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Europe

German-African Ties: More than just Sports

German President Johannes Rau travels to Africa bringing good will, economic hope and a bag full of soccer balls.

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South African President Thabo Mbeki will meet with German delegation

German President Johannes Rau travels to South Africa for the first time on Sunday. It is his 37th international trip while in office. He will also be visiting Mali on the west coast of Africa. At the end of his trip, he'll take in a soccer match.

President Rau will be accompanied by a delegation of business and economic leaders as well as representatives of the Catholic and Protestant churches. The parliamentary secretary in the Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation, Eschi Eid, and the state secretary for foreign affairs, Jürgen Chrobog, will also be traveling with the president.

During his three-day visit in South Africa, Rau will meet with the country’s president Thabo Mbeki and the Nobel prize winner for literature Nadine Gordimer. Owing to scheduling conflicts, Rau will not be able to meet with former South African president and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela as originally planned. Instead Rau will hold a speech at the newly established Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. Earlier in his political career, Rau championed the cause of the anti-apartheid activists and became personal friends with many of them.

While in South Africa President Rau will take a look at the work of the German Society for Technical Cooperation in the fight against AIDS. The immune deficiency syndrome is wide spread in South Africa, and the German aid organization has been actively involved in developing education awareness programs. The programs are all run in country and are directed at supporting local AIDS/HIV projects, by helping to develop and implement strategies to reduce the spread and impact of the disease.

The work of the German Society for Technical Cooperation is just one example of the strong ties Germany has to South Africa. On the economic side, Germany is the second most important trading partner after Great Britain. The German travel industry, which brings in much needed foreign currency, is also crucial to the South African economy.

Mali

After visiting South Africa, Rau will continue on to Mali. The west African country is one of the poorest in the world: the average yearly income is roughly 272 euro ($240). But President Alpha Oumar Konare has made strides on the road to improving his country and guiding it to more democracy. The free press and the separation of politics and religion in the Muslim country have been praised by regional observers.

According to the German Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the ties between Germany and Mali are good. Throughout the last several years, Germany has played an active role in economic and development projects in the country.

In addition to meeting with the President Konare and other leading politicians, Rau will spend his four days in the country talking to professors and students in the German department at the university in Bamako. He hopes to increase the German-Mali cultural ties.

While Rau tours Mali, the African Soccer Cup will be under full swing in Bamako. If all goes according to plan (both Rau’s schedule and the aspirations of the Mali national team), Rau will have the opportunity to take in the match Mali vs. Nigeria on January 24.

Soccer fans in Germany will understand the significance of Rau’s visit at the match: two Mali soccer players are signed on with the first league team SC Freiburg. And as a gesture of cultural friendship and good sportsmanship, Rau is bringing a bag full of soccer balls for the Mali youth.

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