Opinion: Foreign Minister Heiko Maas prioritizes German-African relations | Opinion | DW | 05.05.2018
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Opinion: Foreign Minister Heiko Maas prioritizes German-African relations

Germany's new top diplomat showed himself to be a reliable partner during his inaugural visit to Africa. Now all that is needed is a meaningful policy on Africa, says Ludger Schadomsky.

Deputy Chairman of the African Union Thomas Kwesi and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas shake hands (Imago/photothek/I. Kjer)

Germany's Heiko Maas (l.) meets Deputy Chairman of the African Union Thomas Kwesi in Addis Ababa

Unlike during his appearance the previous week in New York, Heiko Maas repeatedly emphasized on his three-day inaugural trip to Africa that he had not traveled there to promote Germany's candidacy for a nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

If this really was the case, then, by chance, the new guy did some things right. In many respects, his visit was symbolic: As the new foreign minister, he prioritized this trip to Africa. Not even seven weeks in office, Maas has already traveled to Ethiopia and Tanzania, both Berlin's long-standing partners and headquarters of important regional organizations. In Ethiopia, a country of 100 million people, there is currently a cautious thawing of political relations; in the former German colony of Tanzania, the government is (too) vehemently fighting corruption.

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Multilateral vision

At every chance, the newly appointed foreign minister stated his credo: At a time of increasing unilateralism, we must have the courage to stand up for multilateralism. This is well-placed for Africa, which, following the European model, is becoming more and more interlinked under the strategic framework "Agenda 2063," from the pan-African passport to the envisaged free trade zone. Much is still in the early stages, national self-interest is widespread (the new Europe sends its regards), but a positive trend is clearly visible. So, the encouragement of a valued partner like Germany is coming at exactly the right time.

Meaningful initiatives

DW's Ludger Schadomsky (DW)

Ludger Schadomsky heads DW's Amharic desk

The German G20 presidency last year, during which the focus was on Africa, was hopelessly overloaded with more or less meaningful initiatives. Above all, however, discourse on Africa in 2017 was conducted against the background of migration flows from the continent to Europe. It was not without good reason that German foreign and development policy earned the reputation of being, in fact, anti-migration policy. It was therefore quite beneficial that the topic of migration was, at least officially, not an issue during this visit.

Instead, Maas, with noticeable enthusiasm, perhaps due to his background as a lawyer, was concerned with international jurisdiction. Two visits were on the agenda: to the administrator of the international criminal tribunals of The Hague and Arusha, and to the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. Not all African countries have ratified these courts' protocols, and Germany, as a major donor, is supposed to help by asserting gentle pressure and supporting steady capacity building.

Training instead of returned artifacts

Maas also took the sensitive topic of the culture of remembrance from Berlin to Africa by honoring African victims of the First World War. His office wants greater participation in the Humboldt Forum's flagship project, which is to be the centerpiece of Berlin's new palace and will display ethnological collections from Asia, Africa and the Americas. But since French President Emmanuel Macron announced the return of colonial loot and stolen art to Africa, Berlin and London are now under pressure.

While the controversy continues over the historical reappraisal of the genocide of the Herero and Nama peoples in present-day Namibia, dialogue with Tanzania is more relaxed. Maas' Tanzanian counterpart did not demand the return of the monumental dinosaur skeleton from Berlin's natural history museum, but rather, German help in training local archaeologists.

Germany needs clearer policies

The new foreign minister's inaugural talks clearly showed that Germany continues to enjoy a good reputation in Africa. Berlin is a reliable partner in terms of financing peacekeeping operations on the continent and in supporting important regional organizations and dialogue on democracy and human rights.

Now, under the new German government, all these activities must finally be brought together to form a coherent policy on Africa. For years, this has not gone much further than well-intentioned ideas.

Following the unexpected withdrawal of its competitor Israel on Friday, Berlin can now, with some certainty, place relevant Africa issues prominently on the UN Security Council's agenda in 2019 and 2020.

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