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Speech by Federal President Horst Köhler at the Fourth Africa Forum Dinner

Bundespräsident Horst Köhler am Rednerpult Abuja/Nigeria, 8 November 2008 Photo: Sandra Steins, Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung (BPA) © Photo: Sandra Steins, Presse- und Informationsamt der Bundesregierung (BPA)

"Identity: Essence for Solidarity"

One year ago - in November 2007 - we assembled in Germany for the Third Africa Forum. On that occasion, you, President Yar'Adua, extended an invitation for us to convene in Abuja. And so, today, it is our turn to enjoy your hospitality, for which I would like to thank you most sincerely.

Today's discussions have shown that we have succeeded in talking openly and in a spirit of confidence to our friends. For I do feel that I am among friends here in Abuja. I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to address three issues that are in my opinion of great importance, and talk about their significance for our partnership. These issues are peace, prosperity and identity.

Following the end of the Cold War, numerous proxy wars were successfully brought to a close. The protracted civil wars in Angola and Mozambique are good examples of this. But the dream of world peace did not become reality. Not in Africa, and not elsewhere. The latest news from eastern Congo is particularly disheartening. But Darfur and Somalia also serve repeatedly as reminders that the people worst affected by the violence are the civilians of Africa - the men, the women and especially the children. This must end.

I have told the Europeans time and again that we have to take seriously Africa's demands for an equal partnership. But I have also said just as frankly to our African friends that a self-assertive Africa with equal rights must shoulder its responsibility for guaranteeing security and peace on its own continent. The African Union and its members have set themselves the goal of no longer looking the other way when their neighbours' houses are engulfed in flames. Unfortunately, there are still far too many unquenched fires.

I know how hard it is to solve these conflicts, and we have indeed today discussed their complexity. But there are encouraging examples. Among us tonight are many individuals who have played a valuable role in painstaking mediation efforts in Africa. Our Nigerian hosts make an important contribution to international peace missions, under the auspices of the United Nations, ECOWAS and the AU. Nigeria's submission to the International Court of Justice of its longstanding territorial dispute with neighbouring Cameroon over the Bakassi Peninsula and its decision to abide by the Court's judgement is also exemplary.

As Africa's partner, Europe must likewise not look away when its neighbour's house is burning. This principle applies both to acute crises and missions under UN auspices, as well as to long-term peacekeeping. Africa is in the process of developing its own structures for such tasks. Europe should continue to support these efforts.

As regards prosperity, too, we need a new partnership. Africa is a rich continent, but its population still does not benefit from most of this wealth. I know I am not saying anything new, especially here in a country like Nigeria. And of course it is above all up to Africa itself to practise good governance and transparency and thereby increase the welfare of its people using the revenues from its commodities.

Europe can and indeed must support this from the outside, and there are, in my view, various approaches we can take. Firstly, we must help the African reformers who campaign for transparency and fairness - sometimes at the risk of their lives. Secondly, Europe must itself make fairness and credibility, e.g. as regards commodity sourcing, the hallmark of its development cooperation with Africa. Thirdly, we must campaign for world trade conditions that take into account Africa's special interests. These include, for example, a global commodities strategy which would give all commodity-producing countries fair access to the markets and a fair share of the profits.

Identity is the last of the three themes I hope to inspire reflection on, but it is very important in the long run. Each of us here has a number of identities, of faces, that we adopt as circumstances dictate. But in order to function, our societies also need collective identities. The idea of a homogeneous nation state, an idea that was particularly prevalent in nineteenth and twentieth century Europe, did great violence to Europe and beyond - as colonial masters, European also "ethnicized" African societies and thereby sowed the seed for numerous conflicts.

In comparison with multi-ethnic Nigeria and most other states in Africa, European countries are homogeneous. Questions of identity have long been of great significance in Africa. But societies in Europe, too, are becoming ever more diverse. How can different communities and ethnic groups live together in peace? What is it that holds our societies together? What is the essence of a collective identity? Everywhere around the world, the attempt to answer these questions is becoming ever more important. I think that, in this quest, too, Africa and Europe can perhaps learn from one another, even though they started out from such different positions.

President Yar'Adua, ladies and gentlemen, our discussions on partnership are not being conducted in a vacuum. In 2007, for the first time in their history, the European Union and the African Union agreed to adopt a joint strategy. It is now up to both the Europeans and the Africans in equal measure to ensure that the efforts of the individual working groups result in concrete cooperation that benefits both sides. The German-Nigerian energy partnership is one example of what Europe and Africa can do to harness Africa's commodities and Europe's technologies and so improve energy supply on both continents. The German Government's "Aktion Afrika" programme is evidence of Germany's desire to enhance cultural links with Africa. The discussions here have brought it home to me that even today, there is still far too little contact between the people.

Young people play an important role in this process. At last year's Africa Forum in Ghana we were shown partnership in action by our "young leaders" from Africa and Germany. They debated their issues frankly and heatedly, and when they came to Wittenberg asked me many questions. And they discovered considerable common ground. Their declaration, entitled "Two Generations - One Future", is cause for encouragement. It is an encouraging sign that we can find values accepted by both sides, in spite of the obstacles in our path. We just have to let the young leaders get on and do their thing.

Let me invite you now to join me in a toast: To the health of President Yar'Adua and our Nigerian hosts, and to the partnership between Germany and Africa.