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Germany

Opinion: Helping Africa Is Europe's Political and Moral Duty

Horst Köhler is convinced that Africa's ideas will solve Africa's problem. That conviction marked the choice of countries he visited during his second trip to the continent as Germany's president.

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Kohler in Madagascar: Africa also has success stories

The reforms in Mozambique, Madagascar and Botswana are exemplary for the continent. In Mozambique, civil war has been overcome and decisive policies are being employed to combat poverty and improve the educational system. In Madagascar, the president has prescribed strict economic reforms, has pressed forward with improving the infrastructure and providing utilities for the countryside and has made the environment his top priority.

In Botswana, the political leadership handles the country's rich resources responsibly, and there's free healthcare and a social welfare system. It has the lowest level of corruption on the continent -- even ranking above Italy, Greece and Portugal in that respect -- and since independence four years ago, it has been a stabile democracy.

If such reform politics were the norm in Africa, there would not only be fewer catastrophes and wars on the continent; then Africa might even have left its neighbor, dogged old Europe, behind in some respects. In any case, Africa would generate different headlines than it now does as well as a different perception of it from Europe.

Horst Köhler in Afrika Mosambik

Education is vital

President Köhler wants good news from Africa, and he wants his trips to spread the message. He wants to use the three countries to show that the eagerness to reform can be felt all over, and that in Africa politics is often more pragmatic and fast than elsewhere when it comes to reversing developmental backwardness.

Elites are key

The president has his role in Africa. He can resume discussions where he left off as head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). He can freely and directly address political abuses -- and he's valued by his interlocutors. Back home in Germany, Köhler's political comments are often heavily criticized -- whether the issue is Congo or labor market policies. In Africa, he's viewed as a friend and welcomed with respect and trust.

As Köhler was frequently told during his visit, Germany also has an especially good reputation there. The Germans are considered to be strong and decisive, the Madegascan president told his German colleague -- a positive image that stands in glaring contrast to the generally negative image of Africa in Germany.

Why has Botswana achieved that which Angola or Congo -- also rich in resources -- have failed to do? Why is it that a country like Mozambique, still one of the 10 poorest in the world, achieves average growth of 8 percent? The key to success is the elites. If they take political responsibility, their countries can be led out of poverty and war.

Europe must cha n ge, too

That's why Köhler sees education as key to development. But Köhler is also convinced that enduring changes can't be made if industrialized countries don't change their politics. That goes for world trade as well as for the reckless and interest-led exploitation of raw materials on the African continent.

Wirtschaftliche Entwicklung in Botswana

Botswana's diamond mines have turned it into an economic success

Köhler's arguments go far beyond simple cost-benefit calculations. The situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Sudan and the growing number of refugees who strand on Italy's shores aren't alone in showing that the crises and conflicts in Africa threaten Europe's security and prosperity.

What's more important to the German president is that the poverty, desperation and death in Africa repudiate European values. Africa is a political necessity to him and a moral duty for Europe. Köhler brings it to a head with a question that European foreign policy hasn't yet answered: What remains of European values in an increasingly globalized world, if Europe continues to leave Africa aside.

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