Honored Cabinet Secretary Arero,
Distinguished Scientists, artists, scholars,
Please allow me to start by introducing a special guest who has been accompanying me these last few days. His name is Dominic Owuor Otiang’a. He is a young Kenyan writer from Busia who currently lives in the small city of Esslingen in Southern Germany.
Mr. Otiang’a has written a remarkable novel called “The German Dream”. At the same time funny, sad and true, it talks about the experiences African migrants have to face in Germany. The stereotypes – positive and negative. The daily struggle, the homesickness and the confusion one encounters in an unknown country.
Books like this one allow me to see my home-country through the eyes and with the sensibility of a foreigner. It offers insights that I could not gain myself.
This reminds me of something the German-Indian poet Rajivinder Singh explained to me in New Dehli last year. He called it “the principle of the six eyes”:
“We should always look at each other with our own eyes, with the eyes of the other – and from a joint perspective”.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
How can we look with the eyes of the other? How can we find a joint perspective?
These are questions we have to ask if we want to find our way in today’s complicated world.
Whether we look at the crises here in Africa, in Europe, the Middle East or elsewhere: Our world seems to be in disarray.
Here in your immediate neighborhood, the effects of the conflicts in Somalia and South Sudan can be felt deep within Kenyan territory and society.
Closer to my home, the conflict in Ukraine has brought back the question of war and peace to our own continent. It is a question we had long believed overcome in Europe.
These crises call us to action: They require us to provide quick and effective relief to those in need and they require us to work untiringly diplomatically to help restore peace and security – as Germany is still doing in the case of Ukraine, in an environment which is still fragile.
What is crucial to me, however, is to look beyond the immediate crisis response> We need to invest in sustainable strategies to ensure peaceful international cooperation in the future, to prevent future crises!
Cultural exchange and civil society have a crucial role to play. The German sociologist and politician Ralf Dahrendorf once called on us to move from a foreign policy of states to a “foreign policy of civil societies”. I believe that’s very valid!
Only open dialogue between our societies --- between our citizens, our scienties, between young musicians, architects or authors --- will aloow us to build lasting mutual trust and understanding beyond borders. And it is this trust and this willingness to understand that provide the crucial tools helping us to prevent future conflict and crisis.
In Germany, we are preparing the way to create a unique platform to give a little support to this important task.
In the centre of Berlin, the historical Stadtschloss --- the city castle --- is being reconstructed. But what will look like a castle from the outside will contain a completely new and unique forum on the inside: A meeting place for the citizens of the world.
“The Humboldt-Forum” will be a market place of ideas, an “agora” that is encouraging debate across scientific disciplines, across nations, across cultures.
The Foreign Office wants to help make this “agora” concrete and effective. Stipends for a scientist-in-residence programme, for example, in collaboration with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and other partners are one interesting idea to consider in this respect.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Humboldt-Forum will not just be a talking shop. It should strive to be a productive hub for scientific research, invention and creativity. Its essence is the idea of collaboration, co-production and co-creation of art and knowledge.
Let me just cite two examples where this productive spirit is already being applied in cross-cultural projects in Kenya and Germany today:
The Goethe Institute’s “Ten Cities” project has brought together musicians and researchers from five African and five European cities over the past few months. Composing and debating together, they have co-produced their own songs, as well as written a joint book about urbanism on both continents. It is a truly intercontinental co-production!
Another excellent example of Kenyan-German co-production addresses a key challenge of our time: The preservation of our world’s limited natural resources.
I am very pleased that the head of the German Academic Exchange Service, the DAAD, Ms Margret Wintermantel, has accompanied me on this trip. It is your house, Ms Wintermantel, the DAAD, that will be launching a new Kenyan-German collaboration in the field of resource management this year. The project will see academic partners from both our countries cooperate in the training of engineers and other professionals in the resource sector.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am looking forward to seeing even more innovative co-productions between our two countries and continents. And I am looking forward to hearing your insights!
I am convinced that the Humboldt-Forum can provide a large and welcoming roof for ideas from across the globe. And by doing so, I hope that it will also stimulate debate about our own country’s cultural heritage.
Sometimes we should remember Wilhelm von Humboldt, the great reformer of our education system in the 19th century, who was saying: “To be in touch with as much of the world as possible, to make the entire world part of your own being – that is what being alive means, in the higher sense of the world.