“Africa: Partnership on an equal footing” – Speech given by Federal Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the German Bundestag

02.03.2007 - Speech

In a speech before the German Bundestag, Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier emphasized the importance of 2007 for Africa.

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen,

There are numerous reasons for holding a debate on Africa here in the Bundestag. I am pleased that the various parliamentary groups have created the conditions for such a debate. I welcome their engagement, just as I welcome the fact that we are holding this debate here and now; for 2007 is truly an important year for Africa. As you may or may not be aware, it is almost 50 years to the day that Ghana achieved its independence, thus launching a historic – and irreversible – process of decolonization.

Let us take a look at the country today. With its willingness to take on the presidency of the African Union, Ghana is showing its determination to continue its pioneering role in Africa. Such developments are particularly important this year. For in this year, West Africa alone will see up to eleven elections, including the highly significant presidential elections in Nigeria, which – regardless of the outcome – will have resonance throughout the whole continent.

I emphasize this, as I believe that the upcoming election calendar in Africa shows us something, namely that both the democratic process and political development in our neighbouring continent are a lot further forward than we in Europe sometimes like to acknowledge.

I say that even though I am aware of the problems of misery and civil war in a number of regions on the continent. But there are positive signs, too. I remember Thabo Mbeki's calls in the late nineties for an “African Renaissance”. I remember how the idea made many people smile. But what was considered fanciful just a few years ago has today become political reality in many areas of Africa. You will have heard of many African countries' efforts within the scope of NEPAD, a development partnership in which members demonstrate their commitment to greater democracy and transparency. You will have followed the African Union's steady development over the last few years into an effective community.

What does all this indicate? In my opinion, Africa has reappeared on the international scene – not as a mere recipient of development aid, but as an influential force in our common global future. To give just a few examples which will still be fresh in your memories, I could mention Kenya's hosting of the World Social Forum at the beginning of this year. The environmentalists among you will remember the Climate Change Conference at the end of 2006. Particularly relevant to me is the positive role which, for example, Ghana and South Africa have played on the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, mostly with regard to the ongoing dispute with Iran.

What all this indicates is that African countries want to play a creative role, that they are taking the topic of “African Ownership” seriously and are ready to become active outside their continent, too.

What I have said about political development also applies – cautiously speaking – to economic development. Given the relatively stable growth rates of the last two or three years, which seem set to continue this year, we can expect the African continent to see a solid average level of growth of 5 to 6 percent. I know that much of this growth is a result of the high price of raw materials. I also know that generating growth through the exploitation of raw materials alone brings its own problems. Economically speaking, the fact remains that Africa has – as you are all aware – become more interesting to private investors, particularly those from Asia, and especially those from China.

Africa's political and economic future absolutely depends on the continuation of the positive reforms I have just mentioned. This of course applies politically and to the development of education, an area in which we must provide considerable assistance. But it also applies economically; reforms must be continued here too. For as you all know or can imagine: it will only be possible to combat poverty in Africa in an effective and sustainable way by bringing foreign capital and know-how to the continent.

Only when this happens will the young people of Africa, and thus one half of its population, know a bright future in their own country. Only then will it be possible to develop and sustain the sort of political and economic institutions able to effectively tackle and hopefully even overcome challenges such as AIDS, regional and national conflicts, urbanization and migration. Ladies and gentlemen, we in Germany and in Europe as a whole want to be a partner to Africa as it makes its way into the future. This should be the message which emerges from today's debate.

With their overseeing of the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Germany and the European Union have shown that they are ready to take on responsibility and realize the partnership I have just mentioned. I said during our recent debate on the Democratic Republic of the Congo that the long-term stabilization of the Great Lakes region would be a milestone in the development of Africa as a whole.

We must of course continue to keep an eye on dangers and trouble spots outside this region. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is not the only challenge. We are also supporting the UN Secretary-General's calls to give the African Union greater capabilities in the Sudan and to combine these with the efforts of the United Nations in the medium term. The European Union will – indeed will have to – make further resources available to help secure the funding of AU forces. We will discuss this in the EU Foreign Affairs Council next Monday.

We will of course also have to urge the Sudanese Government to declare its readiness to open up politically in much stronger terms than it has done so far. I am pleased to see that my former Swedish colleague Jan Eliasson is travelling around the region trying to secure what will be new and this time viable agreements between the various rebel groups and the Government. I believe that we in the Bundestag should also wish him the best of success in his efforts.

What I have said about the Sudan could also be said to a lesser extent of Somalia. We have had cause to reassess the situation in the country this year. And I would like to say in this respect that a military presence alone will not solve the problems. It cannot replace the political solution so urgently needed in this country.

I will repeat here what I have said at European level: If, as has happened, we provide 15 million euro towards the African Union's efforts to secure some degree of stability in Somalia, this must be on the condition that the transitional government shows itself ready to launch the political process and the national reconciliation process with a view to achieving real long-term results.

Fortunately, thanks to our double Presidency of the EU and G8, Germany is in a position to set some special priorities this year; Development Minister Wieczorek-Zeul will report on these shortly from the perspective of the Federal Government. In the European Union, we are trying to finally remove the obstacles which have stood in the way of an EU-Africa Summit in the past.

Given the international events we are currently witnessing, I would like you to imagine one thing: for seven years now, there has been no meeting between the European Union and the African states at summit level, that is to say which brings together Heads of Government. The reasons for this are well-known. We are now making intensive efforts, together with the subsequent Portuguese Council Presidency, to remove these obstacles. It is our intention that a summit of this kind will finally be able to take place in the second half of the year, around September.

This brings me on, in conclusion, to Germany's Presidency of the G8. It is no coincidence that we have given it the motto “Growth and Responsibility”. In supporting reform processes in Africa, we will give special attention to those countries making steps forward. We want to further extend the capacities of the African Union and regional institutions in the areas of peace and security. The aim as far as foreign and security policy is concerned is to help establish in the long term Africa's own comprehensive security structure.

The days of treating African countries as supplicants are – thank goodness! – over once and for all. Africa, in all its diversity and dynamism, has long since become an important partner. And I firmly believe this: in a world which is growing ever closer together, which is developing ever more into a global village, we need a strong, viable Africa which enjoys equal rights and meets us on an equal footing.

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

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