German foreign minister to attend African summit | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 21.07.2010
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German foreign minister to attend African summit

Guido Westerwelle is to address the African Union summit in Uganda, at which Somalia will top the agenda. The conflict there is seen as a threat to the stability of neighboring countries.

Ugandan troops carrying African Union flags in Mogadishu

African Union troops in Somalia need international support

A few years ago, it would have been anything but a matter of course for a German foreign minister to participate in a high-level meeting of African leaders. Experts consider Guido Westerwelle's attendance on Thursday of the African Union (AU) summit in Uganda's capital Kampala as evidence of the continent's growing significance for Berlin.

There is no lack of topics for conversation between the two sides. But instead of general talks about security issues and German-African cooperation, one topic in particular will preoccupy Westerwelle on his second trip to the African continent: the recent bomb attacks in Uganda.

Two weeks ago, Somali extremists detonated two bombs in Kampala among crowds watching the soccer World Cup final, killing at least 74 people. Since then, not only neighboring regions fear that the terror in Somalia is now spilling over to their countries. It has become a concern for all of Africa.

"Somalia is in a crisis," said Mohammed Maundi, Tanzania's ambassador to the AU. "But it isn't an island. It is surrounded by other nations. If the problems there aren't solved, they spill over to other countries like Kenya or Uganda. That is why the entire African continent is obligated to make Somalia safer."

Support for African troops

Basically, this means more soldiers for African nations. So far, there are some 6,000 African peacekeeping troops stationed in Somalia. The majority of them are from Uganda.

islamic fighters in mogadishu

Islamic fighters continue to battle peacekeeping forces in Mogadishu

As yet, the AU has been relatively unsuccessful in Somalia. The soldiers merely safeguard the presidential palace and a few streets in the capital Mogadishu. If Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni had his way, the troops would be increased to 20,000 soldiers. For that, the AU needs foreign capital - if only to fly the soldiers to Somalia.

It's a demand that in principle could be met with good will by Westerwelle and his EU counterparts. Germany and the EU have emphasized that primarily African troops be stationed in Somalia and other African trouble spots as part of the "support of African peace and security architecture," as it's called.

Germany's foreign office financially supports the development of African peacekeeping troops. Andreas Mehler, director of the GIGA Institute of African Affairs in Hamburg, said there is a pragmatic reason for this.

"I think the AU bridges a gap when others don't want to or can't do so yet," Mehler said. "It is simply the case that the AU is in any case cheaper. Politically, it is practically at no charge to support this."

Creating "islands of peace"

Until now, AU troops are deployed to two regions. In addition to Somalia, they are also patrolling in the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur. In both areas, they have hardly been able to limit the conflicts through their presence. The troops are often poorly trained and equipped. In addition, they often get caught in the crossfire, because peace agreements are not adhered to.

Kgalema Motlanthe, guido westerwelle, dirk niebel

Westerwelle met with South Africa's vice-president Kgalema Motlanthe on a visit in April

Mehler therefore recommends in the case of Somalia that Germany and the EU should expand their policies to the country. He calls for increased cooperation with renegade provinces which have declared themselves independent.

"It would probably make sense diplomatically to recognize Somaliland, which is factually an independent state and therefore make clear that this is a realistic policy," he said.

According to Mehler, Germany and the EU could then do more to stabilize these autonomous regions. And such "islands of peace" could be a first step to more stability in the Horn of Africa.

Interest in resources

But there are further reasons for Germany's growing focus on Africa. For one, Germany is still seeking a permanent seat in the UN Security Council - and requires African support for this endeavor.

Mehler said economic interests also play a role.

"We've determined that a competition for resources exists, not least because China is also after these," Mehler said. "In this sense, Africa has become important as a supplier of raw materials."

Author: Daniel Pelz/sac
Editor: Michael Knigge

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