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Wind of change in the Sahel

21.04.2016 - Interview

Bert Koenders, Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier outline why the combined efforts of their two countries for the reconstruction process in Mali are so important. Published in the “Rheinische Post” newspaper on 21 April 2016.

Bert Koenders, Foreign Minister of the Netherlands, and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier outline why the combined efforts of their two countries for the reconstruction process in Mali are so important. Published in the “Rheinische Post” newspaper on 21 April 2016.

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Just outside Berlin, in Oranienburg, the friendship between Germany and the Netherlands is particularly vibrant just now. The “Orangefest” to be celebrated on Sunday in Schloss Oranienburg recalls our shared history and bears witness to the close relationship between Germany and the Netherlands.

At the political level, this close relationship is expressed in the second German-Netherlands intergovernmental consultations held today in Eindhoven. We also stand side by side in the EU where the Netherlands Presidency is providing sturdy support. Given the huge challenges facing Europe at the current time, this is more important than ever - take the refugee and migration crisis, the fight against Islamist terrorism and the crises in Syria, Libya and Ukraine.

But also in the Sahel, not even five hours by plane from us and thus not much further than the Canary Islands, there are tensions that threaten the stability of the entire region and also affect us in Europe. Countries plagued by poverty, inequality and shortfalls on democracy and human rights that are in the midst of reconciliation processes are weakened by terrorism and organised crime.

Particularly in this situation, it is decisive that we continue our support for Mali and the other countries in the Sahel. This includes combating poverty, hunger and a lack of prospects, as well as implementing the rule of law and human rights, strengthening democratic structures and realising urgently needed administrative reform.

Germany and the Netherlands are, for example, helping at the civilian level through various bilateral and European development projects. After all, without development there can be no peace, without security and stability no development. And as crime and terrorism do not stop at national borders, we are also supporting regional cooperation between the countries in the Sahel. This is key to peace in Mali and to more security and stability in the entire Sahel area.

Yet all stabilisation efforts will only be successful if they can be performed in a safe environment. That is why we Europeans took action as early as 2013 at the request of the Malian Government when Jihadists threatened to take control of the country: France by providing resolute support for the Malian army in pushing back the Islamists, the Netherlands by making major contributions to the UN peace mission MINUSMA and Germany by training Malian security forces within the EU Training Mission (EUTM). Since spring, Germany and the Netherlands have been building on their close cooperation in Mali within MINUSMA. Up to 650 German UN peacekeepers were stationed at the UN base in Gao which was built some 1200 kilometres away from Bamako by soldiers from the Netherlands. Together, German and Netherlands troops are going to further extend and optimise military reconnaissance for the UN mission.

The more than 10,000 soldiers from over 50 countries involved in MINUSMA are deployed to move the peace process forward. June 2015, for example, saw the conclusion of a peace agreement between the Government and the rebel groups. MINUSMA is now helping implement what was agreed. The aim is to ensure the decentralisation of power, the re-integration of the rebels in the army and economic development in northern Mali. The aim of the mission is to help stabilise Mali so that the country can offer its people bright prospects for the future.

To this end, Germany and the Netherlands are making available to the United Nations highly qualified soldiers and cutting-edge technology. But the key to a prospering Mali is in the hands of the Malians themselves. They have taken important steps in the right direction. But to date the Government's efforts to develop the north of the country have not been tangible enough for the people.

Progress on decentralising the country is important. The people need to be better placed to manage their affairs at local level. Basic needs such as security, education and electricity need to be guaranteed. Similarly, the people have to be able to make a living. Together with the United Nations, the EU and through close bilateral links, we are working to ensure decisive progress is made.

Germany and the Netherlands now stand united in Mali to create a stable Sahel. Foreign policy is more than just neighbourhood policy. What matters to us is what is happening to our neighbours' neighbours.

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