women

The substantive priorities for German-East African academic cooperation are traditional health sciences such as tropical medicine, but also mining and agronomy. This spectrum has gradually expanded, including with respect to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. There are now research partnerships dealing with climate change, renewable energies including green hydrogen, and aspects of digitisation. An example is the , which was founded in 2021 and whose partners include the University of Nairobi. One topic for its future collaboration is colonial research. The new DAAD programme includes early career researchers from Africa within its target groups. 

In the next few years, the DAAD Regional Office in Nairobi is among other things planning better funding for women, such as via mentoring programmes and the expansion of its professional development services. ‘Demand has significantly increased – not only regarding professional development, but for instance also in terms of leadership and supervision seminars for postdocs at East African higher education institutions’, says Beate Schindler-Kovats. The major interest in Germany is thought to have generally increased over recent times. This is partly down to the current discussion surrounding skills shortages: ‘Germany is perceived in East Africa as an extremely attractive country, not just for studies but also for employment.’ 

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: double interview with Sebastian Groth, German Ambassador in Kenya, and Dr Kai Sicks, Secretary General of the DAAD.

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