Article by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Wolfgang Niedecken, frontman of the Cologne rock band BAP. Niedecken was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for his charity work, the focus of which is Africa. Today (12 June), at the initiative of Foreign Minister Gabriel, Niedecken is performing together with the Kenyan musician Eric Wainaina at the Federal Foreign Office. This piece was published in the Berliner Zeitung and the Frankfurter Rundschau on 12 June 2017.
Africa is very visible in Berlin at present. From Schöneberg and the international conference on the G20 Africa Partnership to the Africa Festival at Alexanderplatz – not to mention at the home of German foreign policy, the Federal Foreign Office. Hope and confidence in the future are starting to emerge in every sphere, from economic development to cultural exchange.
However, we all know that more is needed if we are to take advantage of the opportunities the African continent can offer its citizens and us Europeans and if we are to tackle the dangers and horrors on the African continent from corruption and exploitation to poverty, refugee movements and displacement. We need more common ground, more commitment and, above all, better cooperation between state and society.
Artists should be role models for politicians
For this reason, art and politics have joined forces at the Federal Foreign Office today, indeed Wolfgand Niedecken and Eric Wainaina – and thus Cologne and Nairobi – have joined forces to send a message: “Arsch huh, Zäng ussenander” (get up off your backsides and speak out). That applies not only in Germany but especially to Germany’s relations with Africa.
The commitment of artists in particular to civil society can and should be a role model for politicians. The “Rebound” project, which enables former child soldiers to return to a free and self-determined life and which we support together, as well as the dedicated work by Eric Wainaina to fight corruption and champion the rule of law and democracy, are examples of this.
Cultural relations policy
An active policy on Africa will support projects of this kind in particular by helping civil society to gain more freedom, as well as by noting, fostering and backing the civil engagement of artists. For culture is the seismograph of developments within society, of problems just as much as of hopes. It can only thrive if it is free. Protecting and fostering this very freedom is the task of German foreign policy.
We are doing this via branches of the Goethe-Institut, schools and other educational institutions, as well as successful platforms such as “Music in Africa” – organised jointly with the Siemens Foundation, which is also involved in the German Government’s programme today. The freedom we help to create will make possible encounters and exchanges, especially outside the realm of the state and politics. Cultural relations policy thus creates access to education and culture in three directions: within our societies, between peoples and towards a new unity and solidarity.
That is why we have come together, determined to do more than ever before to expand German policy on Africa in order to further culture and education, as well as civil-society activities and peacebuilding.
Promoting African schools
We have set out and taken action. We are promoting schools and universities from Cairo to Cape Town, funding scholarships for students who have had to flee their countries, developing an East African-German University of Applied Sciences in Nairobi in conjunction with the German business community, expanding the Goethe-Institut network and, not least, supporting the creative sector in Africa. Besides the Siemens Foundation, we are mainly doing this through the Berlinale, as well as by pooling our resources with our French friends where this provides greater assistance.
We want to continue along this path together, thus helping to build the cultural, economic and political bridges which Europe and Africa need so urgently for a better future for people on both continents.