The decline of German prestige

The town of Ouazzane, where I grew up, is known in Morocco for its Koranic traditions and its crafts, of which weaving and tannery are the most representative. But in our childhood, after Morocco’s independence, we were, as kids, more interested in jobs that gave us something to have fun with. The spinning top was one of our favorite toys. The artisans who made them did not know about unemployment. These fabricators carried out their manufacturing operations, almost identically, using only their memory and rudimentary working tools.

History shows that the stages of artisanal manufacturing are phases through which countries pass in their transit towards more progress. But few countries have been able to promote artisanal trades through industrialization as the Germans have done. The reason is that the Germanic apprenticeship system, unique in its kind, has for centuries provided for the alternation, for the candidates in training, of a school education coupled with an apprenticeship with a “Master of apprenticeship“. In other words, if there is no place with the apprentice master, there can be no training of an apprentice who will then become a technician or even a specialist. It is the widespread application of this practice that has long promoted “Made in Germany” industrial products. This system is also found in countries of Germanic obedience such as Switzerland.

Thus, Germany had the chance to have the foundations to build on it a model of civilian development that could have set a benchmark for countries around the world. Unfortunately, the onset of the First World War and, above all, the Treaty of Versailles which followed, in our opinion, completely upset this prospect for the Germans.

Indeed, the treaty in question included financial requirements, reparations for war damage to France in the first place, but also to Great Britain, which will subsequently prove to be beyond the possibilities of reimbursement of defeated Germany. This remark is probably one of the factors that led the US Senate at the time to refuse to ratify this Treaty. The impossibility of repayment and the resentment of the Germans, as a result, constituted the seeds of the emergence of Nazism which led to the Second Great War.

During this war, Denmark, a small neighbor to the north, was among the first countries to be invaded in 1940 by the Germans. In this connection, it is reported that after a firefight incident between German soldiers and the Danish Royal Guard, a Colonel came out of the palace to inquire into the situation. Stirring a little heap on the ground with his cane, he asked one of his soldiers, “What is this?”. The soldier replied, “The brain of a German soldier, Colonel.” The Colonel concludes: “This is why they are so aggressive; they have such a small brain”.

This joke, macabre as it is, refers to a dichotomy that some observers have noticed among the Germans. On the one hand, they can efficiently manufacture complex machines. But, they sometimes seem to lack consistency when it comes to measuring the impact of their actions, or their words, on others. For example, they strive to make a clear separation between “Nazis” and “Germans”. Since there is no biological basis for such an assertion, one can only surmises that, for example, the money that the Germans pay to victims of Nazism would ultimately make people forget the horrors of the Holocaust. But, that would ignore an important detail. The Nazis are indeed fanatics of a particularly virulent strain; but they did not descend from another planet on earth. They are Germans too. I remember during a student discussion in the 1970s the startling statement of a German scholar who said: “If Hitler had won, I would be the governor of Lausanne now“.

The point is, Germany lost the war, and without the muscular financial and administrative intervention of the Americans, the Germans would have had no chance of becoming what they are today. After taking up residence there, the American delegates, like pragmatic people, encouraged the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) to get involved in what the Germans did best, namely the machine tool industry. This equipment was exported all over the world with the US market as its first destination. US initiatives, along with their money and that of their Middle Eastern partners, have boosted the German economy, which quickly transformed to establish itself as Europe’s leading economic power. As a corollary, German industrial power has, in short, swept aside any hint of competition from other EU member countries. The regained Germanic economic power, supplemented by their sales force, has thus widened the deficit of the EU partners vis-à-vis the Germans. Most of the countries in the EU market then became debtors of Germany, which gave the Germans a unique lever to guide the EU’s financial, economic, industrial and agricultural policy as they saw fit. At the same time, this German metamorphosis must probably have acted like a drug on the minds of the Germans who began, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, to gradually distance themselves from their US mentor.

Seeing this, and once the Americans documented this behavior over a reasonable period of time, they, in turn, began to undo “the crowns they had previously plaited to FRG“. Some observers, including ourselves, believe that the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, an investment bank long considered the gateway for German businessmen to the US market, and the Volkswagen scandal, also known as “dieselgate” , events initiated in the USA, are part of a set of acts decided by the Americans to punish the Germans for their behavior which has become hostile to the interests of Uncle Sam.

Further actions followed which hardened the entry of “Made in Germany” products into the US market. The Germans were supposedly touched in their pride and then turned to the Chinese market as an alternative. But, after a few years, German businessmen realized that this Asian market was locked from within and much more difficult to control than the US market.

However, the German economy is addicted to exports. For this reason, Germany seems to have no other solution than to reclaim the markets of our African continent. Considering the European rules in force, they must carry out their procedures through the EU, whose cogs they have perfectly mastered, as we have just said.

In this regard, to come to their end, EU strategists have in the past used to show their teeth to bend their counterparts in a negotiation. This is how they approached the negotiations with Morocco in the nineties by Mr. Franz Fischler, then European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. They have of course succeeded in forcing us into what they pompously called an Association Agreement and which we believe needs to be reclassified as an agreement for our enslavement!

But, this type of worn-out trick (showing fangs) no longer works with our African countries. First, as it has served enough, it became obsolete. Secondly, because the markets of our Continent are coveted by everyone and, henceforth, the preference will necessarily go to the best price which has often not been the case for EU companies. Finally, perhaps we Africans understand a little better every day that the German Prestige, which EU officials put forward to conduct their Business with others, no longer deceives anyone. It is at best a largely overrated reputation or, more simply, a facade slogan behind which hides the European desire, constant for centuries, to maintain their control over our raw materials in particular and our wealth in general.

However, only the effective entry into force of the Acfta (African Continental Free Trade Area) will show these people that we are better placed to manage our African affairs on our own.