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The international community has a vested interest in promoting stability in AfricaImage: illuscope

Germany Steps Up its Presence in Africa

November 6, 2003

Not usually a focus of German foreign policy, relations with Africa are generating more interest in Berlin -- not least as a result of the War on Terror.

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There's no overlooking the sudden flurry of interest on the part of Germany's statesmen. Berlin seems to have put German-African relations at the top of the agenda, with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder planning a trip in January 2004 and President Johannes Rau also set to visit soon. In early October, Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul spent four days in Kenya for top-level talks on corruption, constitutional reform, AIDS issues and Germany's 25 million euros in financial aid. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, meanwhile, last week made a five-day visit to Mali, Namibia and South Africa.

He was accompanied by Andreas Mehler, director of the Institute for African Affairs in Hamburg, who told Deutsche Welle that "Africa has never played a large role in Germany's foreign policy."

"But I believe that the foreign minister will now take a number of positive impressions home with him from his trip, and that can't hurt Germany's policy on Africa, and it may well boost interest," he said at the end of Fischer's visit.

The forgotten continent

So what's behind Germany's renewed interest in Africa? Both imports and exports from Africa have fallen, and the only countries with economic clout are South Africa and Nigeria. Nonetheless, during his visit Joschka Fischer was quick to emphasize that "in the globalized world of the 21st century, the African nations will have a role to play -- a role they must play. We cannot allow a neighboring continent of this size to be left outside the world economy and globalization, and that calls for a common effort."

The first step towards a common effort is opening up the world economy to African countries and ensuring fair trading terms for developing nations. According to Andreas Mehler, Germany "could also cultivate other interests in Africa. For example, we'd like to see the values enshrined in our basic law respected in Africa. These are normative interests, such as democracy, human rights and so on."

He adds that "after September 11, at the very latest, we realized that these values are bound up with our security. Poverty, combined with a lack of education and perspective, create breeding grounds for terrorism."

The growing terror threat

Mehler's comments highlight a key issue. Today, an unstable Africa has immediate repercussions for Europe. Mehler points out that if lawless regions arise in Africa, as is currently happening, then these can serve as a refuge for international terrorists, adding that "for this reason, it's important that we focus attention on the African continent."

His comments were echoed in Berlin on Tuesday, when NATO's top soldier, U.S. General James Jones told a press conference that "Africa, with its large ungoverned spaces, is increasingly going to be a haven for terrorists, for merchants of weapons of mass destruction and for people engaged in illegal international activities."

Joschka Fischer agrees. But while NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe described improving security and training local armed forces as one solution, Fischer sees another way forward.

Speaking in South Africa, he referred to the growing political awareness that "the Iraq crisis, the terrorist threat and ongoing globalization illustrate that we live in a world in which security cannot be guaranteed by arms, it has to entail development, in the broader sense."

Development aid as peace policy

In the 1990s, the German Foreign Office shut a number of embassies and consulates and cut back development aid. Now it's once again stepping up its presence. Africa is still the main recipient of German aid funds even though while he was in South Africa Fischer stressed that Germany's current economic difficulties would have to be overcome before financial support could be delivered. He described Germany as being "in a difficult budgetary situation," but added that "this is temporary and does not mean we are withdrawing co-operation or canceling financial support."

Another advantage to cultivating ties with Africa emerged during Fischer's visit. While in Mali, the German foreign minister formally thanked the country for its role in freeing the fourteen European hostages kidnapped in the Sahara earlier this year, saying that President Amadou Toumai Touré's intervention on the tourists' behalf was a key factor in their release. The president responded by saying that Germany always gives -- and it had been a honor for him to help Germany, for once.

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