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Germany

Steinmeier: 'Politics is our Africa priority'

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is on a tour of Africa. He told DW on the first leg of his trip in Ethiopia that economic and democratic development cannot be separated.

Deutsche Welle: The situation in Ukraine is very tense and there's a dangerous crisis in Europe: is this the right time for a trip to Africa? Are you able to concentrate on the countries you're visiting?

Frank-Walter Steinmeier: It's not as if we would ever have the chance to concentrate on one conflict in the world and close everything else off. But at the current time, in the current situation, it's particularly difficult to leave the conflict in the Ukraine behind and concentrate entirely on Africa. We are of course continually in contact with Berlin and with the German embassy in Kyiv. All the same, it is very important that we show our respect for the three African countries we're visiting, and that we also show that other things aren't always more important than they are.

Have we in the past spoken too often about speaking as equals, while we've shown too little respect?

What is certain is that Africa has changed faster than our perception of Africa. That doesn't mean that the African continent has suddenly become a continent with a prosperous economy, free democracy and human rights. But it has perhaps become more varied. There are still the hot spots: bilateral conflicts between states, and often conflicts between a state and ethnic and religious minorities. There's all that. But we shouldn't overlook any more that there are increasingly areas of stability - even bilateral or regional cooperation. That's a development which we in Europe have always wanted to see.

We always say that German foreign policy is guided by values and interests. How do you speak about human rights issues, for example, in Ethiopia - a country in which virtually no opposition is allowed?

Frank Walter-Steinmeier in Äthiopien

Steinmeier's talks in Ethiopia (here with foreign minister Teodros Adhanom) touched on human rights

We have dealt with that intensively with the Ethiopian prime minister, who was very capable of arguing his position. He insists on a specifically Ethiopian path. We agree about the long term goals: the Ethiopian government also wants democracy and respect for human rights. But Germany and Europe have had a century of development behind them. Ethiopia will definitely not need as long as that. We have heard what they had to say and have pointed out that, in our experience, economic development and democracy can't be divided from each other.

You are visiting three stable countries. Following this tour,

International Development Minister Gerd Müller

will be continuing to Mali and South Sudan. Does that mean the foreign minister goes to the prosperous countries while the development minister goes to the crisis states?

No, that's not the case: most of the talks in Ethiopia have been about the situation in Somalia, South Sudan or the fundamental conflict here between Eritrea and Ethiopia itself - so this is also a conflict region! I've started my Africa trip in Ethiopia in order to show that the seat of the African Union is more than just a hope. Our talks with the AU and its leaders were really astonishing: self-confident but also fully aware of their responsibility for development in Africa, from the development of trade relations to the development of the economy, but especially in ensuring security and peace. Naturally, there's a lot which has not yet been completed - but in Germany and Europe we tend to underestimate what has been already set on its way. The AU is seen as a mature authority among African states, and it's accepted as top-level negotiator by other international organizations, including the EU.

Does that also apply to military deployments in conflict regions?

AU summit in Addis Ababa

The African Union has turned into a major international player

The AU has some 70,000 soldiers deployed in inner-African conflicts, acting as a peacekeeper or working to remove conditions of unrest. One thing I've noticed: no-one expects us to send soldiers on fighting missions - in fact, it's almost the other way round. Many people say here, "We're sick of asking Europe, America and the UN for soldiers. We want to be able to do it ourselves." The request now is, "Support African countries or the AU to train their own capabilities." That's why

consultancy, training and equipment

will in future be more important than we have been aware of in Germany so far.

The usual question is: How can Germany or Europe help Africa? But the opposite question is: How does Germany profit from Africa?

We are affected both positively and negatively by each other. Scarcely any conflict is only regional. The Africans have for some year now been affected by the European crisis, since there's simply been less finance available and individual countries in Europe have not been in a position to look after their African partners. At the same time, we have been affected by internal African crises, mainly as a result of the movement of refugees. That's why we profit when islands of stability emerge in Africa. That's just beginning to happen perhaps at the moment in East Africa, in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi, where we have the beginnings of a regional cooperation.

Members of the Tunisian parliament wave flags after approving the country's new constitution

Tunisian parliamentarians have reason to be proud of their country's transition to democracy

It's similar in North Africa if I look at

the development in Tunisia

. The situation in Egypt and Libya must certainly give us cause for concern: it looks as if we haven't seen the end of the escalation there. But Tunisia has gone through a difficult domestic process which has led to a new constitution and the country is preparing for a change of government. I phoned the outgoing prime minister, and he was completely taken aback and asked, "Why are you phoning me?" I told him I wanted to thank him for clearing the way through his resignation for the election and for a democratic and civilian change of the country's political leadership. That was a great personal achievement, which was linked with his having to abandon his own political career. That's why I say: we have a special situation in Tunisia which deserves our support.

Back to the issue of a foreign policy directed by interests: one country on this trip is Angola, a country which is rich in raw materials. Are raw materials the main positive thing we can expect from Africa?

an oil platform in Angola

Angola is a major oil producer

Once more and absolutely clearly: there are many different kinds of relationships with Africa and the AU which allow us to benefit from peaceful and stable development in the various regions of the continent. The stages on this trip are so varied that one can't restrict this visit to the superficial securing of our interests in raw materials - the opposite is the case. Tanzania, for example, is a country which is not linked to us through raw materials interests, but as a result of a long tradition of political connections. And Angola is a third country in a totally different category. It's certainly the one which is doing best economically out of the three, but, as far as political developments are concerned, it's the one which is lagging behind. One can't of course completely exclude economic interests from foreign policy - that would be naïve, or rather, if the foreign minister said that, it would not be honest. But I'm trying to show that foreign policy should not be reduced to that and shouldn't reduce itself to that, but, for us, the political aspect is always in the foreground.

When you came to office, you announced

an Africa strategy

. Would you have liked to have that strategy complete before you came here?

It's not just a matter of the strategy being written out on a piece of paper. Anyone who's been in politics a few years knows that it's a good idea to think about where one wants to go before one starts out. But one also knows that reality tends not to line up according to the papers and concepts. In that respect, it's a matter of confronting the concepts and the ideas with reality and thus to make the concepts better - that's why I'm here, and that's why I'm here while the Africa concept is still being worked out.

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