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Words of Welcome by Federal President Horst Köhler upon the award of the German Africa Foundation's Africa Prize to Dr Paul Fokam and John Githongo

Dr Paul Fokam, Federal President Horst Köhler, and John Githongo Berlin, 12 April 2005 Photo: bpa © Photo: bpa

I.

Thank you very much for the warm welcome. As many of you know, I take a particular inter­est in developments in Africa and even though this is the first time I have been the guest of the German Africa Foundation, I nevertheless feel very much at home in this group of African experts and enthusiasts. It is thus a pleasure for me to be here today to present the Africa Prize of the German Africa Foundation to John Githongo and Paul Fokam.

II.

The Africa Foundation's prime objective is not just to strengthen and promote relations between the peoples of Africa and Germany, but also to increase understanding in Germany of the problems faced by the people and nations of Africa. The Africa Prize, too, is designed to encourage understanding of Africa and engagement with this continent. I fully support these goals. And I think that we are achieving them. Understanding for Africa has grown tan­gibly in Germany and beyond over the past years and months.

At the same time many African politicians have come to appreciate that they must do more themselves to solve the problems of the continent. The keywords here are African ownership and good governance. One of the most encouraging developments of recent years, in my opinion, is the fact that politicians in Africa and Europe now want to work together to tackle the great African challenges.

Many African politicians have realized that they have to create the institutional framework to enable economic and social development. This framework includes democracy and human rights, an independent judiciary, the participation of civil society and functioning public institutions.

The African Union and the NEPAD initiative are representative of the change in attitude in Africa and confirm my belief in the future of Africa. These are African initiatives which demonstrate that Africa is ready to take its fate into its own hands.

Deeds must now follow words. The peer review process is to start this year. In my view, this process is vital to the credibility of Africa's reformist politicians. But it is equally important that the African Union - with the support of the international community - finds satisfactory ways of responding to the conflicts and crises in Darfur, Côte d'Ivoire, the Congo and Zim­babwe.

III.

But the industrialized nations must also follow up on their promises. They must help the Afri­can Union resolve the conflicts, for these are in my opinion the most pressing problem. Quite apart from the humanitarian aspects, the fact is that where there is war, there can be no devel­opment. I welcome the European Union's readiness to provide moral and material support to the states of Africa as they travel down this road.

All UN Heads of State and Government endorsed the Millennium Development Goals five years ago and vowed to halve extreme poverty by 2015 and give all children the opportunity to receive adequate schooling. These are good and important goals. We owe it to the people in Africa to ensure that they are feasible. Even now it is clear that if the Millennium Goals are to be achieved, more financial assistance is required. However, it only makes sense to provide fresh funds if the African governments and parliaments will shoulder responsibility for put­ting their own affairs in order.

Above and beyond this, I still consider fair trade to be the most important tool for fighting poverty around the world. And I would like to remind you that establishing a fair international trade regime is also one of the Millennium Development Goals. Trade is the best way to help people help themselves. For this reason the Doha round really must be transformed into a pro-development round of negotiations.

Advocates of using public funds to reduce poverty around the world are often met with the argument that the voters will not stand for it. I do not believe this. Just a few weeks ago the people of Germany and many other countries around the world proved their great generosity and willingness to help the many victims of the devastating tsunami. They know that we all live on the same planet and showed that they are ready to make personal sacrifices for the people with whom they share it. This should give us all courage. I believe there is consider­able support among the population for the Millennium Goals.

Some people also claim that giving priority to jobs means cutting back on development assistance. In my opinion, priority for jobs and development assistance go very well together. I see no contradiction there, and do not want others to create an artificial contradiction and put words to that effect in the President's mouth.

IV.

Anchoring Africa and the fight against worldwide poverty on the international political agenda is a huge success - that I do not wish to dispute. On the other hand, I think it does not justify excessive optimism. A healthy dollop of scepticism is needed. The Swedish writer Henning Mankell said a few weeks ago that he was cautious, notwithstanding the present interest expressed by top politicians. He reminded us that we should wait and see "what deeds follow such big words", for it is not the first time that "it has been loudly proclaimed that we will finally join forces to tackle the suffering in Africa". Mankell is right. Our engagement for Africa must be long term and must be sustainable. And, if it is to be successful, we must have reliable partners in Africa.

V.

I am very glad that we are today, in the persons of John Githongo and Dr Paul Fokam, honouring two real partners who are courageous advocates of change.

John Githongo's name is familiar from my time as Director of the International Monetary Fund. As a journalist on the "East African", he reported for years about corruption in the government. He practically built up the Kenyan branch of Transparency International as a one-man show, and in this capacity, too, ensured that corruption and abuse of power did not go unnoticed. Under President Kibaki, he continued his campaign against corruption as Permanent Secretary for Governance.

John Githongo resigned a few weeks ago. Quitting his post was the only way he saw of drawing attention to the true state of affairs. Mr Githongo, the international community has got the message. The ball is still in the Kenyan Government's court to fight corruption with determination. Zero tolerance must not become an empty promise used to placate inter­national donors. Concrete steps must be taken to increase the confidence of the Kenyan people and the international community in the Kenyan Government.

Misappropriation, embezzlement, hidden benefits and open corruption are some of the biggest possible obstacles to development.

Corruption is not however something that Africa alone is responsible for: You can only have an African recipient where there is a Western donor. The industrialized nations and Western enterprises are also required to contribute to the fight against corruption and abuse of power. The "publish what you pay" initiative shows how this can be done.

Paul Fokam is the first African businessman to receive the Africa Prize. In 1986 he was the first Cameroonian to found a private bank, which has now become the fourth largest bank in the country. In the early 1990s his Afriland Bank established a micro-bank system and today supports some 50 micro-banks and three women's credit and saving societies, each of which has been joined by thousands of market women. Mr Fokam, I know that the activities of your bank are considerably wider ranging. However, your commitment to the economic position of women is something to which I attach particular importance, and I would like to congratulate you and thank you for it. My own commitment to the African continent stems not least from my meetings with African women. Poverty in Africa is particularly widespread in rural areas and among women and children. Financial services such as micro-loans offer one escape route from poverty. But precisely such loans are often unavailable in rural areas. It is due to Paul Fokam's engagement that this has changed in Cameroon.

VI.

Paul Fokam and John Githongo represent the new Africa. Their work gives us and many others hope. They are living proof that Africa is not a hopeless cause. This continent and its people are worth working for. The German Africa Foundation has honoured Paul Fokam and John Githongo with the 2004 Africa Prize - and rightly so. I would like to sincerely con­gratulate both award winners.