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Speech to the African Union

Federal President Joachim Gauck Addis Abeba, Äthiopien, 18 March 2013 Rede to the African Union © Sandra Steins

I was elected President of my country exactly one year ago. It is a great honour and pleasure for me to speak to you today, on the first anniversary of my Presidency. The occasion is of great importance: this year Africa is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity, the OAU. Allow me to take this opportunity to congratulate you most sincerely on behalf of Germany.

You have achieved much in those 50 years. That is especially true when one considers that five decades is not a very long time in the great history of this continent.

More than 500 years ago, there was already a political exchange between Africa and Europe: in the 15th century, diplomatic missions from sub-Saharan Africa were present at European courts. They came from Ethiopia, as well as the Congo, Benin and Senegal, to name just a few.

I believe that the important thing to note here is that these were encounters between equals, between equal partners. The diplomats set off on a long and difficult journey to a cold climate, to unfamiliar surroundings. However, not everything they found in European societies was unfamiliar. They found some aspects which they must have recognized.

Pre-Enlightenment Europe was a continent of entrenched social structures. The poor thus remained poor and those who were born rich remained rich. Temporal authorities ruled by God’s grace and many people were afraid of supernatural spirits.

Four hundred years later, we see a Europe which has changed fundamentally. It has travelled a long way from the arbitrary use of power and fearful servility to human rights and self-confident citizens. Europe’s values today – freedom and justice – had to be fought for in the face of long-standing traditions.

Paradoxically, the progress made in Europe had a negative impact on relations with Africa. Citizens in Europe fought for their rights, but they did not want them to be granted in other parts of the world. Human rights were regionalized and relativized. That is why, back in the 18th century, the conservative author, philosopher and politician Edmund Burke criticized the “geographical morality” which led people in Europe to believe that other rules should apply to subjects in the colonies. Inevitably, the colonized were not prepared to accept these flagrant European double standards. Slaves in Haiti revolted and claimed the ideas inspired by the French Revolution for themselves. History took us from slavery, which benefited from African complicity, to colonial exploitation and finally to apartheid. In his historic speech to the OAU in 1994, Nelson Mandela chose the destruction of Carthage to symbolize the wounds which this history of exploitation inflicted on Africa.

In this very speech, Nelson Mandela then set out what is of crucial importance to Africa’s future, namely that the knowledge of these humiliations is linked to the strong conviction that Africa will step out of this shadow and begin a new chapter in its history. The African Union – you, ladies and gentlemen – are writing a key chapter in this new history.

I share Nelson Mandela’s confidence and have embarked on this journey in great anticipation of experiencing this potential in person as I get to know more and more about this continent, of meeting the people who today shoulder responsibility for Africa’s future. As a result of my biography, Africa did not play any role in my own life until a relatively advanced age. I was therefore all the more inspired by the confidence which Nelson Mandela radiates when I had the honour of experiencing the love of the truth, the desire for reconciliation and strength of will which we all associate with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa. Africa has given our world great men and women. Wherever Africans demand ever greater participation, they are on their way to the future. The way from subject, condemned to political and cultural passivity, to self-confident citizen able to make their own judgements and empowered to live in freedom is not an easy one, neither in Europe nor in Africa.

Although my life in a Communist dictatorship meant I was unable to travel to Africa for many years, it encouraged me to fight for democracy. I am very impressed today by the images of long queues in which Africans stand and wait for hours and indeed for days to vote! And I am excited to see democracy growing in many parts of Africa! At the close of the Cold War, there were three democratic states in Africa. Today there are around twenty. Here, too, the direction history is taking is clear to me: in every country on the continent, democratically elected governments should be subject to oversight by strong parliaments. And people in every country on the continent should be able to vote their governments in and out of office!

I am singing the praises of democracy in awareness of the fact that there is much more to a successful democracy than elections. Nobody is in a better position than you to point out that – to mention just one example – tensions between ethnic groups can grow after elections. Africa must master special challenges and find the African path to democracy. There are several hundred ethnic groups in the Congo and in Nigeria, indeed even in relatively sparsely populated Chad more than one hundred languages are spoken. The European-style nation-state, on the other hand, is based on the idea of a single nation. However, even in Europe it took several generations until the idea of citizenship and a uniting nationality became firmly entrenched in the hearts and minds of citizens. Which path will Africa choose? It is clear that if every African people were to build its own state then that would result in the creation of thousands of states of that kind. Who could want that? And how do states in Africa deal with their ethnic diversity? These issues are being discussed intensively in Africa. This is the only way to move forward. Is decentralization the key to fostering a feeling of belonging and better governance? That is how Ousmane Sy, the Malian development economist and politician, sees it in his work “Reconstruire l’Afrique”. Or can national identity be fostered by giving one African language precedence over others, as is the case in Tanzania? The answers will be found, and they will be found by Africans. Africa will make its own unique mark on the history of democracy. That a new African sense of national identity is developing in people’s hearts is evident from every Africa Cup of Nations, which is also followed with great interest in our country, during which the fans in African countries cheer on their respective national football teams.

When I speak about the importance of nations, I have no wish to avoid a critical question: when has the state earned the trust of its citizens? When does it protect their interests? When does it speak their language? Let us be under no illusions: often people’s main loyalty is not to their nation or state but to their family or ethnic group.

Distrust or trust depends then, for example, on how the state manages taxpayers’ money or development funding. Are politicians investing in the future of all citizens or are they distributing public funds among their associates? I know what tensions politicians encounter here when they are expected to give preferential treatment to their own ethnic group, just as previously other politicians gave preferential treatment to their groups. That applies not only to Africa.

I therefore want to make it all the more clear that those who want to reduce ethnic tensions on a durable basis must ensure that public finances in particular are dealt with transparently and in compliance with rule-of-law standards.

Giving in to short-term pressure will not serve long-term development. And here too, despite this tangled web which stymies any progress, the critical debates in African civil society give me another cause for optimism.

In his novel “Waiting for the vote of the wild animals”, the well-known Ivorian author Ahmadou Kouruma describes how a new head of state learns from his experienced colleagues how to do his job after his country gains independence. An old colleague advises him like an African financial Machiavelli: “The first vicious beast who threatens at the summit of the state and at the head of the single party is the awkward tendency in the early career to separate the state coffers from those of the individual. … There is no future or authority in independent Africa for the person who exercises supreme power if he fails to present himself as the richest and most generous man in his country. A true and great African chief is always, endlessly and every day, giving.” This was an experienced man’s advice, the biting irony of which Ahmadou Kouruma conveys supremely. Anyone who reads this must, just like the author, ask themselves: should clientelism continue to be the mark of a great African leader? Of course not! And you are all working to ensure that this is not so.

It is therefore good news for democracy in Africa that ever more Africans want to know what happens to their money, want to know whether private interests and public finances are clearly separated. That applies not least to development cooperation funds. It is good for democracy if freedom of the press and freedom of assembly gain ground on the continent. That makes it all the more difficult to silence any critical voices. Africa’s true partners sup­port these changes.

I myself am firmly convinced that in countries all over the world there were first of all a hand­ful of democrats and only long afterwards was democracy sometimes established as the sys­tem of government. I am curious to see which path the African democracies take. And I am delighted by the strong and self-confident democrats and democracies I see in Africa.

There is no denying that Africa has long since begun to write democratic history. Namibia and South Africa gave themselves new constitutions in the nineties. Kenya followed in 2010. Kenya’s constitution replaced a document which dated back to the colonial era. Reform was thrashed out over a period of more than 20 years, after which a referendum was held. The new constitution brought a spirit of change, some even spoke of a national renaissance. The institutions of state, which have gained a new standing, sought to exert a moderating influence ahead of the elections this year. It is important that they succeed.

Democracy is always a work in progress. That also holds true for Germany. Germany did not found a court to act as guardian of the constitution until after the failure of its first democratic state, the Weimar Republic. National Socialist Germany and then the Communist GDR did not have a constitutional court. Today the Federal Constitutional Court plays a vital constitu­tive role in German democracy.

In African democracies, too, there is still much to do and, indeed, much is being done. That applies to strengthening political institutions. When, for example, I look at the human and material resources of many African parliaments, I can see that there is still room for consider­able improvement. The same holds true when people seek to enforce their rights: for many Africans, the next police station or the next court is so far away that they think twice before even setting off. Development cooperation which strengthens rule-of-law institutions is there­fore an important contribution towards reinforcing democracy in Africa. Wherever my home country Germany can provide assistance or advice, we will gladly do so.

Hand in hand with democracy, African economies have undergone a promising development in Africa. Especially during the last ten years, the continent has experienced a growth phase of unprecedented magnitude in recent history. Six of the world’s ten fastest growing econo­mies are in Africa. Poverty is diminishing rapidly in some regions. “The Economist” wrote Africa off as a continent without hope as recently as 2000. Today the magazine takes a very different view and has expressed its respect for Africa as the fastest growing continent. “Lions on the move”, is how a consultancy firm described Africa’s dynamic new beginning.

There is a good chance that old African paradoxes such as “poverty in the midst of plenty, and scarcity in the midst of abundance”, as Kwame Nkruma, former Ghanaian President and co-founder of the OAU, put it, will be finally overcome. Regional integration will make an important contribution towards this. The new African lions will then jump with even more vigour. Much has already been achieved in some regions – even monetary unions. And espe­cially where this integration is successful, everyone involved notices how much untapped potential there is in intra-African trade.

What regional integration needs even more is certainly also better infrastructure and the modernization of the agricultural sector. These are key areas of German and multilateral development cooperation. However, roads and electricity alone do not quite amount to an economic miracle. Natural resources are not quite enough to make a region prosperous. Nor can an abundance of young people alone make a country rich.

Only if the young generation is well educated will it be in a position to tap the wealth of the continent in the countries of Africa and so help create value added at home. It is tempting to wait until major projects are completed and then take the keys. But it is impossible to build a long-term industrial culture in Africa without well-trained Africans. There are two sides to this: theoretical knowledge and its practical application in businesses. Germany is happy to share its positive experiences in vocational training. This holds true in individual countries but also for projects relevant to the whole continent, for example, the establishment of the Pan-African University in cooperation with the African Union.

The benefits of good training stretch far beyond the economic sphere itself.

I am thinking, for example, of peace in terms of external factors. Where young people have the chance of getting a job, providing for their families thus giving them a life of respect and with prospects – what should be the attraction of those preaching violence and terror?

I am also thinking of peace of mind, of overcoming magic and enchantment which make people feel fearful and small. The founder of modern sociology, Max Weber, coined the term “disenchantment of the world” to describe the changes needed for Europe to move towards an industrialized society. In Africa, too, many age-old certainties are falling by the wayside. However, education helps to see this not just as a loss and to avoid flights of fancy to a con­struct built on idealist pre-modern thinking. It is with curiosity and fascination that I am observing the debates about an African Renaissance, about a Renascent Africa, as Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of the independent Nigeria, called it as early as 1937.

But Renaissance also means that it cannot just be about axing traditions. What is worth taking with us to the future? What would benefit the entire nation? Africa’s societies will give answers to these questions. One of the things we are talking about today is the prerogative to interpret Africa’s past. What traditions will Africa build on, which will it discard? Are there specifically African forms of property and usage rights? Are there contours from the pre-colonial past for relations between women and men, between old and young, between science and faith? On this African journey, nothing is more beneficial than education. It was the Senegalese historian and Egyptologist Cheikh Anta Diop who said: “Educate yourselves. Arm yourselves with knowledge to the hilt … and win back your cultural heritage”.

This is what is happening. Education is booming. School enrolment levels on the continent increased by almost 50% between 2000 and 2008. Education strengthens people and empowers them to make something out of their lives. It helps us develop a will to engage and bolsters self-confidence. Education bolsters women and men all across the continent who work courageously against torture and violence. Education bolsters citizens who question the way in which cultural traditions are used as a pretext for inflicting genital mutilation on women in some of the countries of the continent or for persecuting albinos or also people of same-sex orientation. I am on their side. For me, human rights violations cannot be justified by pointing to cultural traditions.

More and more women in Africa are calling for a suitable role in society. The world of poli­tics is providing more and more role models. Not just you, Madam Chairperson, but also two female presidents and a growing number of members of parliament. What is more, in eight African countries, the proportion of female parliamentarians is higher than in Germany. And half the AU Commissioners are women.

Yet, alongside this light, there remains some shadow. What opportunities do women have in business and administration? What opportunities do girls have in education? Far too often, women are still falling victim to violence. Ladies and gentlemen, use your influence to ensure women have the same opportunities as men!

The challenges and the changes are immense. The African Union – and that is you – is play­ing a central role in the efforts to master these tasks. I have great respect for your achieve­ments, your efforts to set standards for democracy, the market economy and human rights all across the continent. Needless to say, it will take a while before these standards take hold across the board from Cape Town to Cairo. But a president who extends his mandate in viola­tion of his country’s constitution, a coup leader who uses violence to seize power, knows he will meet an adversary in the African Union.

I am pleased that these standards do not only come from the outside but from Africa itself. In the African Peer Review Mechanism, not just government representatives but also civil socie­ties across the continent scrutinize one another. The Kampala Convention gives internally displaced persons the right to be treated humanely. And the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights is to provide plaintiffs with an African platform for their cases.

African courts will have to look at the connection between justice, impunity and security, an issue which also plays a role in discussions on the work of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In each and every case, it will remain difficult to decide whether and when to launch proceedings – particularly when heads of state are involved. But it is no doubt helpful if Africans do not have the impression these decisions are being forced upon them from the outside. The new Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Ms Fatou Bensouda, will be able to feed much into these debates.

Peace and security on the continent are a special priority of the African Union. In Europe, it was only after World War Two that the voices of reconciliation were able to pave the way to European integration. Africa has been spared a world war devastating the entire continent. But to date it has been home to dreadful armed conflicts and civil wars. According to UN esti­mates, half of the world’s child soldiers are to be found in Africa. Abusing children by using them to kill is a particularly horrific human rights violation. We have the shared task of put­ting an end to this.

The African Union has undertaken not to turn a blind eye to war and violence. It has clearly turned its back on the non-intervention policy of the organization it succeeded. A courageous step that deserves respect.

Germany will continue to support the African Union in its efforts to anchor peace and security. Our commitment makes us the African Union’s second-largest bilateral partner. The new building for the Peace and Security Department is an important symbol of this partnership. But it will be you, ladies and gentlemen, the representatives of the African Union, who fill it with life and substance.

The instruments of the African security architecture are not just theoretical. The people in Somalia, in the Sudan or in the Comoros have witnessed armed missions of the African Union. But not just them. The African Union works to prevent violence. And it does not give up in the face of seemingly insurmountable tasks, taking the recent agreement reached in Addis Ababa on the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an example.

Above all else, this requires great perseverance. After all, the road to reconciliation often after decades of conflict is stony and long. But this holds true not just for Africa. Also in Europe, in parts of the former Yugoslavia, international peace troops still stand ready more than twenty years after hostilities began.

The most recent example of a threat to peace is the situation in Mali. A combination of inter­nal and external factors caused the current crisis there. Tackling the crisis we see players from the region, from across the continent and from Europe – particularly France. In Berlin, I have talked to several presidents from western Africa about the French mission. All reacted posi­tively to the rapid intervention. I see this shared perception as proof that people are recogniz­ing more the interests that Africa and Europe share. When terrorism has gone global, regional responses often fall short. That is why Germany is also providing military support in the war on terrorists. Here, too, Germany will stand by its partner, the African Union.

Alongside the growing engagement of the African Union, I also see the international commu­nity, the United Nations shouldering responsibility for peace and security on the African continent. The Security Council in New York deals regularly and intensively with conflicts in Africa. The Sudan and the DR Congo are home to the UN’s largest peacekeeping missions. I believe the continent should be suitably represented and assume responsibility in the Security Council, the body where its needs are addressed and decisions taken.

I have spoken at length about government cooperation with the African Union. I want to con­clude now. And I want to do so by paying tribute to African civil societies which are growing in strength. Many display great courage in defending themselves against authoritarian control and oppression in their countries. And more and more often they are forging alliances with non-governmental organizations from other countries and regions. I do not see the oft-lamented paralysis in the face of the seemingly all-powerful forces of globalization. This is a good thing. After all, the global problems which will define our future such as poverty eradication, migration and climate change need both: strong nations and strong civil societies. Committed citizens who exchange views also have a global voice. Prior and parallel to the negotiations at government level about climate protection, there are now broad coalitions made up of different countries. Or human rights defenders look very carefully to see which businesses are employing children or illegally destroying forests in African countries. Transparency paves the way for change. The same holds true for development partnerships between municipalities, schools or hospitals.

Fuelled by these civil society forces and thanks to the political work of the African Union, we are now witnessing the emergence of a new image of Africa in Europe and worldwide at the dawn of the 21st century. The more partnerships and the more personal exchanges we have, the more we will increase the accuracy of German media coverage of Africa, which remains much too one-sided. Stereotypes of intransigent archaic and brutal tribal societies will die out. After all, as the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said so aptly, there is never a “single story”.

Stereotypes are bad, for Europe and for Africa. We need a partnership of equals if we are to tackle the global challenges together. So, long live this cooperation! Long live Africa, the cradle of mankind, the huge continent with its such a young population! Long live the time­less human experience that nothing creates a bond quite like humanity!