Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the ceremony to award the German Africa Award 2020 to Ms Ilwad Elman

27.10.2020 - Speech

It’s almost a bit unusual to give a speech and look into real, human eyes. In the speeches I’m giving at the moment, I usually look into a camera lens. I’m therefore delighted that it was possible to organise this in-person event, in spite of the difficult conditions. I think what’s expressed by the prize can be much better documented on such a day as this.

Ms Elman,

I’m glad that you managed to get here at all in these difficult times. Sorry about the quarantine, but it affects us all. I’m quite familiar with it, because recently I too had to spend two weeks in quarantine. It was a fairly interesting experience with a lot of time for self-reflection. But I’m glad that it all worked out that you’re here today.

And today is something of an Africa day for me, because, as Dr Eid has just mentioned, the EU-Africa Summit should have taken place here right now. That’s why I just spoke on the phone today with my counterpart from South Africa, Naledi Pandor. We talked about how we will continue to prepare the postponed summit and try to identify its priorities at a meeting of foreign ministers. And I wasn’t afraid to tell my colleague that I’m presenting the German Africa Prize to you, Ilwad Elman, this evening. And she has asked me to send you her kindest regards. South Africa – like Germany in the EU – is currently holding the presidency of the African Union.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Right now, you can watch flocks of birds every evening in the sky over Germany. They’re migrating south, as far as Africa. After all, Africa is so close to us, and this becomes most apparent to us as “our migratory birds” are able to spend the winter there.

And yet, and this is a reality that has to be pointed out, and yet there is still often disinterest when you talk about Africa here in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

That’s not true here this evening, of course. This is because the Afrika-Stiftung has been fighting against precisely this wall for many years.

But there’s another wall that we have to fight against together, because it often blurs our view of Africa. There’s something that, unfortunately, emerges far too often in our society, also with regard to Africa, namely prejudice.

Crises, disease, corruption – these three things continue to shape perceptions of Africa in large sections of the European public. And the fourth thing – colonialism and its impact – is always part of this, on both sides.

Even new ideas are at risk of becoming a cliché in view of the ignorance about the other, which is, unfortunately still out there. Thus, for example, the constant talk of “Africa as the continent of the future” is, at best, only part of the story.

The story of Africa, a continent that comprises twice as many countries as the EU and is almost seven times as large, this story of Africa is complex – in ethnic, socio-cultural, economic and historical terms, and also with respect to religion.

Added to this are the geopolitical upheavals that do not stop at Africa’s borders.

Partners such as the US, which have a track record of getting stuck in, are looking for a new role and thereby also creating new vacuums in the area of security policy.

The UK no longer pools its engagement under the umbrella of the European Union. This is to do with Brexit.

And China is calling the shots in many quarters, also because Beijing is articulating its interests in Africa very clearly – and is asserting them even more rigorously.

But what does that mean for our relations with Africa? Or even for the articulation of a European “Africa policy”, which is often referred to in the European Union?

First of all, we Europeans should, at long last, think of Africa as our natural ally, and not only from a geographical point of view.

At the end of the day, the greatest challenges of our age affect us in equal measure. They affect both us here in Europe and our friends in Africa.

The most recent example is certainly the global pandemic, which we will only overcome if we get a grip on it around the world. This explains why Europe is so strongly committed to making a vaccine and medicines available to everyone. There’s a lot of talk at the moment about researching and approving a vaccine. I hope that this will come to pass in the foreseeable future. But there’s a second hurdle that must be overcome, namely the production of this vaccine. And then we have to make sure that this vaccine is seen as a “global public good” and gets to where it is needed – and not just to places where it can be paid for.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Not only the pandemic, but also the digital transformation, climate change, displacement and migration are phenomena that don’t stop at borders per se. They have not done so in the past and will not do so in the future.

And the logical consequence of this is that we, Africans and Europeans, must work much more closely together in the face of all these challenges.

That is why we in the Federal Government have set ourselves three goals in particular as part of our Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The first point is that we should perhaps start simply by creating a measure of clarity. And we at the Federal Foreign Office are just beginning – and I hope with the support of the German Bundestag – to step up personnel, logistics and all aspects of our missions abroad in fragile regions in Africa. We will hold discussions about this with the budget legislator.

This is one of the prerequisites for not only learning more, for being more up to date, but also for actually being able to implement the many initiatives that are out there.

We have also invested in new partnerships, such as the Compact with Africa in the G20 framework. And also with a regional focus, for example with the G5 countries in the Sahel.

What is more, we have improved our capabilities in the field of strategic communications. Anyone who wants to understand why, for example, tens of thousands of people in Lagos are currently taking to the streets against police violence should simply take a look at Africa’s social media.

And if you want to prevent crises from worsening and spreading further, you also have to turn your attention to a region like the Lake Chad basin, where there is a dangerous blend of eroding security, lack of government services and humanitarian crisis.

This is why, as another example, we have set up a regional stabilisation programme in the region, together with international partners such as Sweden, the UK and France, administered by the United Nations Development Programme, which makes life easier for the people on the ground in a most tangible and practical way.

This brings me to my second point. Our toolbox must be as broad and flexible as the multifaceted nature of Africa. “One size fits all” doesn’t cut it here.

In the G20 Compact with Africa, for example, we’re working in a targeted manner with countries such as Ghana and Ethiopia that are seeking to drive forward reforms and to create an environment that is more conducive to private investment.

In a crisis region like the Sahel, on the other hand, our engagement ranges from humanitarian assistance and the training of security forces to the stabilisation of state structures and development cooperation, with a view to creating prospects for peaceful coexistence in the first place.

Moreover, with a new European Peace Facility, we want to help such regions even better in the future to protect their citizens from violence, thereby creating a safe environment for sustainable growth and strengthening democratic participation.

We’ve now got a great many things off the ground also in post-conflict areas. But we mustn’t rest on our laurels as we’re still a long way from getting where we want to go together.

In the Sudan, after decades of dictatorship, we have forged an international coalition to support democratic forces.

And in your home country, Ms Elman, in Somalia, we’re supporting local networks working in the area of peace mediation in order, after years of civil war, to open the way to reconciliation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to mention a third and final point, which is particularly important to me when we talk about Europe’s relationship with Africa.

We Europeans in particular would do well to support all efforts to achieve greater African unity with all the means at our disposal. After all, we know from our own experience that, in this world of great-power rivalry, we, as Europeans, will only be heard if we speak with one voice in Europe.

The exchange between the European and African Union and with African regional organisations has therefore never been as important as it is right now.

As the world’s largest internal market, Europe is practically predestined to support the African Union in one of its key projects, namely the establishment of a continental free trade area.

The potential of European-African relations is far from exhausted, however. And this is a two-way street. We’re talking about partnership on an equal footing here.

In implementing the European Green Deal, Africa, with its enormous potential for renewable energies and biodiversity, quite simply has a key role to play, also for us in Europe.

And we in Europe can also learn from Africa in other areas.

One in four start-ups in the region are founded by women. Nowhere else in the world is the rate of female entrepreneurs as high as it is in Africa.

By the way, this is something that I have noticed time and again during my travels. Whether in the Sudan or Sierra Leone, it’s often women who, full of creativity and with great courage, as we are witnessing in Belarus, are breaking new ground and changing societies.

And that brings us to you, Ms Elman.

First of all, I’d like to congratulate you from the bottom of my heart on your award today.

At the age of only 30, you have been standing up for the weakest in society for over a decade – for child soldiers, for survivors of sexual violence, for the victims of Islamist terrorism, which is unfortunately still widespread in your homeland.

I, and many others besides me, have the greatest respect for that – especially when you see the great personal sacrifices your family has had to make, both during the civil war and since your return to Somalia.

With you, the German Africa Prize has been awarded to a most dignified, very inspiring and a profoundly human prizewinner.

As the winner of the German Africa Prize, you find yourself in good company. Whereas, in the past, the prize was awarded primarily to figures from African politics, the last eight years have been devoted almost exclusively to dedicated representatives of civil society.

This is a paradigm shift, and one that we are crying out for.

This is one of the reasons why we deliberately included deepening civil society partnerships as one of the priorities of our policy guidelines for Africa last year.

Social reconciliation, the protection of human rights, the fight for political participation and against all forms of discrimination – all this is simply not possible without a strong civil society.

Not in Africa, not in Europe, and not anywhere else in the world.

For me, this means that we – in Africa, in Europe, and also elsewhere – need even more people of your calibre, Ms Elman.

Women and men who are willing to stand up for humanity, often under the most adverse circumstances that we here in Central Europe cannot even begin to imagine.

Who speak out against injustice.

Ladies and gentlemen,

If we listen more to these voices – in Africa, in Europe and in many other regions of the world – then the walls I mentioned at the beginning of my speech will come down. The walls of disinterest and prejudice.

Then we will finally acknowledge what really connects us.

And there’s much more to this than we think.

Thank you very much, and congratulations, Ilwad Elman, on being awarded the German Africa Prize!


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