German foreign minister seeking "anchors of stability" in Africa

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier is seeking to intensify ties between Germany and Africa. Berlin is particularly interested in countries that foster regional stability.

Steinmeier's four-day trip took him to three countries - the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Kenya - and its purpose is to forge new partnerships for Germany.

There were occasional glitches. At the Nairobi museum, the minister was shown the start of a film with sound, but no pictures.

But such mishaps did not stop the high-level cultural and scientific delegation from Germany engaging in a lively debate with Kenya's cultural elite about new forms of cooperation with Africa. Such cooperation is expected to acquire tangible shape at a newly created Humboldt Forum in Berlin starting in 2019.

Cultivating a new relationship with Africa was the main goal of the foreign minister's four-day tour. In spite of the ongoing crises in Ukraine, the Middle East and Greece, Steinmeier went ahead with his Africa tour, the fourth in twelve months, to promote Germany's new Africa policy.

"We have to look at Africa in a new way," Steinmeier said. Germany still tends to view Africa as the continent of crises and conflicts. "But this is no longer true for all of Africa, because there are also anchors of stability in which we are particularly interested," the German minister said.

'Where is Germany?'

Steinmeier said one anchor of stability in the region was Rwanda, despite deficits in democratic governance and its tense relationship with its neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

But Rwanda is not satisfied with the work of the UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO to which Germany contributes more than 100 million euros (US$ 113 million) every year.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said FDLR Hutu rebels were still active in the border region where they were spreading "ethnic poison." They have to be "eliminated," the Rwandan minister said bluntly. She blamed the head of MONUSCO Martin Kobler - who otherwise enjoys an excellent reputation - for the FDLR's continued presence in the region.

Mushikiwabo wants Germany to take on a far bigger role in the region. Currently only France, the UK and Belgium are active there."Where is Germany?" she asked, "We want more German presence here seen in the region, and across the continent."

Anchors of stability are rare in Central and East Africa. A few days ago, German President Joachim Gauck added Tanzania to the list.

Kenya, the last leg of Steinmeier's tour, is not one of them. The Somali terrorist militia group al-Shabab has repeatedly carried out attacks in the country and the internal political situation is considered fragile. But Steinmeier noted to Kenya's credit that it is the country that is promoting regional cooperation within the framework of the East African Community (EAC).

East Africa - a dependable partner

Steinmeier believes East Africa could develop into a politically strong and economically stable region. A customs union encompassing Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda, would create an internal market of at least 160 million consumers. During this trip Steinmeier referred cautiously to "a region of growing political and economic stability."

Some members of the younger generation of East Africans, whether in DR Congo, Rwanda or Kenya, are apparently pinning their hopes on Germany.

In surveys or comments on Facebook, young people say wish German companies could help boost the recovery of their respective national economies. They would also like German politicians to act as act as a counterweight to their often corrupt and patriarchal elites.

"Young people want change," said, Mukazi Ndekezi, a student of international relations from Rwanda. Mukazi, who is a youth ambassador, seeks to promote the interests of young people at the EAC. Not surprisingly, she believes regional cooperation will succeed. Young people between the ages of 17 and 35, she notes, account for two thirds of the population of the EAC region.

"They're really done with conflicts," she said of the under-35s. "And I have seen a positive impact of the regional integration. Like students, they collaborate, they talk, they discuss, and they share their views, their ideas. And then they understand each other."

Germany's foreign minister - who she can only see from afar in Kigali - would have readily welcomed such sentiments.

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