Which form should foreign policy take when other states appear close to collapse? The crises in Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo have given that question a new relevance, not least for Germany.
The government crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or the Sahel state of Mali could erupt and spread at any moment but for very different reasons. In the DRC, the regions of the resource-rich country no longer feel any ties to the political center. The DRC is located in the troubled east of the continent. Residents there are unable to rely on the police and there are no functioning authorities. In addition, the road network, which should hold together Africa's second-largest state, has barely been developed.
Clocks run backwards
Even after the first democratic elections in 2006, which were held with European assistance, statehood remained elusive as violence from decades of war continued. Because of ethnic ties with neighboring countries and with valuable resources at stake, the current conflict could easily plunge East Africa into chaos. This wouldn't be anything new. In the 1990s, Congo was the battlegound for the "African World War," which involved armies from eight countries. More than four million people lost their lives in the conflict.
In Mali too, the clocks seems to turn backwards. Islamist fighters and rebel groups bring fear to the previously tolerant Muslim Sahel country. They are bringing about the division of a country which had long been considered a model for development. Now, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) is active in the region from southern Algeria to Libya, where it has longstanding ties to terrorist groups in sub-Saharan countries.
A terror zone
A zone of terror running from the western Sahel across northern Nigeria to the East African coast is very real threat to Europe. The deteriorating and weak states in Africa are already a haven for radical Islamists.
The public in Germany isn't really aware of any of this, says the German government's Africa commissioner, Günter Nooke. It is time politicians and the public took these new risks into consideration. "We must learn to have a debate about foreign policy. We need a debate on military policy, on security policy. I would say we absolutely need a public debate on foreign policy," Nooke told DW. Such a debate should also include development and foreign economic policy, as well as human rights policies, he added.
To date the debate in Germany has been rather low key, in contrast to neighboring European countries with a long colonial history, whose foreign and security policies have been developed over decades. One reason for this is, since the reinstatement of sovereignty through reunification in 1990, the scope for German foreign policy has increased. The country became involved in multilateral operations – such as the NATO intervention in the Balkans and Afghanistan. And, in 2006 Germany was active in helping secure the first democratic elections in the DRC.
US withdrawal from crisis management
Germany is now also needed in Mali. As part of a jointly approved European Union and African Union mission, the German army, the Bundeswehr, has been asked to send instructors to the country to help train the Malian army. But Germany's coalition government is reluctant to aggressively tackle the issue just a year ahead of the country's general election. But it is important, says Germany's Green opposition politician and development spokeswoman, Ute Koczy. "I think Germany has an obligation to get involved in Africa. We need to examine exactly what options there are."
If the Malian government wants to have military training, then the German government has an obligation to consider that wish, Koczy said in an interview with DW. "I think we can say the Bundeswehr's work in this area has been very solid. We need to tackle this, the country cannot simply be left to terrorist and subsequent violence." Germany would be ill-advised "just to sit back and do nothing," she concluded.
It can already be said that Europe, including Germany, will in future be called on to play a greater role in Africa. The US has made it clear that they want to turn their attention more to the Asia-Pacific region and that they see responsibility for security on the African continent as more of a European priority. But is German foreign, security and development policy prepared for this?
Plain speech with partner countries
From a development point of view, helping establish real statehood is a central issue for Germany. It has supplied funds for government advisers, helped set up courts and increase the efficiency of adminstrative structures. This also occurred in Mali. The opposition SPD party's development spokesperson, Karin Roth, speaks of a rapid and surprising development there. "In the case of Mali, we thought our development aid would help educate people and move things forward. lt was quite a model state." No one expected new influences from outside to cause such a rapid disintegration of the state. "The stability of the state could no longer be maintained," says Roth.
"The Sahel zone is not so far away," Günter Nooke points out. It is in the immediate vicinity of Europe and therefore it should be very much of interest to Germany when Islamists in Timbuktu or elsewhere introduce Sharia law.
It's unacceptable, says opposition politician Karin Roth, that certain things are not discussed openly at government level because "we are competing with China, India and other countries, and because we have our own interests in Africa." Plain talking is just as important as the analysis of progress and setbacks in the respective regions. Little attention was paid to Mali, and the DRC in the past – apart from elections and acute crises. "We did too little," Koczy says, referring to the DRC. As for Mali, "here too we find we did not look closely at drug conflicts and at which mafia structures have taken root. And now others have to pay the price."
Strategy in its infancy
In the summer of this year, a broad strategy for dealing with fragile states was drawn up. In the future, foreign, security and development policies will be better coordinated in political dealings with such states. In the case of Mali, a task force has already been established. But that is not enough for the Greens, says Ute Koczy. "This is a very weak paper that reveals how far away from a real strategy we actually are. In fact, I find it quite an exaggeration to speak of a strategy. The paper is really thin on content and doesn't really say a lot in terms of which direction we're planning to take and with what aim."
But, there is a consensus amongst all parties, whether government or opposition, that Germany is committed to security policy activities under the umbrella of multilateral operations and peacekeeping missions. And for the weak African states, it should be the African Union's responsibility to do more to secure peace in the region. "We have to consider what role we will play in Africa, together with the Africans," says Karin Roth. "And the answers to that question do not have to be European."