Opening Speech by Federal Minister Steinmeier at the 20th Africa Festival Würzburg

22.05.2008 - Speech

“Aktion Africa” was the focus of Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's opening Speech at the 20th Africa Festival in Würzburg, 22 May 2008. “The aim not only of our culture and education policies but also of our entire Africa policy lies within this triad of culture, education and good governance: strengthening the African continent's ability to help itself; helping to ensure that Africans can enjoy a bright future and making our contribution towards peace and security on our neighbouring continent”, Steinmeier said.

- check against delivery –

Mr Mayor,
Minister Bah,
Minister Gakosso,
Mr Dibango,
Dr Oschmann,
Ladies and gentlemen,
festival visitors,

An African proverb states that a boat cannot progress if everyone rows the way he wants, and today we can see how far we can progress if we row together!

The first Africa Festival was held twenty years ago, as a private initiative by some – at that time very few – people who sought to build a cultural bridge to our neighbouring continent, to show and share their enthusiasm for Africa and, above all, to provide advice and practical help to our African friends on their journey towards a shared and better future.

Today we celebrate the Africa Festival's 20th anniversary, and we see that this boat of understanding has travelled a long way!

We can welcome fellow ministers, ambassadors and world-class artists from Africa, as well as business and civil society representatives from all over Germany. Here in Würzburg we can grasp Africa's huge creative energy and development potential. Here our partnership with Africa is a real living thing, and it demonstrates once again that cultural cooperation prepares the way and serves as pacemaker and beacon of political and economic cooperation!

Let me give you a specific example of this from one of my trips to Africa. During my first visit – I think it was to Ghana – the embassy in Accra held a garden party. There was wonderful African food and stimulating conversation – and then, suddenly, there were drumbeats. What followed was a concert boasting the whole spectrum of Ghanaian music, but the highlight was the performance by George Darko, the well-known representative of “burger highlife” music. Anyone who has experienced this Ghanaian version of highlife music, anyone who has heard the beauty and power which can flow from a productive and creative debate with and between African and European elements, will never again be fearful of foreign cultures or seek to shut them out!

On the contrary, he will want more exchange, more creative dialogue and joint production – and become firmly convinced that, while each individual country in Africa and Europe has something special and valuable to offer, it is only exchange and dialogue that really gives culture its power to shine forth in the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm therefore all the more pleased to present to you today the Federal Foreign Office's “Aktion Afrika” campaign designed to further intensify and develop precisely this cultural and educational cooperation.

Let me say once again here that, for me, cultural relations and education policy is not only an integral part of German foreign policy but also, in view of the changes caused by globalization, perhaps the most modern and most sustainable contribution towards a forward-looking foreign policy. I see two main concepts here – cooperation requires locations where we can understand, be creative with and get to know each other. Only on that basis can a serious dialogue take place, one which also includes different standpoints. We want to increase the number of these locations by founding two new Goethe Institutes in Dar es Salaam and Luanda and four new GI liaison offices in other countries, but also by helping to develop textbooks and supporting universities in Bamako, Abidjan, Maputo and South Africa by financing seven new teaching posts. In this way our partnership will become even more vibrant.

Finally, here in Germany we want to enable people, not only in Würzburg but in other parts of the country, to see, hear and read more about African culture. The presentation of African literature at the International Literature Festival in Berlin or the focus on Africa at this year's Berlinale Talent Campus are just a few examples of this effort.

In addition to this issue of access and joint creativity, however, there is another aspect with regard to Africa which plays a key role: the future of our countries and our continents very much depends on our children and young people receiving an education, a good education.

This is the second focus of our Aktion Afrika. Of course, the language courses offered by the Goethe-Institut and support for universities are one example of this. But we want to go even further:

We are strengthening cooperation in the higher education sector and widening its scope by establishing German centres at African universities in collaboration with the German Academic Exchange Service. We are helping German and African universities to develop joint blueprints for centres of excellence, thus opening quite new education – not to mention professional – prospects to African students in their home countries.

And we are supporting Deutsche Welle's innovative education approach: Deutsche Welle, which already has numerous partnerships in Africa, has developed new, participatory TV and radio programmes. The main focuses of these programmes are civil society and good governance. The programme “Learning by Ear”, which is produced locally in African studios, for instance in the regional languages Hausa, Amharic and Swahili, reaches some 33 million young people. It brings issues such as globalization, civic engagement, as well as the dangers and ways of preventing HIV/AIDS to the attention of young people.

I believe that is not only a new but also an especially promising new approach. For it combines education and the development of a free media landscape with a cultural approach.

And the aim not only of our culture and education policies but also of our entire Africa policy lies within this triad of culture, education and good governance: strengthening the African continent's ability to help itself; helping to ensure that Africans can enjoy a bright future and making our contribution towards peace and security on our neighbouring continent.

Let me therefore conclude by naming three areas which will form a special focus of our foreign policy activities:

Good governance and the promotion of human rights and democracy remain a cornerstone of our foreign policy, also in Africa. We are therefore particularly concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe where an ageing dictator is trying with all his might to hold on to power by systematically violating the political, economic and social rights of the Zimbabwean people. The people of Zimbabwe have now voted and demonstrated their desire for change. Today again we urge Zimbabwe's political leaders not to stand in the way of change. Together with our partners in the EU, we will do everything in our power to ensure that the second round of the presidential elections is fair and that the people can choose their own government. And we, along with the entire EU, are willing and ready to support a fresh economic and political start in Zimbabwe!

Anyone who cares about Africa must realize how important it is for Africa to harness and bring to bear its political, economic and cultural forces even better in future.

There is no lack of tasks which require a joint approach at African level. The last few months have reminded us of this once more. The recent food crisis, in which climate change and the economic impact of globalization have interacted with disastrous consequences, has hit a host of African countries in a very similar way. The fight against diseases and epidemics is another example.

Here, too, German policymakers and civil society are ready to help. Würzburg is a good illustration of how much: the German Leprosy and TB Relief Association has collected more than 200,000 euro in donations from people in this region within a very short space of time and opened a new hospital in Togo for treating Buruli ulcer, a truly horrific disease.

I inaugurated the building during my last trip and want to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to you, the people of the Rhein-Main region!

I would like to mention another aspect of regional cooperation: the AU's claim to resolve conflicts on the continent on its own, unfortunately, faces major challenges time and again. The recent escalation in the crisis between Chad and the Sudan is one example. Instead of opting for negotiations and dialogue with the help of the AU, both sides have resorted to military threats and sabre-rattling. This conduct is highly dangerous! I call upon all parties to return to the negotiating table and to work towards a lasting political solution under AU auspices.

With its Chairperson Jakaya Kikwete and the new Chairperson of the AU Commission, Jean Ping, the AU has two outstanding figures to tackle its manifold tasks. Both of these men have our full support, also in very practical terms. For instance, we will support the development of a pan-African security architecture by sponsoring a functioning, modern operations and situation centre for independent AU missions. This will better enable the AU to resolve and contain regional conflicts on its own.

Not only in bilateral cooperation but also as a member of the European Union, Germany will stand by Africa as it endeavours to master the many tasks of the future. The EU-Africa Strategy was launched one year ago during Germany's EU Presidency and formally adopted at the EU-Africa summit held in Lisbon last December. And we will continue to actively work on its implementation. I just want to mention one example here, the Energy Partnership, which we initiated along with the German energy industry. It is not only intended to promote and support economic development in African countries but also to help Africa use its own resources even better and more sustainably.

Africans say that anyone who has tasted honey will return to the honey pot again and again. And when I look around me here I have to say: Würzburg is such a honey pot and I wish you all a wonderful festival, stimulating conversations and many new ideas on cooperation and cultural exchange.

Thank you very much!

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