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Dirk Niebel
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Security first

Interview: Sven Pöhle / lbh
July 11, 2013

Effective development policy needs a secure and stable environment, says Germany’s Development Minister Dirk Niebel. In unstable countries like Mali, the establishment of security should not be neglected.


DW: According to interdepartmental guidelines from the German government, "The engagement of unstable countries takes priority for effective crisis prevention." In Mali, this has failed. Did the German government make mistakes there?

Dirk Niebel: I don't believe the German government can be blamed for the presence of terrorist groups in Mali. On the contrary, Mali has done just what development politicians want. What little financial resources were available were invested in development of the people, not the military. The results clearly show that developing countries need to recognize their governmental duties in order to ensure the protection of their territories and their people. Mali was obviously weak in that respect. Therefore it's important that alongside the development work - which is most definitely the sharpest sword against terrorism - the German government and the international community play an integral role in training private security.

Should there have been more military aid for Mali?

In Mali's case, one would've needed to support the rebuilding of the country alongside the rebuilding of a security structure. I know that the German military has been training Malian officers for years.

What's the connection between security and development politics?

Good development ideas won't get very far without a stable, secured environment. We can see that instability and the failure to achieve development goals are directly related. Unstable countries have a difficult time reaching the UN Millennium Development Goals.

Malian solders in camoflage
Germany's Bundeswehr have helped train Malian troops to search for mines and detonate explosivesImage: DW/K. Gänsler

You have repeatedly stressed that development policy is also guided by our interests. What is Germany's interest in Mali?

From Mali to the Mediterranean Sea, there is only one national border. When looking at a map of Africa, you find an increasing belt of instability from Mauritania to Somalia. There are political and religious extremists there who disdain the liberal way of life in Europe and North America. Curbing this threat is a fundamental interest of its own for Germany.

What has been done to stabilize this crisis region in northern Mali?

German development cooperation has sought to ensure that the Tuareg in the north can adequately participate in government activities and programs, and that we include them - like all other groups - in our projects. Equality is of central importance, lest additional stresses occur, should we favor one group over another. But German development cooperation can't develop the country alone. Quite the opposite: we only provide support so that the Malian structures can grow strong enough, enabling the Malian elite to lead their own country. And there's still work to do in that arena.

What course of action must be set in order to rebuild Mali in a sustainable way?

The Malian authorities must implement the roadmap toward restoration of constitutional order. This includes free and fair elections across the country. Human rights must be respected, and a dialogue of reconciliation must be initiated. Rule of law is a key requirement. In addition, the military must be controlled by civilian authorities again. With a development-oriented government, we'll have the opportunity to be successful in our development plans. That requires transparency on the part of the Malian government and the fight against corruption. In the international donor community, we have made it clear: If these requirements aren't met, the funds we have promised can not flow.

In the coming years, you have slated 100 million euros ($131 million) for Mali. From 2009 until the coup in March 2012, Germany supported Mali with development projects totaling 125 million euros. How were these funds used, and what is planned for the future?

We were engaged in rural development and decentralization especially but ceased our cooperation with the government when the coup situation arose. We continued our work in Mali away from the government but close to the people.

Malian refugees at a UNHCR camp
'All ethnic groups should have access to government, including Tuareg in the north'Image: DW/Peter Hille

And now we're there again: We're supporting decentralization to build a viable democratic structure from the ground up. We're considering the development of rural spaces and food security. We support the Malian government's roadmap back to democracy. Therefore we have put a condition on our promise: for 2013 and 2014, we're ready to invest up to 100 million euros, if this roadmap is implemented.

The current situation in Egypt is similar to that of Mali in March 2012: The military brought down an elected government. Under what conditions can cooperation with Egypt - Germany is the second largest donor of development aid to that country - take place?

It's too early to judge the final outcome - we know too little about the transitional government. It will be particularly important that the transitional government take a rapid path back to democracy. Germany has been and will continue to be a long-term, reliable partner to the people of Egypt. We will not abandon the people of Egypt.

How can the failure of a state be prevented?

The failure of a state can be prevented in the first place by the country itself, not by outside forces. But we can help by providing perspectives that allow countries more stability. This doesn't just mean money. It involves the framework conditions and whether corruption is being fought, as it's one of the greatest obstacles to development, in general. All in all: Combating instability takes patience. Our main aim is to strengthen civil society. Where there is a weak civil society, there is a weak country.

Dirk Niebel has been Germany's minister for economic development and cooperation since 2009.

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