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Speech by Federal President Horst Köhler at the state banquet in Kigali, Rwanda

Federal President Horst Koehler and his wife talk to african children Kigali / Rwanda, 6 February 2008 Photo: Steffen Kugler, BPA © Photo: Steffen Kugler, BPA

It is my great pleasure to be here with you in Rwanda, in the "heart of Africa". This is the first ever state visit by a German President to Rwanda - a visit that is long since overdue. Last year, the city of Kigali celebrated its centenary - paying tribute among others to the city's founder, the German explorer and first Imperial Resident, Richard Kandt. I am delighted that one of my countrymen is still remembered so well, a fact that highlights the special historical ties between our two countries. But other links exist, too. People all over Africa and in many other parts of the southern hemisphere who want to listen to Deutsche Welle radio can do so thanks to the relay station here in Kigali. That is another link - between you and us - and between all of us and the rest of the world.

I would like to start off by thanking you - also on behalf of my wife and the entire delegation - for the tremendous hospitality and warmth with which you have received us here.

The visit to the national genocide memorial at Gisozi was a very moving experience. I realized that our compassion for the victims, however deeply felt, can never really suffice. But at the same time I feel great respect for those who, after the genocide, had the courage to begin the work of reconciliation. Rwanda chose its own ways to come to grips with the past. I am eager to learn more about the Gacaca Court system, and will therefore meet members of one of these tribunals tomorrow. Some of the victims feel that their right to justice is not adequately met by this system. And international observers have criticized Rwanda because rule-of-law principles are not fully complied with. But is there a better solution, given the overwhelming number of cases involved? Is there a perfect method for getting to grips with the past? I don't know. The plain truth is that we need to sit down together and discuss in yet greater depth how traditional African approaches can be reconciled with modern judicial processes. At any rate, I very much hope that Rwanda will successfully navigate the difficult course between justice and reconciliation.

Incidentally, the international community also has to be ready to answer questions on its own conduct during and after the Rwandan genocide. There, too, questions remain unanswered.

The people of Rwanda have worked wonders to rebuild their country over the past 14 years. I have seen the new Rwanda, today's Rwanda, at a youth centre in Kimisagara, where the young people were filled with boundless energy and optimism. Those I spoke to all had their plans for the future.

Mr President, you rightly focus on education for the youth of Rwanda. You want your country to enter the computerized age as quickly as possible. You are therefore not only trying to bring electricity to remote parts of the country but, wherever possible, are also laying ultra-modern broadband cables. With your "Vision 2020", you seek to join the world economy and lay the foundations for a knowledge-based service society.

This is a bold plan, which will take time to implement - but there's no reason why it shouldn't work. The momentum gathered by the Rwandan economy over the past years really is impressive. The country offers stability and security - important factors for both domestic and foreign investors. Furthermore, many Rwandans can speak English and French in addition to the national language Kinyarwanda. Multilingualism is a tremendous advantage in the age of globalization.

I believe, by the way, that long-term economic development will also be positively influenced by a culture of open political dialogue and broad social participation. In this context, it is worth noting that the Rwandan parliament has the largest proportion of women MPs in the world. For this it should be commended. And nobody here would dare to say they had fared badly under Rwanda's strong women who have been granted equal rights.

Rwanda rightly expects great things of economic cooperation with neighbouring countries, and has therefore joined the East African Community and its customs union. In my opinion this is a very important step. For regional cooperation helps tap the potential for economic growth so that all benefit. And that fosters mutual trust and confidence. The people of eastern Congo are uppermost in my mind as I speak. The latest peace agreement there gives us reason for hope. It could help pave the way for a comprehensive economic and social development strategy for the entire region.

Fair international trade conditions are however also a prerequisite for eradicating poverty in Africa. We need, at long last, a pro-development multilateral trade agreement. And a true partnership with Africa. The EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon last December was long overdue. The adoption of the Joint EU-Africa Strategy is an encouraging sign. But, as you know, actions speak louder than words. What counts now is putting this Strategy into practice with specific steps and projects.

Bilateral relations between Germany and Rwanda are in good shape. Rwanda is and will remain a priority country for our development cooperation. This means that it also receives budget support, which is a sign of our confidence.

I am especially gratified by the flourishing partnership between Rwanda and the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Local councils, schools, churches and numerous non-governmental organizations have been working in close cooperation for the past 25 years. Genuine friendships between Rwandans and Germans have been forged in the course of many projects. This partnership is a shining example of what can be achieved. I am thus very pleased that Professor Bernhard Vogel, a former Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate and the co-initiator of this partnership, is my guest of honour on this visit.

Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, is a beautiful country. It is with good reason that Rwandans say God chooses to come back here to sleep after wandering the world each day. But I am particularly glad to see that Rwanda has again become the "land of a thousand smiles" - as my wife and I can testify!

We all know that Rwanda still has much to do. But I am confident that the country and its people will prevail. Germany will continue to assist Rwanda as it works toward a better future.

May I invite you all to join me in drinking a toast - to the health of President Kagame and his wife, to the well-being of the Rwandan people and to the friendship between Germany and Rwanda.