German ministries spearhead new strategy for Africa

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As Germany's defence and development ministers mull new strategies for Africa, Foreign Affairs Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has spoken out against further military involvement, EurActiv Germany reports.

"Germany will concentrate even more on Africa than it has in the past," Germany's development minister, Gerd Müller, told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Müller indicated that Mali was a key area, in which more training forces - drawn from Germany's military the Bundeswehr - would be deployed, along with development workers.

"In the coming months, we will prepare a new development policy concept for Africa," he said.

German troops are currently active in a training mission in Mali, but Merkel has made clear that deployment of combat forces is not an option. After a meeting of EU foreign ministers on 20 January, Germany is expected to contribute up to 180 soldiers for a European training mission in the region.

And Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, Germany's first woman to hold the office, is already hoping to increase military training forces to 250 soldiers.

"At the moment, the upper limit of the mandate is 180 persons; 99 soldiers are on the ground", von der Leyen said in an interview for Der Spiegel. "We could strengthen this involvement. That is what our allies expect from us, above all the French government. I could imagine increasing the mandate to an upper limit of 250 persons."

But Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier is opposed to the idea.

In a statement on Monday (27 January), the Social Democratic politician said: "The registration period for troops has only just begun. We'll see who in Europe will offer transport capacities or medical care", Steinmeier told Ruhr Nachrichten. Only then, would Germany be able to decide what else it could do, the foreign minister said.

At a press conference in Berlin on Monday, Martin Schäfer, a spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry, added that "the culture of military cautiousness is an expression of German foreign policy that suits the country well". 

Currently, the German government and relevant ministers must "pragmatically consider the questions: what are our interests, what do we want to achieve, how can we achieve this, what is the position of our allies on this?", Schäfer said, emphasising that this was as far as the issue has progressed up till now.

But the deputy spokesperson from the defense ministry, Christian Dienst, said that military politics were an ongoing and fluid process.

"We have constantly been gaining new experience - whether in Afghanistan or in North Africa", Dienst said at a press conference in Berlin on Monday [27 january], adding that Germany should not hold fast to paradigms that applied four years ago.

According to von der Leyen, who hails from Merkel's ruling Christian Democrats, Germany should expand its military engagement in crisis regions: "We cannot look off to the side, when murder and rape are a daily occurrence, at the very least for humanitarian reasons", she said.

Crisis-ridden country

Von der Leyen also promised to provide a medical airbus to support the EU intervention in the Central African Republic (CAR). EU foreign ministers recently agreed to send up to 1,000 soldiers to the crisis-ridden country, where the UN has warned of genocide.

Müller stressed that development workers and soldiers needed to pursue "the same objectives with different instruments, that complement each other." Despite all the problems, progress had been made in Mali, Müller said. But the work of troops - and development workers - was "not without risk" the minister said.

Lieutenant Colonel André Wüstner, head of the German Bundeswehrverband (German armed forces federation), estimated a time frame of 10 years for such a mission in Mali.

"Whoever seeks to seriously and sustainably build up forces in Mali, must prepare for a deployment period of at least 10 years – that is how catastrophic the condition of the army is there", Wüstner told Bild am Sonntag.

"Just as in Afghanistan, the involvement of combat troops must be accompanied by measures for development aid. Only through this kind of coordination, can we reach the goal of creating stable and functioning states," Wüstner said.

Global playing field

Von der Leyen called for cooperation at the EU level and a division of responsibilities: "Europe will not advance on the global playing field when some [of its member states] discreetly hang back on military interventions, while the others storm ahead without coordination."

Germany must take on more international responsibility within the framework of the alliance, the defense minister said.

In addition, she pushed for integrating national forces in the EU in a way that could eventually be transcended by a single European military. For now,  parliamentary approval had to be respected. "But I believe joint forces will be the logical result of ever-stronger military cooperation in Europe," she said.

Positions: 

Speaking to EurActiv last July, EU Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva called the Central African Republic, a former French colony of 4.6 million people, “the country that the world forgot”.

Georgieva said the Central African Republic, or CAR, was in "complete chaos" while adding that Niger, northern Mali and Sudan's Darfur region were also plagued by lawlessness.

Some 91% of the humanitarian disasters occur off the radar screen, she said, saying that millions of people suffered and hundreds of thousands were dying in overlooked conflict areas with little attention for the outside world.

Georgieva said she was taking the CAR case “very personally,”, pledging 15% of her the humanitarian budget to “forgotten crises”.

Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs has agreed that foreign aid funds also would be dedicated to such areas, she added.

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