Arndt Brodkorb is a landscape ecologist and an expert on sustainable rural development. From 2012 to 2014 he worked for Weltfriedensdienst (World Peace Service) in Guinea. In the mountainous areas of the Mali prefecture of Guinea there were problems with providing the population with enough food of sufficient quality. This led to malnutrition, especially among children. In addition, valuable farming land was seriously threatened by uncontrolled grazing. And forests were similarly threatened by overuse. As a development expert with many years of experience, Arndt Brodkorb worked as a co-coordinator and consultant in a food security and forest conservation project.
He now lives in Munich – where he works as Head of the West Africa Programme of missio Munich – and near Montpellier.
Mr. Brodkorb, you were already strongly involved in African Studies as a student and later spent several years in Guinea as a professional development worker for the World Peace Service, among other things. What originally inspired your interest in Africa? And what role has civic and social involvement played in your life?
I’m a child of the eighties. I was a school student at a leftish grammar school and already participated in Third World working groups and similar social projects at that time. I also got involved in the youth work of the Protestant Diakonie (social service), where we often encountered young people from African countries. There were plenty of good social encounters and I found that very enriching. For me, the focus was not so much on Third World and justice issues as on making friends with people from a different culture, seeing and getting to know the "Other", and general curiosity about ways of life which seemed exotic to me.
Later I was also involved in social action as a young adult. As part of my work for the Workers' Samaritan Federation, for example, I nursed and cared for a woman who suffered from advanced multiple sclerosis for a long time. That was a fruit of the basic social awareness which I had developed in my parental home. I also did night duty in a home for handicapped people for a long time when I was a student.
Have the years that you were working in Africa made a difference to your social involvement?
My time in Africa brought about a lasting change in my social involvement, which is now targeted largely towards individuals whom I support directly. When you engage in practical work at the local level in towns and villages, you get to know people better, make acquaintances and even develop friendships. Through contact with the “Other”, I’ve been given clear guidance as to what action to take as a practical expression of the feelings that motivate me to take action.
And, together with my wife, I’ve discovered effective forms of action that are more personal and more direct, so that today, for example, we give financial support to families whom we know well and provide smaller institutions whose employees I know with the materials that they need for their work. Then we can see for ourselves the practical impact of the help that we’re providing.
My earlier active involvement in church community work and in the Workers' Samaritan Federation, on the other hand, arose from basic social awareness. We continue to support civil society organisations such as the World Peace Service and FIAN Germany.
Did you return to Europe when your development service in Guinea came to an end? And do you still feel connected to Africa?
Right now, I’m registered in Munich as my primary place of residence, because I’ve taken over the work at missio Munich of someone who’s currently on parental leave. But I’m not really a returnee in the sense that I wanted to return permanently to Germany or Europe after two-and-a-half years abroad.
At that time, after serving with the World Peace Service, I first moved to Lake Geneva with my wife, because I had soon found a follow-up job in Switzerland. But I’ve continued to travel frequently to Africa, sometimes for longer periods, both privately and professionally. I still have a house in Ségou in the Mali region of Guinea. And I‘ve also invested in an ecotourism project in Casamance in the south of Senegal and have residency status there.
How do you feel about your work for the World Peace Service – looking back now after quite a long time? What made a special impression on you?
My work in West Africa has been – and still is – of key importance to me. It had a formative impact on me both personally and professionally. It’s part of my life. When I returned in 2014, I needed a break so that I could take a deep breath and pay attention to my health. I wanted to take a break not so much from Africa as from several years of practical work in the field. This work can be very strenuous and exhausting.
But you also gain a huge amount - in terms of experience, fulfilment, and living a meaningful life. One also learns, for example, that the security that we enjoy in Europe – or used to enjoy before COVID and the current crises – is a key value that is nevertheless also very fragile. When you’re doing development work, you often see how fragile a lot of things can be – living conditions, safety and security, health, and the wealth and welfare that people have built up. And this fills you with humility, with respect and admiration for what people in African societies have to achieve on a daily basis in real life situations that are sometimes extremely precarious.
That sounds like a very positive personal assessment. Would you encourage young people to get involved in development service or civil peace service?
I would unhesitatingly recommend to anyone who has an interest and some degree of intercultural sensitivity and empathy that they try it out – getting involved in development cooperation – and then commit themselves to it for a while. I’ve never regretted my own decision to do that. Development service enabled me to satisfy my curiosity about foreign lands and about the Other, to make a modest contribution to the common good, to greater justice, and to more peaceful coexistence. And to make interesting acquaintances and find a few friends for life.
The interview was conducted as part of the AGdD Tracer Study 2022 for the publication "Die Welt im Gepäck. Returned professionals from the development service in the years 2011-2022". The interview was conducted by Dieter Kroppenberg.