Foreign Minister Steinmeier visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo on 19 and 20 February. In the capital, Kinshasa, he held political talks with President Joseph Kabila, Prime Minister Augustin Matata and Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda. Steinmeier also met representatives of the opposition and civil society. From Kinshasa he travelled on to Goma, in the east of the country, where he inaugurated the new runway at Goma international airport rebuilt with German support.
Political talks in Kinshasa
In Kinshasa, Steinmeier first met President Joseph Kabila, Prime Minister Augustin Matata and Foreign Minister Raymond Tshibanda. Their talks focused on bilateral relations between Germany and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also on the political situation within the country and the conflict in eastern Congo.
Following his talks with Foreign Minister Tshibanda, Steinmeier said it was important to pay due attention to Africa, our great neighbouring continent, even while engaged in crisis management within Europe. In this context, he went on, Germany was not merely interested in the difficult situation in eastern Congo and the country’s domestic situation, but was equally keen to see that there was progress in cooperation among the countries of the Great Lakes region. With regard to bilateral relations Steinmeier added:
Germany and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are two states which are interested in each other but have by no means yet exhausted the potential to develop and shape their relations. There is still a lot to do in Kinshasa and Berlin.
Exchange with the opposition and civil society
The German Foreign Minister also met representatives of the opposition and civil society to discuss the heightened tensions in the domestic situation in the country. In recent weeks there have been repeated violent clashes between government and opposition supporters.
In this connection Steinmeier called for free and democratic elections: “We expect all parties and all candidates to be treated equally.”
Cultural exchange and exchange of information: Goethe-Institut and Radio Okapi
The Minister later had an important date with culture: together with the President of the Goethe-Institut, Klaus‑Dieter Lehmann, Steinmeier inaugurated a new Goethe-Institut Liaison Office in Kinshasa. The Liaison Office, housed on the premises of the French cultural institute, is to begin work in April, supporting film and musical projects, among other things. A concert by the Congolese orchestra Fanfare Masolo provided a musical intro to the cultural exchange.
The journalists accompanying the Minister had the opportunity in the morning to get to know a special media outlet in the country: the independent radio station Radio Okapi, run by the UN mission MONUSCO, has been following the peace process in the country since 2002. The station broadcasts in five languages to over twenty million listeners, not only relaying news and music programmes, but also broadcasting calls for the demilitarisation of rebel groups and telling the people how elections work and where they can go to vote, making it an important information channel.
“Irreplaceable hub”: a new runway for Goma
The German Foreign Minister then travelled on to Goma in the east of the country, where the conflict which has been simmering for years between various rebel groups and the Government has turned over three million people into internal refugees and greatly hampered economic development.
At Goma international airport Steinmeier inaugurated a runway which had been repaired and extended with German support. In his speech, the German Foreign Minister emphasised the size of the country: the Democratic Republic of the Congo is roughly as big as the whole of the European Union. So there weren’t roads to every single corner of the country. Steinmeier continued:
That is why this airport is an irreplaceable hub. It ensures access for many to the eastern part of the country: for the MONUSCO mission, for humanitarian aid agencies and for the people of the region.
The Foreign Minister voiced his hope that Goma would in future once again become a place of hope: “hope of a normal life, of an end to the violence, of economic development and humanitarian assistance for those who need it”.
Afterwards, Steinmeier visited a health centre for internally displaced persons in Goma which is supported by the Johanniter Emergency Service. In addition to basic medical care, the centre mainly provides help for victims of sexual violence, whose number has increased sharply in the course of the violent clashes in the region.
Conference call on the Ukraine crisis
The crisis in Ukraine remains a key concern of the Foreign Minister even when he is so far away. He might have left the cold European winter for the African summer, Steinmeier said, but he had not left the Ukraine crisis behind.
In the evening he participated in a conference call in the so‑called Normandy format with his counterparts from France, Russia and Ukraine. The four Ministers discussed the implementation of the agreements reached in Minsk on 12 February, agreeing that it was important at this critical juncture to tackle the next steps towards implementation as quickly as possible and to watch the process very closely.
Steinmeier also commented on the proposal that a peace mission be sent to eastern Ukraine, saying that if Ukraine’s President Poroshenko were to make such a suggestion, it would be given careful consideration. Until then, however, the priority was to create a verification mechanism, with the OSCE’s help, in order to move closer to a lasting ceasefire.