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Development Policy

German minister hopeful after African trip

After seeing first hand the deprivation and desperation of refugees in South Sudan and the beginnings of recovery in Mali, Germany’s development minister Gerd Müller is calling for more engagement in Africa.

He had come to learn, German Development Minister Gerd Müller said of his African trip. He asked lots of people numerous questions. When are potatoes planted in Mali? Do the boys or the girls get the better grades in school? Why aren't the refugees returning to their homes?

In the South Sudanese presidential residence in Juba, he showed President Salva Kiir the dust on his shoes. That was dirt from a refugee camp, he said. Had the president also been there to see first hand the deplorable conditions under which the refugees were living? Müller enquired.

The German development minister had only been in office for 100 days when he departed for Africa in late March (26.03.2014) on a short tour. He spent 24 hours in South Sudan and 20 hours in Mali.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir with German Development Minister Gerd Müller.

Müller told South Sudanese President Salva Kiir hostilities had to cease before German development aid could be resumed

Germany's ministry for economic cooperation and development is working on a new Africa policy. "Africa is a continent full of opportunity," the minister explained on the outgoing flight. It is a sentiment that can also be found in his ministry's new strategy document. The continent's promising economic growth rate, its natural resources and a young population offered enormous potential. "But Africa is still a crisis-ridden continent," he added.

Exerting pressure with development aid

One of these crises is unfolding in South Sudan. The world's youngest nation is being torn apart by a conflict that broke out between President Kiir and his former vice president Riek Machar in December 2013. The fighting between their respective supporters has claimed thousands of lives and almost a million people have been forced from their homes. Aid agencies are warning of a serious food shortage five months from now, if people don't return to their villages in time to till the land before the start of the rainy season.

"The president has our support as far as peace and cessation of hostilities are concerned," Müller told the South Sudanese press after meeting President Kiir. But he went on to say that "the cessation of hostilities between the various parties was essential for any future development work." All German development aid projects in South Sudan were frozen as a result of the conflict. Funding is only being made available for emergency relief.

Afrika, Entwicklungsminister Gerd Müller, Mali, Entwicklungszusammenarbeit

The German development minister inspecting potatoes at an agricultural institute in Mali

Sending more German troops to South Sudan would not solve the country's problems, Müller said. More emphasis should be placed on civilian endeavors, he urged. Hilde Johnson, head of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), disagrees."If there was ever a time when we urgently needed help, then it is right now," she told the German minister. UN member nations must dispatch more troops, she insisted. Those already in the country were more or less permanently on duty and close to exhaustion. Under a UN mandate, 14,000 UN soldiers and police officers are expected to provide protection for the South Sudanese civilian population. Germany has sent only 23 peacekeepers.

Military intervention improved bilateral ties

Evaluating the impact of military interventions was also part of Müller's trip, the second leg of which took him to the West African nation of Mali. Without the courageous military intervention launched by the French, Mali would have been lost, one top European diplomat said.

Frankreich Mali Afrika Gipfel in Paris Francois Hollande und Boubacar Keita

French President Francois Hollande welcomes his Malian counterpart Boubacar Keita at a Paris summit on peace and security in Africa in December 2013

In 2012 the president of Mali was ousted in a military coup. Separatist Tuareg rebels and Islamist militants exploited the ensuing power vacuum and took control of most of northern Mali. The French intervention, which drove them out of the territory they had captured, led to an improvement in bilateral relations between Mali and France, its former colonial master. Malian children were even given the first names "Francois Hollande" in honor of the French president. In the meantime Mali now has a democratically elected president once again and Germany has resumed development aid to the country.

Müller visited a district northeast of the capital Bamako where German aid workers have been helping to improve local administration and infrastructure. The water supply is now being run locally. The town hall is now collecting tax revenue which is being used to pay for local schools. Müller drew some hope for the future from what he had observed. Local people were taking the initiative, shouldering responsibility, which, he said, was the key to development."We must invest more in development, infrastructure and education. If people have the opportunity to acquire an education and job training, they will be able to develop their country and war and crises will be a thing of the past," the German minister said.

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