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Germany

President Koehler Heads to Nigeria for African Partnership Forum

President Horst Koehler's Africa conference focuses on good governance and economic advances in the continent. Host Nigeria is an oil-rich nation, and Germany will be hoping to profit from the plans too.

German President Horst Koehler on the left with the German flag in the background, on the right, Nigerian President Umaru Musa Yar'adua with the Nigerian flag behind him

Presidents Koehler and Yar'adua are looking to forge closer ties at the summit

German President Horst Koehler has said the Nigeria summit, which began Friday, Nov. 7, should not be seen as a donor-recipient conference, rather as a gathering creating greater understanding and proximity.

The fourth German-sponsored Africa Forum of the Partnership with Africa initiative could well be overshadowed by fighting between government forces and rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This conflict has turned some 250,000 people into refugees.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who is considered a crucial figure in defusing the tension across his western border in DR Congo, has cancelled plans to attend the conference, traveling to a Congo summit in Nairobi on Friday instead. Kagame has been accused of supporting the Tutsi rebel forces in Congo, led by General Laurent N'Kunda.

Closer commercial ties

Horst Koehler is sitting down, surrounded by a group of Rwandan schoolchildren -- most of whom are still concentrating on their teacher, despite the President's presence!

Koehler has always placed special emphasis on Africa

Despite Kagame's absence, other high profile Africa leaders will be at the conference. Ghanaian President John Kufuor, his Liberian counterpart Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Blaise Compaore from Burkina Faso, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi will all be in attendance.

Koehler aims to further develop trade ties, not least with the host nation Nigeria. Germany and Nigeria have signed a special energy partnership whereby oil-rich Nigeria exports fuel, while Germany helps Nigeria improve its own energy infrastructure. Although Nigeria is one of the world's top exporters of fossil fuels, most of the nation still has no access to electricity.

"I'm sure the Nigerian side has been working out some of the things it would want to put forward to the German government," said Alaba Ogunsawo, the former Nigerian envoy to the EU suspects.

Ogunsawo thinks Nigeria should openly discuss its development plans with Germany, stating where it could use German assistance, and asking what it would take to get that help:

A view of the Nigerian city of Lagos from one of the city's scyscrapers

Prosperity and poverty meet in Nigeria's largest city Lagos

"In the question of electricity, power supply and all of that within Nigeria, Nigeria can see that Germany solved that problem long ago,” Ogunsawo told Deutsche Welle. “How can Germany help Nigeria to solve the problem? What do we need to get into strategic partnership?"

Jochen Schmillen, Germany's ambassador to Nigeria, has said that German firms will help provide 6,000 megawatts of electricity to the Nigerian national grid as part of the energy partnership.

Combating corruption

But aid organisations like Human Rights Watch don't think that improving Nigeria's infrastructure will solve the country's problems by itself. There is another, well established infrastructure of corruption which siphons oil money away from the Nigerians who need it most.

"Children don't have the learning aids they need, there's no effective healthcare provision, and the population is still poor," HRW's Marianne Heuwagen said. "And that's because a small clique of politicians and businessmen are funnelling the country's riches into their own pockets, instead of fighting poverty."

Only 40 percent of the population can read and write. The World Bank estimates half of Nigeria's 140 million people live below the poverty line. But meanwhile, the oil industry is thriving and oil output is set to double by 2010, reaching 4.5 million barrels per day.

Human Rights Watch said that national corruption explains why this boom in trade is having no discernable impact on the population.

A Nigerian boy plays close to an oil well in Olomoro village in Isokoarea of the delta region of Nigeria Wednesday 28 March 2007.

Nigeria's oil wealth doesn't fuel growth for everyone

That's why it's so important for President Koehler to talk openly about fighting poverty in his discussions with [Nigerian President Umaru Musa] Yar'adua," Heuwagen said. "Even human rights violations are pushed under the carpet. For instance in many cases the Nigerian police force is responsible for persecuting certain ethnic groups and inciting ethnic tensions."

Nigeria's President Yar'adua has promised to reform his nation, but his nickname in some corners of Nigeria is now "Baba Go-slow" because of the lethargic nature of progress during his presidency. However, President Koehler's office has praised Yar'adua for doing good work in a difficult situation.

In the first seven months of 2008, Germany imported goods worth one billion euros ($1.3 billion) from Nigeria, while exporting 700-million-euros worth of goods to the African country.

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