Speech by Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier at the German-African Business Summit

07.09.2015 - Speech

--- Translation of advance text ---

Members of Parliament,
Representatives of international and regional organisations,

Together we are today writing a little piece of history: the new Sub-Sahara Initiative with the familiar old acronym SAFRI has organised this first German-African Business Summit with the support of the Federal Government. It will be followed immediately by the 15th International Economic Forum on Africa, an event organised jointly by the OECD Development Centre and the African Union, which normally takes place in Paris. You have a busy, intensive programme ahead, and I believe this shows just how important Africa is for us in Germany. I wish we would make more of a deliberate effort to turn this realisation into action.

Over the next three days, you and many high-level guests will be focusing your gaze on our neighbouring continent. A continent which is so close and yet for many of us so far away. A continent whose fate is inextricably entwined with our own. It is therefore a particular pleasure and honour for me to be opening this series of events here in Berlin. And I would like to give you an idea to chew over for the future: it would be great if this gathering were to sow the seeds for a German-African Business Summit in Africa.

Businesspeople, it’s said, are good with numbers. Indeed businesspeople – unlike politicians – might even prefer numbers to words. So I’d like to start with a few figures.

  • Ten of the world’s sixteen most fragile states are in Africa.
  • One in four of the population suffers malnutrition – more than in any other region of the world.
  • And 39,000 people died in Africa alone last year as a result of conflicts.

But here are some very different figures:

  • According to the World Bank, six of the eleven fastest-growing economies in 2015 will be in Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Malnutrition rates have fallen by a quarter since 1990.
  • And, despite all the ongoing violence, the Global Peace Index says Sub-Saharan Africa has on the whole become more peaceful.

That’s the other side of Africa.

So we need to take a much more nuanced view of Africa, as of other continents, and to acknowledge its many facets. Or would you regard Afghanistan and Japan, or Lisbon and Reykjavik, as being two of a kind?

It is primarily up to the Africans themselves to decide what course the continent as a whole will take in future. But we can do a lot to help ensure that it’s the positive trends that win out. I’d like to focus on four areas:

  • firstly, economic development;
  • secondly, peace and security;
  • thirdly, regionalisation;
  • and, fourthly, the huge subject of migration.

When it comes to the first of these, economic development, you know a lot of things much better than I do, so I’ll keep it brief. At a time in which some newly industrialising countries are wobbling, growth in Africa becomes all the more important. The development cooperation we and others engage in is not in itself enough to generate growth. This will become quite clear in 2015, when foreign direct investment in Africa will for the first time outstrip donor payments to the continent. Never has more been invested in Africa than today. In 2014 alone, the continent received 128 billion US dollars of foreign direct investment, putting it in second place behind Asia.

This brings huge opportunities! Not that I really need to tell you that. After all, that’s why you’re here. And when I travel I too can see that there is an increasing, lively exchange between German business delegations and their African hosts.

The infrastructure sector is currently seeing a huge boost in development. The port of Mombasa is being expanded to become a hub for east Africa and is being linked with the hinterland of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda through the Northern Corridor. The world’s biggest dam project is being implemented in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A whole country, Cape Verde, wants to meet the bulk of its energy requirements with wind farms.

Today over a billion people in Africa have as much electricity as the inhabitants of Belgium. If Africa finally succeeds in increasing its share of the global value chains for goods and services, the continent’s prospects for the future will be rosy. More energy and better infrastructure will change the continent dramatically. Then there is the great need for education. Smartphones and apps can play a very important role here.

Africa is becoming more modern and more urban. But here, too, there are various scenarios. Will the megacities become centres of security and prosperity, or will we see mega slums? This partly depends on how they organise themselves. German companies have a lot to offer – from transport to water, wastewater disposal and recycling. These are just some of the topics you will be able to discuss from this summer with our first ever desk officer for urbanisation, at our Consulate-General in Lagos, Africa’s biggest city.

I will continue to do what I can to help support German companies in Africa. So far in my second term in office I have made five fairly long trips to African countries, taking large business delegations with me. This is something I will continue to do. But even in countries I am not visiting, our Embassies are happy to help you. We want to expand our foreign trade promotion in Africa even further. In Mozambique, for example, we are using development cooperation funds to consolidate the Chamber of Commerce Abroad, and this is something we are looking into doing in other countries as well. The Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation are all pulling in the same direction here... at least I think they are. Whether that’s true is something you can ask my two colleagues yourself during the conference.

There is one important area on which we have made good progress in the past year: since last December there have been new possibilities for exports to public customers in Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania to be covered by Hermes export credit guarantees. Kenya and Uganda have since been added. Let me say this quite deliberately to encourage you: we are ready to support you in your business dealings in Africa. Dare to take that step!

However, Africa’s economic development is not taking place in a vacuum. Wars and conflicts can quickly destroy everything that has been built up with such effort. Peace and security remain key issues in Germany’s policy on Africa. The rise of terrorist groups like Boko Haram and Al Shabab reflects, in a manner of speaking, weak state structures in some parts of Africa. When people have hardly any access to education, healthcare or security, terrorist groups have it easy. Good governance is an antidote to radicalisation. Because, however difficult this may be, the fight against a ruthless, inhumane terror organisation is won in part by refusing to use terrorist means against it.

In Europe we’ve developed a system of collective security over decades. And on the African continent, the African Union has similarly prioritised peace and security in its work. Where previously – under the pretence of non-intervention – states only acted covertly, today there is a commitment to take action. And we are seeing success stories: following the unprecedented collapse of the state in 1991, Somalia is finally back on the arduous path to stabilisation. In the fight against Boko Haram, the neighbouring countries have come together and are starting to achieve initial successes. Germany is doing a great deal to support these efforts. We are one of the largest promoters of the African Peace and Security Architecture. And here I mean architecture in the literal sense – the new premises of the AU’s Peace and Security Council have been financed by the Federal Foreign Office. Germany is shouldering responsibility within the framework of the European Union and United Nations, too. One prominent example of this is in Mali: there, both the police mission and the EU’s military mission are under German command.

In my opinion, the best form of security policy is precautionary foreign policy. In recent months we have re-organised the Federal Foreign Office, one element of which involved setting up a new Directorate-General to bring together all instruments of crisis prevention. An important priority will be activities in Africa. We have earmarked 115 million euros for this in 2015 alone, with the aim of recognising crises at an early stage and nipping violence in the bud.

For these efforts to succeed we need the differentiated perspective I mentioned at the beginning of my speech: African societies are changing. We see that young people especially are calling for more participation in business and politics. The youngest population in the world – in some countries the average age is under 18 – is often looking at the oldest presidents. Now, I have white hair myself and probably shouldn’t talk too much about age...but what I’m trying to stress is the value of change! That is something which I’ve experienced on many occasions in our democracy. The annulment of time limits on terms in office seen in some African countries, however, flies in the face of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, which clearly states that the constitutional handover of power is a part of a peaceful, changing society.

My third topic is regionalisation. For regional organisations are playing an increasingly important role, in terms of not only economic development but also peace and security. I’m delighted that high-ranking representatives of these organisations will make a significant contribution today and over the next few days – welcome to Berlin!

The process of regionalisation is enabling former colonial borders to fade into insignificance with no need for fighting. That is an intelligent path and, moreover, this process supports the forces that see advantages in shared development. Since independence, the history of too many countries in Africa has been characterised by governments supporting rebel groups in their respective neighbouring states in order to hamper their rivals. If regional organisations can help to change mindsets here then the continent will be taking a huge step forwards.

Regional mindsets are also shifting in dimension in terms of business. Look at the East African Community, the EAC. By 2050 there will be nearly 400 million people living in these five African countries alone. They have set themselves an ambitious goal: to work in stages to set up a common external tariff and economic area, followed by a currency union and finally a political union. That may all still seem very far off today but work to make it reality is proceeding full steam ahead.

We would do well to not only observe but support these processes of change. In this regard we’ll think of Africa in terms of regions and provide targeted support to countries’ administrations. Equally, we are planning regular political consultations with the regional organisations. That is new ground for our policy in Africa, but we would also welcome other consultations: an advisory forum on business and civil society could be set up – thus far we only have such bodies with individual countries.

Ladies and gentlemen,

At the moment, we cannot speak about Africa without thinking of the images of overcrowded rubber dinghies in the Mediterranean. They give the impression that the entire continent is on its way to Germany. But the figures tell a different story: this year, the list of the top ten countries of origin of asylum seekers in Germany features Eritrea and Nigeria at places 8 and 9 respectively, with about 3000 people. Most refugees in our country do not come from Africa.

If we look at the most important countries of origin in Africa, we see both Somalia, shaken by civil war, and Ghana, a beacon of hope. Flight and migration are two different phenomena which we all too often confuse.

On the one hand, Germany’s Basic Law contains a key tenet which stems from our country’s history and which we still feel we have an irrevocable duty to uphold: someone suffering political persecution has a fundamental right to asylum. We will not infringe on this basic right. However, naturally we must think things through – we need to tackle the evil at its root. And that is where the question of asylum overlaps with my extensive description of Germany’s engagement in the sphere of peace and security. The more successful we are at resolving conflicts, the fewer people will be forced to flee war and persecution. That is and remains the task of German foreign policy, a task we will undertake together with our partners.

On the other hand, in the topic of migration we face very different challenges. If for example Ghanaians and Senegalese are willing to pay criminal people smugglers up to thousands of euros and risk their lives rather than stay in their home countries then there is something fundamentally wrong. That cannot be in the interest of either our country or the countries of origin.

I have developed a ten-point plan on Europe’s migration and refugee policy together with the Deputy Chancellor. In it, we’ve said that we need to work much more closely with our African partners. The EU - African Union Summit in Valletta is due to take place in November – we need to come up with concrete plans there. Part of that means that here in Germany we have to be honest about what we have been doing wrong for a long time. We’ve continued to say that we’re not a country of immigration, for far too long. Firstly, that’s not true, and secondly kidding ourselves was a mistake. For it meant that for too many years practically the only legal door into our country was that of asylum, which people queued up in front of. Today, including with Africa in mind, we need to open ourselves up to the idea that we need an up-to-date immigration law.

The willingness that many Germans have shown to help the refugees and new arrivals in our country in recent days is admirable, frankly it’s magnificent. But at the same time, many people are asking themselves how long this solidarity will last. What happens next? The truth is that there’s no tried and tested recipe, and this is a challenge not for the upcoming months, but for future years and one which will entail difficult decisions. Migrations will become one of the biggest challenges facing mankind in the 21st century – for Africa, Europe and for all of us together.

My feeling is thus that we should learn from one another. Indeed, many countries in Africa have much more experience with flight and migration than we do. A third of all displaced persons in the world are in sub-Saharan Africa – some 12 million people. And in fact, migration between Africa and Europe is not a one-way street. The financial crisis led over 160,000 Portuguese people to make their way to Angola by the end of last year. Thus migration is a multi-faceted, long-term and common challenge, and I think that we shouldn’t address it without each other, and certainly not in opposition to each other – rather we should tackle it together. Africa will play a key role in this, an Africa which offers its citizens economic and political participation – that’s the vision that we’re working towards. Every handshake between new business partners contributes to this – as does every candid discussion between government representatives and every critical or constructive input from civil society. This first German-African Business Summit offers many opportunities for such meetings. I hope that there will be many positive encounters!

Thank you very much.

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