Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas during the agreed debate in the German Bundestag: “For a comprehensive policy on Africa in the global context”

24.02.2021 - Speech

This debate today is a reflection not only of increased political interest in Africa here in Germany, but also of public interest in the continent. The fact that we are talking about Africa in the midst of a global pandemic reminds us above all of how closely the fates of Europe and Africa are intertwined, particularly in times like these.

That is why we have said from the outset that the pandemic will become a boomerang if we do not get it under control all across the world. For us in Europe, that is particularly true in relation to Africa. And so I am pleased that the COVAX scheme has started this month to deliver the first vaccines, including to Africa. At the recent G7 meeting, Germany made available 1.5 billion euro for further measures to tackle the pandemic worldwide. The health-policy and indeed foreign-policy impact of this move cannot be overestimated.

Sincere thanks go to the Federal Finance Minister and the Bundestag budget management for helping to make this possible.

Ladies and gentlemen, how we support our partner countries in Africa now in tackling the acute effects of the pandemic and its impacts will shape our partnership for years to come. In the end, it is a matter of demonstrating that a multilateral approach like COVAX brings greater success than a competition, an “everyone for themselves” scenario.

This does not mean viewing Africa solely through the lens of competition with countries like China, Russia, Turkey or the Gulf states. On the contrary: we all know that Africa cannot be used for a Great Game of the 21st century. We are firmly convinced that only balanced relations – and there is certainly room to work on that – are beneficial for both sides. After all, Europeans and Africans are directly dependent on each other in all the major issues defining the future: climate change, security, displacement and migration, sustainable development.

That is why the planned summit between the European Union and the newly elected leadership of the African Union must aim to establish a partnership for the future embodying very specific initiatives. I am thinking here, for instance – what else would one expect in the current circumstances? – of the African health systems, of even closer cooperation on digital innovations and renewables – the latter a topic all our African partners repeatedly bring up with us – and not least of support for Africa with its courageous, forward-looking project of a continent-wide free-trade zone that might become the driver of Africa’s economic integration.

Ladies and gentlemen, Germany and Europe already have much to offer in Africa. Forty percent of investment in Africa comes from the European Union. Sometimes it’s easy to gain the impression that China is the only one investing in Africa, but that simply isn’t the case, as the facts make clear. More than half of Africa’s development assistance comes from the European Union. Above all, however, Europe is Africa’s closest partner for peace and security. In this area in particular, there is much to be done in Africa. This is reflected not least in joint peace missions and in rising investment in training, equipment and advisory services for the security forces in many different African countries.

Structural reform and strengthening civilian control of local security forces always play a key role in our training missions. This truly comprehensive engagement, ladies and gentlemen, has brought a marked increase over the past few years in our scope for political activity in and with Africa.

As the initiator of the Berlin Process, we took a very conscious decision to assume responsibility for the Libyan peace process, for instance. With the successful election – just recently – of a political leadership to guide the country up till the elections in December, we are at long last seeing first fruits, after what – I have no wish to deny it – has been a long dry spell. When it comes to Libya, of course, this is no guarantee of lasting peace; but the successes so far strengthen us in our commitment.

Germany’s political profile has risen in the Horn of Africa, too. Our push for humanitarian access to the beleaguered Tigray region is slowly having an effect, not least with the Ethiopian Government. Although here, too, I have to say that we are still a long way from where we, many other European states and the international organisations want to be. We also play a central role in support for the political transition in the Sudan; we have made that more than clear in initiating the Friends of Sudan group and hosting the international Partnership Conference last June. And the fact that the United Nations civilian mission in Khartoum which we helped found last year is headed by a German – Volker Perthes, well known to the foreign-policy specialists among you – reflects the great trust that Germany in particular enjoys in the region.

Our political engagement in the Sahel and in the Lake Chad region has also increased considerably over the past few years. Together with France, the European Union and the G5 states, we launched the Partnership for Security and Stability in the Sahel in order to ensure better coordination on the ground of international stabilisation efforts. This is still needed. At the Sahel summit in Chad last week, all partners agreed on a “civilian surge”. In essence, it is a matter of a return of the state, with all that that entails. What are needed to this end are police forces to protect the population against crime, engineers to repair roads and water pipes, and judges to judge independently, without corruption.

Ladies and gentlemen, with the political capital we are investing in Africa, the expectations of us are naturally also increasing. I believe two things are needed if we are to meet these expectations: humility and confidence. We need humility above all against the background of the injustices of the colonial past, expressly including those committed by our own country. The repercussions of colonialism can still be felt, right up to the present day. So we intend to be all the more determined in examining all these points.

We need confidence first and foremost when it comes to what Europe and Africa can offer each other. Where others offer arms, mercenaries and debt traps disguised as cheap loans, what we offer is a democratic partnership geared to the common good. Especially where authoritarian states deliberately spread disinformation, we must be even more resolute in countering with the facts. That is what we are doing, for instance, with our regional German Information Centres – with a further one currently being set up in Bamako.

Ladies and gentlemen, the comprehensive policy on Africa which, I believe, derives from all this needs people to implement it. In the Federal Foreign Office, we are working all-out to recruit new colleagues for our missions in Africa. They will take up the additional posts made available by the Bundestag in the last budget. I would like to thank you very much indeed for approving this expenditure. These positions are needed so that we can operationalise our increased engagement in a lasting, sustainable manner on the ground.

Thank you very much.

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