On his second trip to Africa, Horst Köhler will focus on the continent's success stories. During visits to Mozambique, Madagascar and Botswana, the German leader will promote better understanding of African issues.
German President Horst Köhler has made Africa his political focus
Success stories are rare in Africa, a continent plagued by conflict and catastrophe. Even rarer are news reports focusing on the region's positive aspects. Germany's president hopes to change that. His visit to the continent, starting on Monday, takes placae under an optimistic motto. Rather than dwelling on Africa's problems, Horst Köhler wants to draw attention to what works.
With stops in Mozambique, Madagascar and Botswana, the president has selected three countries which have managed to free themselves from the yoke of poverty, disease and lack of education. For Köhler, Africa is more than a continent in crisis. He is convinced that Europe's neighbor has more to offer than the negative headlines so often associated with it. And in his eyes, it is time the international community took more notice.
Africa must find its own way
Köhler has observed first hand the difficult political and economic reforms Africa has undertaken in the past decades. During his years as head of the International Monetary Fund, he traveled the continent six times. But he has refrained from promoting an ultimate solution for the region's problems.
Köhler visited Benin in December 2004
As with his trip last year, which took him to Sierra Leone, Benin and Ethiopia, Köhler has rejected a cure-all prescription for Africa. "No matter what we do, when we come as outsiders with our aid and our money, we must resist the temptation to press upon the Africans our notions of life," he said after returning from his previous trip.
"Of course Africa has its own tragic history with slavery, colonialism and the East-West conflict; but it has above all else its own culture," Köhler said. "We should refrain from exporting our ideals one-to-one to Africa," he said.
African role models
In December 2004, Köhler launched his first major trip abroad with a visit to Sierra Leone. Once mired down in a brutal civil war, the country managed to pull itself out of conflict with the aid of a large UN mission. It was this turn in fortune the president focused on, and not the country's continuing problems.
The countries Köhler is visiting this time have all found their own way, their own solution for dealing with poverty and the problems of political and economic instability. Botswana, the last country on the president's itinerary, is clearly a role model in this regard. The so-called "Switzerland of Africa" is no longer dependent on development aid. Instead, the country has become exemplary of sustainable and reform-oriented politics in Africa.
A fully automized diamond sorting machine in the Jwaneng mine in Botswana
Botswana has the highest gross domestic product in Africa. It owes this relative prosperity to its large diamond deposits: one-third of the world's diamonds originate here. The country the size of France and with a population of 1.7 million invests its profits responsibly in infrastructure projects, social welfare, schools, and above all in the battle against AIDS.
Perhaps more so than in any other African country, the leaders of Botswana have realized that if they do not focus their efforts on stopping the spread of AIDS, all their successes in social, economic and political development will be endangered. With four out of 10 adults testing HIV positive, Botswana has countered the catastrophic situation with a resolute policy: 12 percent of its national budget flows into the health system, one-third into education.
Madagascar's liberal course
While Botswana has proven itself over the decade as a successful reform state, Mozambique and Madagascar have only recently begun to turn themselves around. For both, Germany remains an important donor nation.
In the current and previous year, Germany made available some 16.5 million euros ($20 million) for development programs in Madagascar, with the prime benefactors being environmental projects and the protection and sustainable use of natural resources. After the country's civil war in 2001, the economy began to improve.
Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo
The fight against poverty is a major goal of the current leadership. Last year, economic growth hovered around 5 percent. More than two-thirds of all people in Madagascar live on less than $1 a day, and the public health system is not accessible to a majority of the poor.
President Marc Ravalomanana has set out a liberal economic course for the island nation, with attention focused on infrastructure, education and privatization. Köhler, whose contact with the Madagascar leader dates back to his days at the IMF, supports Ravalomanana.
But it is Mozambique that will initially set the accent for Köhler's trip. It will also be the first time a German president has visited the country. Although Mozambique is still dependent on two dozen donor countries, it is also one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. Its adjusted growth rate for 2006 is expected to be over 7 percent. Some 70 million euros from external aid flow into education, rural development and economic reform.
Mozambique's capital, Maputo
It is here that Mozambique faces its biggest challenges. It must push forward with the diversification of its economy. With the exception of a few large projects financed primarily by South African investors, the economy is dominated by farming, handcrafts and fishing. For this reason, the country will be watching the large delegation of corporate representatives traveling with Köhler in the hopes of winning more German investment projects.
Peaceful and democratic -- all three countries can lay claim to these attributes, and they are all good examples of Köhler's vision for Africa. During his trip through the continent, the German leader will be pressing his message that the world needs to take Africa seriously.
He is convinced that the security, peace and welfare of Europe can only be guaranteed as long as Africa receives its own fair chance. As he said during his inauguration speech: "For me our degree of humanity hangs on the fate of Africa. Is it not a question of Europe's self respect to involve itself -- in view of its own basic fundamentals, values and history -- honestly and wholeheartedly with Africa?"